« PreviousContinue »
there are very few evenings indeed, on which a Wesleyan minister has not a preaching engagement.
The financial business of the district meeting comprehends the receipt and payment of the Yearly Collection; the investigation of the claims for ordinary deficiencies, (i.e., the excess of liabilities over assets in circuits not able wholly to support themselves,) and the extraordinary deficiencies, (i. e., extra expenses incurred in travelling, by affliction, and other miscellaneous causes); the provisional apportionment of the Children's Fund and the School Fund (for the maintenance and education of ministers' children); the consideration of chapel cases, whether for relief, building, purchase, or enlargement; and the examination of applications for assistance from supemumerary ministers or ministers' widows and orphans.
Various other matters engage the attention of these synodi. cal assemblies. It is their duty to ascertain who of their own number are prepared to engage in foreign missions, what employment each of them has, both on Sundays and on workdays, and what new arrangements are required as to the bounds of each circuit ; to make a complete collection of the circuit and district statistics ; to elect one of their number to represent the district in the stationing committee at the Conference; and to determine what other ministers shall attend its sittings.
The session of the ordinary district meeting terminates with the serious reading and devout consideration of an inimitable compendium of the Wesleyan pastor's duties, drawn up and passed at the Conference of 1820,'—a copious document, which may be regarded as referring, under its thirty distinct heads, to what is desirable rather than to what is attainable. For instance, the resolution to have recourse, even in our old established circuits, to the practice of preaching out of doors,' and, ' at least in every large town, to establish weekly meetings for the children of our friends, according to our ancient custom.' This authoritative document contains a passage strikingly indi. cative of the hierarchical claims of the Wesleyan Conference : "While we readily and cheerfully protect all our members in meetings in which we preside, in the exercise of such functions as belong to them, according to our laws and general usages, let us not forget that we are under solemn obligations to conduct ourselves on such occasions, not as the mere chairmen of public meetings, but as pastors of Christian societies, put in trust by the ordinance of God, and by their own voluntary association with us, with the scriptural superintendence of their spiritual affairs, and responsible to the Great Head of the church for the faithful discharge of the duties of that trust.'
The Financial District Meetings take place in September, and, after having provided for the carrying out of the pecuniary measures of the Conference, arrange for the holding of missionary meetings for the year ensuing.
The Special District Meeting, designed for the settlement, subject to appeal on either side, of differences arising during the intervals of Conference, consists of all the ministers of the district in full connexion, with the addition of four other ministers, chosen in equal numbers by the parties in dispute from any portion of the Connexion, with liberty to the president to take the chair, and call in the secretary of the Conference as his official adviser. Mr. Grindrod thus describes the occasions for which this extraordinary tribunal was intended : ‘1. When a majority of the members of our local tribunals, or circuit courts, are so misled or corrupted as to resist or desert their pastors in the administration of discipline, and set at defiance the constitutional forms of proceeding against offenders. This was the case at Leeds, in 1827.-2. When a preacher, especially a superintendent, has proved notoriously unfaithful to the trust reposed in him, and, abetted by faction, is spreading revolt and rebellion in the societies in which he stood engaged to the Conference to maintain the entire economy of Methodism. Such was the state of things in the First Manchester circuit in 1834-5.'*
The Mixed District Meeting is so called from the circumstance of its being composed of ministers and laymen. It is an expedient first suggested by disputes, at the close of the last century, between the trustees of chapels and the preachers appointed to those chapels, in relation to the administration of baptism and the Lord's-supper therein, and to other matters. It is based upon the principle of enabling, on the one hand, the lay officers connected with a particular society or chapel, (for a circuit comprehends several societies and chapels,) to bring to the bar a minister to whom are imputed delinquencies of which his ministerial brethren decline to take official cognizance; and of protecting, on the other, such accused minister from being summarily ejected from the pulpit on the sole authority of the trustees and other officers connected with the chapel. For this purpose, it is ordered, that, if the majority of the trustees, or the majority of the stewards (deacons) and leaders of any society believe, that any preacher appointed for their circuit is immoral, erroneous in doctrine, deficient in abilities, or has broken any of the rules for the settlement of such disputes as those referred to, they shall have authority to summon the travelling preachers
* Compendium, p. 108.
of the district, and all the trustees, stewards, and leaders of that circuit, to meet in their chapel under the presidency of the chairman of the district; and, if the majority of the meeting are convinced of the justice of the accusation, the offender is to be considered as removed from that circuit, and the district meeting (that is, the ministers apart from the lay officers) may either effect an exchange between him and some other moveable minister, or may suspend him altogether till the Conference,
The Minor District Meeting was instituted to meet special cases, in which, to avoid inconvenience, expence, or needless publicity, a select tribunal might be deemed preferable to the convocation of the whole district. It is of two kinds : the first is for the trial of a minister accused of immorality, and for the settlement of differences between two ministers in the same district; the second, to hear appeals from accused members of society against sentence of expulsion, and from superintendents of circuits against apparently factious verdicts of leaders' meetings, or for refusing to give any verdict at all.' In all these cases, an appeal lies to the regular district meeting as well as to the Conference. The minor district meeting consists of five ministers; the two parties in dispute choosing two each, and the chairman of the district, or, should he be himself a party, a superintendent chosen by the other members of the court, to preside, with a casting vote. It is worthy of observation, that, in the second sort of minor district meetings, the appeal of a layman is from the sentence of one minister to the judgment of five ministers, two of whom are selected by his accuser; while that of a minister is from the verdict or resolution of a court composed of laymen, to the judgment of a smaller court composed wholly of brother ministers! The same remark applies, and with increased force, when the appeal is carried up to the regular district meeting or to the Conference, both being exclusively ministerial bodies.
We come now to those of the Wesleyan church courts which may be paralleled in the Presbyterian polity, in reference to their composition as well as to their relative place in the ecclesiastical scheme. The highest of these is the Quarterly Meeting. As the Presbytery of Edinburgh is composed of the ministers and officers residing in that city, so the Wesleyan quarterly meeting of Edinburgh is composed of the ministers and lay officers within the bounds of the circuit of which that city is the centre. This meeting forms, in one respect, a singular exception to the Wesleyan economy, in which, for the most part, everything is strictly defined. We find nothing in the books, however, defining the composition of the quarterly meeting, which varies according to local circumstances. In some cir
plies, and witar districterial bodies. Wesleyan ch
city is the centre within the bounds's composed of the mesle
cuits, it is a kind of open meeting, at which even non-official members may be present; but, in general, it extends or is confined to the officers in the circuit, consisting of ministers, local (or lay) preachers, trustees, stewards, and leaders. In former times, this meeting used to turn its attention to all sorts of subjects, and, in periods of excitement, afforded an opportunity to the laity, of expressing, through their officers, their opinions and feelings, not only concerning matters peculiarly affecting their own circuit, but also on the affairs of other circuits, and of the whole Connexion. Mr. Grindrod, who had had bitter experience of the troublesome interference of undisciplined quarterly meetings, contends, not simply for restricting them within the narrow sphere of their own circuits, and prohi. biting them from expressions of connexional sympathy, but also for reducing their component parts to more manageable dimensions. “That trustees, local preachers, and class-leaders, should be represented by members of their own bodies, at the quarterly meeting, is readily admitted; but that all persons filling those offices should be at liberty to exercise its franchise, (although all the ministers* and all the stewards are,] is neither a right nor a safe state of things. In times of peace and tranquillity, [as though the Wesleyan Connexion were a body politic, and must be governed accordingly,] no serious inconvenience results from this loose and undefined composition of our quarterly meetings; but, in those periods of agitation to which our connexional principle seems to render us liable, its consequences are often very painful and injurious.'t The Conference, sympathizing in the views here expressed, has not indeed attempted a rigid definition as to the composition of this important meeting, (the time for doing that does not seem to have yet arrived,) but has narrowed the sphere of its operations : and accordingly we read, that the quarterly meetings have [now] no right to interfere with the affairs or disputes of any other circuit than their own;' and that 'they cannot now [even] address the Conference by memorial, or otherwise, on general connexional matters; that privilege (!) being, by the regulations of 1835, [made in consequence of the last period of agitation,'] intrusted to our special
* If any minister be obliged to withdraw from a quarterly meeting during the transaction of its business, (although many points may arise, during the discussion of which, delicacy would dictate his voluntary withdrawment,) the meeting is, ipso facto, dissolved; and he himself, for consenting to withdraw, liable to due censure at the ensuing Conference. Moreover, the Conference recommends it to the superintendents of circuits to invite, on all important occasions, [i.e., whenever a disturbance is apprehended,] the chairmen of their respective districts to be present at their quarterly meetings!
+ Compendium, p. 129.
circuit meetings,'*-of which hereafter. The quarterly meeting never did possess any judicial authority. Its proper business is with the financial affairs of the circuit. It audits the accounts of the stewards, adjusts the claims on the Contingent Fund for the consideration of the district meeting, and deliberates on proposals for chapel building, enlarging, etc. Large circuits cannot be divided into smaller without its approval, which is also necessary before the superintendent can propose a candidate for the regular ministry to the Conference.t It may likewise suspend, for one year, in its own circuit, the operation of any new rule enacted by that assembly, but without making it a cause of contention ;' and it has a right to petition the Conference, from year to year, on the appointment of preachers' to the circuit; but the circuit stewards, themselves the nominees of the superintendent, 'possess exclusively (according to Mr. Grindrod) the right of nomination.
The Special Circuit Meeting, according to Mr. Grindrod, was principally designed to afford to the well-affected and peaceable portion of our lay-officers, reasonable facilities for expressing their views and opinions on connexional interests to the Conference.' I This new court is thus constituted. After the close of the June quarterly meeting in every year, the superintendent is enjoined to detain all the stewards present; (the stewards being bis own nominees, and holding office, not, like the leaders, during good behaviour, but only from year to year ;) to ascertain from them, whether, in that circuit, there is any considerable dissatisfaction with any existing rules, or any prevalent desire for new ones; and, if a majority or considerable proportion of them answer in the affirmative, and are of opinion that the occasion demands the calling of a special circuit meeting, the superintendent is directed and required to summon it. It is to consist of all the regular ministers in the circuit, (in full work or supernumerary,) of the circuit stewards, of the town stewards, of country stewards in the proportion of one for each society of fifty members or upwards, of all men class-leaders and local
* Compendium, p. 29. + If, on mature deliberation, it is the conscientious conviction of a majority of the members of a quarterly meeting, in any given instance, that the person proposed to them does not possess the requisite qualifications, and they do therefore pronounce such a judgment, the superintendent's nomination is, as a matter of course, set aside, and he cannot proceed, in that case, that year; if, on the other hand, a majority declare in favour of the candidate, their jurisdiction then terminates, and the ultimate disposal of him from that time rests with the ministry. In no case does the quarterly meeting propose or recommend; its province is merely to approve or reject the nomination of the superintendent.'- Grindrod, p. 25.
| Ibid., p. 159.