« PreviousContinue »
chaplains to reformatory, sanitary, and charitable institutions, to prisons, and in the army and navy,” nor for secretaries or agents of the American Bible Society. None of our ministers were required to be “presidents, principals, or teachers in seminaries of learning,” for we had few such institutions in 1804. And in those days of virtual ostracism we were not likely to be asked to furnish professors to “any seminary of learning not under our care. Nor was the “Five Points Mission in New York” nor “the American Chapel in Paris” among "the things that are.” The history of these exceptions is the record of the growth of the Church in numbers, intelligence, wealth, and influence, and is interwoven with that of other denominations and of the United States. The editors, agents, corresponding secretaries, and teachers, have special professions or kinds of business to master and conduct; while the chaplains, city missionaries, and “ those who may be appointed to labor for the benefit of seamen,” have “itinerant” congregations.
At the General Conference of 1844 the rule concerning the length of a presiding elder's term in the same district was made to read thus : “For any term not exceeding four years successively. After which he shall not be appointed to the same district for six years." In 1872 it was provided that “presiding elders in Missions and Mission Conferences in heathen lands may be appointed to the same district for more than four consecutive years.” At the General Conference of 1844 the following additional proviso was enacted respecting the appointment of the preachers :
Provided, also, that, with the exceptions above named, he shall not continue a preacher in the same appointment more than two years in six, nor in the same city more than four years in succession, nor return him to it after such term of service till he shall have been absent four years.
This proviso was repealed in 1856. At the Conference of 1864 the rule enacted in 1804, limiting the term of possible service to two years, was made to read thus, “ Provided, also, that with the exceptions above named he shall not continue a preacher in the same appointment more than three years in six.”
So this unique system, which could never have been contrived and established as a whole, has grown and solidified. And now the Superintendents or Rishops, endowed with their
prerogatives by the whole Church in General Conference assembled, before a delegated General Conference was needed or projected ; and maintained in the exercise of their authority by the Restrictive Rules (which define the powers never transferred by the ministry and membership to the delegated General Conference) and by the subsequent enactments of said delegated General Conference, have theoretically absolute power and discretion in fixing the appointments of the preachers, being amenable to the General Conference for the proper exercise of the functions of their office. So tremendous is their power in theory; but practically they receive counsel from the Presiding Elders and communications from both preachers and people, giving stability to the machinery by their final determining prerogative, which, though not now frequently exercised ex cathedra, is, like the “ discretion” of a judge of the highest court," not to be appealed from.” But when the limit of three years is reached their authority and discretion end. They are themselves subject to law, and if they were to presume to appoint the most useful and popular man, under the ordinary procedure, for a fourth year, it would be an act in the Bishop attempting it of rebellion against the General Conference and the Denomination which would compel his expulsion from office. In no case has it been attempted by a Bishop, though a few instances of stretching the exceptions allowed, to cover special emergencies, have occurred, without in every case being as carefully scrutinized by the succeeding General Conference as they should have been. In this system the appointments are made annually, and the Bishop presiding at the Conference is required to give an appointment to every effective” member of the Conference not under charges or sentence of sus pension.
Every Church, under this system, must receive the minister appointed. It may protest, and object, and temporarily refuse, and by an exercise of “discretion ” on the part of the Bishop it may gain its end; but if the issue be fairly joined, and the Bishop refuse to change the appointment, the Church must succumb, or be cut off from the body. In like manner every minister must go to his appointment. He may persuade, argue, implore, and convince “ episcopal discretion," and so be appointed elsewhere than at first announced. But if the decree be not changed he must go, or locate, withdraw, or become a bubject of ecclesiastical discipline.
Under the operation of this complex mechanism ten thousand ministers, many of them the equals in experience, learning, eloquence, piety, and local public esteem of those who appoint them, are sent from place to place, compelled to remove at least as often as once in every three years, the whole body averaging as often as once in two years. And ten thousand Churches part on a set day with their pastors, some gladly, some willingly, some doubtfully, some very sadly; to receive others, some very sadly, some doubtfully, some willingly, and some gladly. While the number of ministers who will not go and of Churches that will not receive those who are sent, is so very small as scarcely to be a factor in the estimate of the results of the working of the system.
Many of those who observe the Denomination from without only, and some who, though within, have not carefully studied it, ask why we do, and how we can, submit to it. One answer will meet both questions. We submit to it because we approve fit, and we approve it because of the immense and otherwise unattainable advantages which it confers upon the Denomination as a whole. Every thing finite must have the virtues and “defects of its qualities ;” and the value of a system is ascertained by experience, and the estimate confirmed by analysis and comparison.
PECULIAR ADVANTAGES OF THE ITINERACY. The present time and place are suitable to point out even to some who enjoy without properly estimating them the peculiar advantages of the itineracy. It will, of course, be necessary to re-state well known and “oft told truths,” but the writer believes that certain considerations herewith presented have not often, if ever, been brought forward in vindication of the system of periodical transfers of the ministry. That a great work has been done by a settled ministry, and that vigorous and healthy Churches are now maintained by it, no one can doubt; and any allusions to defects in that plan are not made in a spirit of hostility to those denominations which are organized under it, but simply as necessary to the full exhibition of the subject from our point of view.
1. The itineracy provides all Churches with pastors, and all pastors with fields of labor. In some other denominations, ao cording to their own reports, less than one half the Churches have settled pastors, the rest having “stated supplies,” transient preaching, or being destitute of pulpit ministrations. While this is the case with the Churches, between one third and one fourth of the ministers anxious to preach are without settlements or calls. The following extract is from the “ Congrega tionalist” of September 10, 1879 :
AN EXPERIENCE MEETING.
Time, Monday, 9 A. M.; place, a corner of the Congregational Book-store; occasion, a cluster of men discussing vacant pulpits and their method of supply. Though composed of ministers it was a live meeting; perhaps because there was no attempt to preach or theorize, only simply heart felt statement of personal experience and feeling. For obvious reasons other letters have been substituted for the true initials.
Brother B. was speaking. “For my part I must say I am sick of this whole business. I love to preach ; it has been my loved vocation for a score of years, and if there were anywhere an open door to a field however humble, where the salary would keep body and soul together, I would gladly work on for the Master ; but this coming here week after week to make one of a crowd of disappointed applicants not only disheartens, but humiliates me in a way that I do not believe good for
any man.” “ True, Brother B., but what can we do ?”
“Sure enough, what can we? If I knew I would not only tell others, but act for myself. I see and feel the evils of our system, but how to remedy them is another thing."
“There are nine of us,” spoke up Brother F., “that came in here last Saturday hoping for a chance to preach somewhere as a supply or candidate. How many of us did preach ?”
Two hands were raised, and their owners explained that in one case it was gratuitous assistance for a friend, and in the other the result of an arrangement made outside the Congregational House. “Well,” continued Brother F., “I happen to know of four others who last Saturday made personal application in this building for places to preach. I presume Mr. Sargent could tell us of many others, and then we all know that both here and in the 'bureau ’ above they have on file a large and increasing list of applications from ministers all over New England, and from the regions beyond.”
" What success did the four have ?”
“Of these four, one was sent out by our good brother in charge of the book-store, in response to the only single, solitary call that came from any Church whatsoever to any party in this building. The other three went, one to a temporary boarding-piace he has hired for himself and wife a few miles out, his goods stored meanwhile a hundred miles from here; one to his home down on the Cape, and the other to his home beyond the Connecticut River. His car fare, I happen to know, was $6 90; he brought his lunch with him, but he spent five cents for a cup of coffee.
“How much family has he ? ”
“Six years ago it was $1,200 and parsonage, then it was cut down to $1,000, again reduced to $800, and last year it was $650, and no vacation. Fifty dollars are still due."
Why did he come so far on an uncertainty ?” “ He told me that he was getting desperate; that he had been at home five Sabbaths without employment, and that he felt he must do something or go somewhere, and so he came on to make inquiries in person.”
# What does the ministerial bureau' accomplish anyway?”
Brother S. responded : “ It has never done any thing for me except to put my letters on file; but then I do not blame the bureau; it would gladly help us all to places if it could, but when all the applications come from the ministers, and none from the Churches, it makes it a one-sided affair, a market where it is all supply and no demand.”
Over against this place the fact that there is not one Methodist Church desiring a pastor, and able to support him, without one, and not one "effective" Methodist preacher “standing all day idle in the vineyard because no man hath hired him."
2. It stimulates the growth of young Churches. It does this by supplying them with men of greater ability than they could without it secure. Many of them could not offer any minister such inducements that he would voluntarily settle there; but under the itineracy the hardship is shared, and the preacher encouraged and sustained with the assurance of a better appointment next year.” By this plan it has been made impossible for the emigrant, the miner, or even the hunter, to get beyond the reach of the Methodist itinerant, "who forms a class and gives notice of preaching wherever two or three can be got together.” Except by their missionary efforts, necessarily circumscribed, other denominations can accomplish little in this way, for under the regular operations of the system of Bettled pastors Societies must first be formed and the minister receive a call.
3. It confers peculiar benefits on the minister. He is compelled to mingle very much in society, for the spirit of a re