Page images
[ocr errors]

Conference. The case referred to, concerning which he conversed with Bishop Asbury, was that of the Rev. Cyrus Stebbins. This brother was a man of some influence over the more cultivated classes, and, after being stationed in Brooklyn and New York City, was appointed, in the year 1800, to Albany City, re appointed in 1801, again in 1802, and again in 1803, making in all four consecutive years; and this against the convictions of Bishop Asbury, under the pressure of Brother Stebbins and of the “self-constituted committee,” representing the society, and the threat that “to remove him would rend the Church.”

The Rev. Aaron Hunt published the foregoing statement in the "Christian Advocate and Journal” for March 6, 1851, over the signature of Luther. Papers in the possession of his grandson, the Rev. Dr. A. S. Hunt, show that the case of Cyrus Stebbins is the one referred to.

Who, therefore, will hereafter dispute the proposition that Bishop Asbury could not maintain the Itineracy against the wish of certain ministers and Churches without the aid of a time limit. And if “the iron hand of Asbury, when the Churches were weak and the discipline strong, could not maintain the Itineracy without a time-limitation,” how can it reasonably be supposed possible now?

As for the Rev. Cyrus Stebbins, though he was returned to Brooklyn, he withdrew in 1805 from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The so-called “reform" that is to be “the panacea for all our woes, real or imaginary," when studied historically and analytically, has little to commend it to the wisdom of the Church. If it were adopted, a certain proportion of ininisters might perhaps find some delightful spot in which to grow old, surrounded by friends who cared for them, and would “stand by them.” But the triumphant march of Methodisın across the Continent and around the world, even if here and there a check temporary or perinanent be felt, is a more inspiring spectacle. That many are at first inclined to favor this proposition arises from the fact that they have "unequally viewed” our history and system, and have reasoned from the point of view of the local society and the individual minister, rather than from that of the whole Denomination.

Though the term “Triennialism ” has been invented, and the declarations “It will come” and “There is a general call for it” are often reiterated by a comparatively few, it will be found that this “reform" cannot be incorporated with the existing machinery of the Church.

A POSSIBLE AMENDMENT. That there are some defects in the present system we admit, nor can we be driven to deny it by exaggerated statement of them, or inconclusive reasonings and perilous propositions for their removal. The question is, Can they be remedied or diminished without jeoparding the whole system?

The Australian plan, so-called, with some modifications, that the Bishops inay have power, on the request of three quarters of the Quarterly Conference, sustained by a vote of two thirde of the Annual Conference, to re-appoint a pastor up to the period of six years, we suggested might possess the following advantages :

1. The “Itineracy” is still "limited by law.”

2. The extension is so protected that it must be exceptional.

3. It would compel influential congregations to show a little more respect to the Annual Conferences than they sometimes do.

4. Such power given to the Annual Conferences would not be an innovation. See Discipline, 1876, pp. 102, 103.

But the proposition has been adversely commented upon. Dr. Daniel Steele, in “Zion's Herald," has said:

But we hope that our preachers will never be required to vote on the term of one another's appointments. It would be like the outs of civil office voting on the ins. We prefer Bishop Peck's suggested extension of the three-years' term when in any case it is deemed to be necessary by all the Bishops in their semi-annual meeting.

A writer, who conceals his name, says:

1. It would take the appointing power from the Bishop and Cabinet and give it to the Conference; for no Bishop would veto this double sanction.

2. Any minister who can get a majority of the official board can so constitute it as to get a two-thirds vote.

3. No Annual Conference would refuse to approve the request of the Quarterly Conference. So that in point of fact the con

tinuance of a pastor beyond the three years would be largely in his own hands.

A well-known layman, in private correspondence, says:

I fear the application of the “possible amendment” would place in many Churches a few members of a Quarterly Conference in the same position as the unfortunate juryman who had to serve with eleven obstinate men.

On these objections a few suggestions may be made. Dr. Steele's objection to the outs voting for the ins implies distrust of the ability of the ministers to rise above personal interest and prejudice. Yet in any special instance all who were not about to move, and all whose places were determined, could vote without prejudice growing out of personal relation to the appointment in question, and nearly all others.

That no Bishop would veto the double sanction, and that no Annual Conference would veto the request of the Quarterly Conference, are propositions not supported by proof. That they would not do so except in extreme cases may be taken for granted. But those who desire any extension should not object to that. That a minister who can get a majority can so constitute the official board as to get two thirds or three fourths, and that the minority may be the most judicious meinbers of the Church, must be admitted. But the minority have a double appeal, namely, to the Annual Conference and to the Bishop.

The reference of such cases to the Board of Bishops is objectionable, because in the matter of transfers for particular Churches, etc., the Bishops have as much responsibility as they can bear; because the “ Board” could not obtain personal cognizance of the facts; and because between the meeting of said Board and that of the Conference great changes might


In the Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada the rule is, that “the Bishop shall not allow any preacher to remain in the same station more than three years successively, unless by request of the Annual Conference, except the presiding elders.” The usage is as though it read “ consent of the Annual Con

“ ference,” but final discretion is with the chair as to exceeding three years. The rule was made to cover the case of the Rev.


Joseph Wild, D.D., then of Belleville, now of the Elm Place Congregational Church, of Brooklyn, N. Y. There have been but two or three cases exceeding three years, the general view being unfavorable to it.

The Rev. Bishop Carman, in a letter to the writer, says:

Am for keeping to the old landmarks. Think our plan is, perhaps, as good a modification as practicable. Quarterly Conference memorialize Bishop; Bishop comes to Annual Conference; ought to be safe there if any where.

This is substantially the “ Australian plan.” While we remain of the opinion that a substitution of five or six years in the rule for three is very undesirable, and that the removal of the limitation would be destructive, we are willing to see a plan proposed that will give a little more flexibility in extreme cases. If no safe plan can be devised, as the advantages of the Itineracy far outweigh its defects, it would be better to “ bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of."

A safe plan must have four elements—the extension must be so restricted as to be exceptional; the episcopacy must be shielded from responsibility, and yet allowed the absolute final decision; there must be a time limit at last, and that at no great distance.

But it seems probable from present indications that those who advocate the removal of the limitation will not be admonished by the errors of many other “reformers;” but, refusing to ac. cept any thing less than all they desire, will drive those who will take no risk of the destruction of the Itineracy (which we believe to comprise the great majority of the ministry and laity) to oppose all change. As the "thin edge of the wedge” once introduced often makes possible what could never be attained by the direct application of external force, it is necessary to move with great caution. It is a safe maxim that experiments in mechanism and in legislation are dangerous in proportion to the delicacy and complexity of the original system.

Though this principle should never be allowed to obstruct genuine progress, it requires attention to the teachings of history, and is opposed to flippancy and superficiality in the discussion of great questions. Whether, then, the “ Australian" or “Canadian” plan, with some modifications, is a safe experi

[ocr errors]

ment, is not to be hastily determined. We have called attention to it as seeming feasible, and entitled to critical examination; but nothing less than a general demand, after much deliberation, and a discussion marked by accuracy and fairness and in harmony with the “zealous and itinerant genius of Methodism,” would justify its adoption. At no time in the history of the Church has there been need for greater wisdom in the administration of the system of ministerial transfer and adjustment than at present.

Every thing which the rule, fairly interpreted, admits, may be done to meet emergencies, but it is necessary that all should have reason to feel that the “appointing power” seeks absolute impartiality, and will gratify the wishes of the weakest country society whenever it is possible, and protect the interests of the humblest ninister who tries to do his duty, as gladly as it will promote the desires of city Churches and their pastors.

“ Transfers” should be made on principles of universal application, and mere capriciousness in Churches, either great or small, discouraged. Anomalies in administration foster discontent. We believe that the Itineracy has but just begun its work. The constant problem of the superintendency is to so guide it as to give the greatest efficiency. The problem before the Church is to deterinine what modification, if any, can be made that will not block the wheels in one part of the mechanism, or unduly accelerate their inotion in another.



To the Episcopal Church belongs the honor of being the first to introduce Christianity into New Zealand. Messrs. Hall, King, and Kendall, under the auspices of the Rev. Samuel Marsden, were the first to visit the islands on this errand; and Mr. Marsden, on Christmas-day, 1814, was the first to proclaim the gospel message, which he did from the appropriate words, “ Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” Though residing in Sydney, New South Wales, Mr. Marsden superintended the New Zealand Mission, paying it seven visits for that

« PreviousContinue »