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The provisions of this section shall be of force and binding only in those districts in which the Quarterly Conferences of a majority of the Circuits and Stations shall have approved it by asking the Presiding Elder to convene the District Conference as herein provided. In those districts in which District Conferences shall be held the power by this section given to the District Conferences shall not be exercised by the Quarterly Conferences. In all other cases their powers shall remain as heretofore provided.
Although the character of the instituted body was different from what was petitioned for in the memorial, and in spite of its being optional with districts to organize it, it was decided by the National Local Preachers' Association to accept the action in good faith, and await for a clearer recognition of their wishes at another time. In the fall, previous to the General Conference of 1876, a deputation of thirteen was appointed to proceed to Baltimore and present a fraternal address, including the following memorial :
Resolved, That we memorialize the General Conference to make such changes in the Discipline as will make the District Conference obligatory and not optional, as at present.
2. That we recommend such disciplinary measures as will make our Local Preachers more effective in their sphere of labor, and in cases where Local Ministers are ineffective from any cause, except mental or physical disability, their parchments or licenses be taken away from them and they be silenced.
The memorial and papers, at the suggestion of Dr. Curry, were referred to the Committee on Revisals, but were afterward transferred to the Committee on the Itinerancy. The Presiding Eldership question was in the crucible before this Committee, and a fiery debate raged during most of the session of that body; and a sub-committee revised and enlarged the scope of the section, and it was reported to Conference and adopted, with a clause designating the mode of its dissolution by any district after the vote of the same and concurrence of a majority of the Quarterly Conferences. This change just suited the views of many Presiding Elders and others, who were unwilling to make the District Conference a success. A power exercised upon the same ground would abolish Quarterly Conferences ; for certainly, if interest and numbers in attendance were the test, the most of them would be voted out of existence.
The full text of the revised and enlarged action is as follows:
Resolved, That Part II, Chapter i, section 3 of the Discipline be amended so that it shall read as follows :
THE DISTRICT CONFERENCES. 113. The District Conferences shall be composed of the Traveling and Local Preachers, the Exhorters, the District Stewards, and one Sunday-school Superintendent and one Classleader from each pastoral charge in the District. But if there shall be more than one Sunday-school Superintendent in any Circuit or Station, then the Quarterly Conference shall designate one of them for this service; and it shall also select the Class-leader.
114. The District Conference shall meet once or twice each year in each Presiding Elder's District, as each District Conference shall determine for itself, at such time and place as the Presiding Elder shall designate for the first meeting after the adoption of this plan by the District; but the District Conference shall, at each meeting, determine the place for its next meeting, the time to be fixed by the Presiding Elder.
115. A Bishop, when present, shall preside at the District Conference. If no Bishop be present, the Presiding Elder of the District shall preside. And if both be absent, the District Conference shall choose its own President by ballot from among the Traveling Elders.
116. A record of the proceedings of each District Conference shall be kept by a Secretary chosen for the purpose, and a copy of the said record shall be sent to the ensuing Annual Conference.
117. The regular business of the District Conference shall be:
118. I. To take the general oversight of all the temporal and spiritual affairs of the district, subject to the provisions of the Discipline.
119. II. To take cognizance of all the Local Preachers and Exhorters in the district, and to inquire respecting the gifts, labors, and usefulness of each by name, and to arrange a plan of appointments for each until the next District Conference.
120. III. To hear complaints against Local Preachers; to try, suspend, deprive of ministerial office and credentials, expel or acquit any Local Preacher against whom charges may be preferred.
121. IV. To license Local Preachers, to renew the licenses of Local Preachers and Exhorters, and to recommend to the Annual Conference Local Preachers as suitable candidates for Deacon's or Elder's orders, and for admission on trial in the Traveling Connection; provided, That no person shall be licensed to preach, or his license to preach or exhort be renewed, or be recommended for orders or for admission in the Traveling Connection, without the recommendation of the Quarterly Conference, or of the Stewards and Leaders' Meeting, of the Circuit or Station of which he is a member; and in all cases the candidate shall first pass a satisfactory examination in such course of studies as the Bishops shall
prescribe. The District Conference shall also have the power given to the Quarterly Conference in Part II, Chapter ii, section 12, relating to the recognition of orders.
122. V. To inquire whether all the collections for the benevolent institutions of the Church, as recognized by the Discipline, are properly attended to in all the Circuits and Stations, and to adopt suitable measures for promoting their success.
123. VI. To inquire into the condition of the Sunday-schools in the district, and to adopt suitable measures for insuring their
124. VII. To inquire respecting opportunities for Missionary and Church Extension enterprises within the district, and to take measures for the occupation of any neglected portions of its territory by Missions, Sunday-schools, and appointments for public worship.
125. VIII. To provide for appropriate religious and literary exercises during the sessions, for the mutual benefit of those attending upon them.
126. The order of business of the District Conference shall be:
1. To inquire what members of the District Conference are present.
2. To appoint committees on-
(2.) Examination of Local Preachers in each of the four years of the course of study.
(3.) Examination of candidates for admission into the Traveling Connection.
(4.) Examination of candidates for orders.
(7.) Apportionment to each charge of the amounts to be raised for benevolent purposes.
(8.) Programme of religious and literary exercises for next meeting:
(9.) Miscellaneous matters. 3. To receive reports
(1.) From the Presiding Elder as to the condition of the work under his charge, and his own work as Presiding Elder.
(2.) From each pastor as to the religious condition of his charge, his pastoral labors, benevolent collections, and the circulation of our Church periodicals and books.
(3.) From each Local Preacher, the form of which report shall be prescribed by each District Conference.
(4.) From each Exhorter, including a statement of the prayermeetings he has held, and other work done, especially in destitute places, and among the sick and the
poor. (5.) From each District Steward as to the temporal affairs of the charge he represents.
(6.) From each Superintendent as to the condition of the Sunday-schools of the charge he represents.
(7.) From each Class-leader as to the condition of the classes of the charge he represents.
(8.) From each Committee.
(6.) Who shall be recommended for admission into the Traveling Connection ?
(7.) Where are Local Preachers stationed ?
The order of business may be varied and the business interspersed with such literary and religious exercises as the Conference may direct.
127. The provisions of this section shall be of force and binding only in those districts in which the Quarterly Conferences of a majority of the Circuits and Stations shall have approved it by asking the Presiding Elder to convene the District Conference, as herein provided. A District Conference may be discontinued by a vote of two thirds of the members present, at any regular session, notice thereof having been given at a previous session, and with the concurrence of three fourths of the Quarterly Conferences in the district. In those districts in which District Conferences shall be held, the powers by this section given to the District Conferences shall not be exercised by the Quarterly Conferences. In all other cases their powers shall remain as heretofore provided.
Vigorous efforts were soon after employed by some administrators to effect the early dissolution of District Conferences at important localities, and also to so spread their adverse action before the Church as to intimidate and influence other sections that were inclined to abandon them. This action is the more unseemly, as the institution is popular in our Southern territory, and, indeed, necessary to accomplish results similar to those in the Church South. In the North-west it is an important factor in promoting connectional interests, and, as a general thing, is prospering in the West. The wise utterances of Dr. Crary, a veteran editor and Presiding Elder in far-off Colorado, have a ring of logic that cannot be resisted. He writes that to repeal the law now would be a stupendous error, and a gross injustice to the mission fields, the frontier, and to the South, where District Conferences are most prized. The fatal blunder in the law is that miserable section which leaves it optional with the district to carry it out or not. In the Middle tier of States no uniform action prevails, and much depends upon the character of the Presiding Elder in popularizing the exercises and routine questions so as to invest the sessions with attraction.
There are points on the southern and eastern coasts that have resisted, with studied indifference, the mandate of the Church to give the institution a fair experiment, preferring to hide themselves behind a mere technicality and privilege, and thus depreciate an organization they know nothing about practically. Among the hopeful signs that assure the friends of the measure, and indicate a vigorous defense against its entire abolition at the next General Conference, is the wise concession made by the District Conferences which include that healthy spot in Methodism, Philadelphia—that, while there are objectionable features in the present section, which led to steps toward dissolution at tirst, the feeling steadily grows that some organization is necessary to complete the unity of the wheels within the wheel, and the duty now is to solve that problem and avoid hasty action. This is the view of Bishop Simpson, namely, that there is needed some kind of an organization to aid in promoting our connectional interests, and other work which the Quarterly Conference is unable to perform because of its local and limited powers, while the Annual Conference has not time at command for such business as the District Conference, or some body of a similar character, could do. A purely ministerial body cannot act for the laity, and hence the greater necessity for a mixed ecclesiastical court such as has been in force over a century in England, and which we must come to sooner or later. Bishop Simpson expresses the idea in his valuable work, the “Cyclopedia of Methodism,” (see page 301 :) “Where they (District Conferences) have been used and properly conducted, they have been found valuable in developing a deeper interest in the affairs of the Church, and in strengthening the connectional bonds of the district.” Bishop Peck, and other Bishops, have given utterance to similar views, the former in much stronger language than the words quoted. Dr. Fry, of the “Central,”