Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

sole "efficient cause" of the otherwise unnecessary removal of their beloved pastor, and the people are grieved and indignant, while he feels oppressed. And after a pastor should have been settled many years in a place, if the people desired him to remain, it would be impossible to remove him without his ecusent. It would be useless to talk to either about the good of the Denomination as long as both were satisfied.

But it may be said, If both are satisfied, why separate them at all( The answer is manifold. It is not always a proof that the Church is prospering because the minister and the people are pleased with each other. A course of reciprocal flattery renders delight in each other, and spiritual, and sometimes temporal decline, compatible. If the Society is really prosperous, it can endure a change, while there may be another Church which that very minister might, if honorably removed to it, at once develop into a great power. But great changes would Hi rely be introduced in Methodist usages, doctrine, and discipline. One minister believing in the annihilation of the wicked, another preaching hope for all, a third winking at dancing, cardplaying, theater-going, a fourth indifferent to class-meetings, these could all, and easily, stamp their peculiarities on their congregations, and great dissimilarities in usages, doctrine, and discipline, would soon appear. If the germs of these things are planted "in the green tree, what would they do in the dry i" Then, when these evils should have become obvious, and it would seem necessary to remove the man to save the Church, the cry of persecution would be raised, those whom he had infected would gather around him, and he would remain or divide the Church. This result would Ixj the more sure because, under a ministry likely to be permanent, those who sympathize with a peculiar style gather around its embodiment, and those who dislike it (unless they remain as a turbulent element) depart.

2. As men supposed by themselves and their people to bo succeeding would not move, the work of the appointing power would be to find places for those who left under the stigma of failure. Its action would thus be regarded with disfavor in advance, and would be much more vigorously resisted than in similar instances at present, because laymen would feel, that if they received the appointee, he might stay for an indefinite

Fourth Series, Vol. XXXIL—10

period. The work of the Bishops would be greatly complicated by the fact of there being no certain and foreknoion vacancy, and no certain and foreseen removal. For example: in other Churches A. resigns and departs; a vacancy is thus made, and B. is called. B. is not called until there is a vacancy. At present, under our system, it is always known that at the end of three years there must be a vacancy, and that the pastor who has completed that period must be removed and appointed to nil another vacancy. . But if all limitations of time were removed from the rule, and the appointments were made annually, there could be no vacancy until the meeting of the Conference, and no necessary vacancy then. And where a minister might remain, and yet it is understood during the year that he must leave, the results in most instances would be injurious. The Bishops could not foreknow what places they would have to fill, nor what ministers they would be obliged to station. For the mere rumor in other denominations that a pastor nrast go, often makes it certain that he cannot go without a great disturbance.

3. This appears more clearly from the fact that the member ship of the Church, instead of, as now, having every motive to seek peace, would, in cases where, justly or unjustly, the preacher is disliked, have every motive to oppose him. Because they would perceive the possibility of his being re-appointed for an indefinite period, and unless there was decided opposition they would consider such successive re-appointments probable. To oppose him would be the only means of securing \is removal.

It must be conceded that some now remain three years who should be transferred at the end of one or two. And this is an evil. But it is much less than the damage which would be caused by the disturbances resulting from the agitation and opposition which would then arise. Many of the best men do not make a very favorable impression at first. The people are somewhat disappointed. He is a stranger; they have not learned his ways, nor he theirs; he cannot seem as cordial and near to them, on arriving, as his predecessor, if beloved, did on departing. But if left to do his work in his own way, as the middle of the second year approaches his consistent deportment, ministrations in the pulpit, the sick-room, at the house of mourning, or his faithful pastoral visiting, have made a deep and general impression. A genuine revival of religion crowns his labors with success, and at the end of the second year there is a unanimous desire for his return. But this class of men, before their qualities could be displayed, would be so opposed by those who were not pleased with them, or positively disliked them, that success would be made impossible. Some very singular things have been published on this subject, of which the following is an illustration:

I regard a first year's pastorate as necessarily experimental. There are few cases in which fitness can be determined before trial. The first year ought always, I think, to be experimental; and it ought not to be a hardship for any man or any Church to try again, to try several times. If we could get rid of triennialism, there would doubtless be more changes than now, because there would be more one-year terms. I have heard an old minister S3y, that out of twenty charges he had filled in forty-eight years of service, only two had been perfect fits.

On this suggestive passage two or three remarks may be made. It is clear that those who advocate the removal of the limitation perceive that its natural tendency would be to increase greatly the number of removals at the end of the first year; and it is certain that very many who, if they could be allowed to pursue their work quietly, would succeed finely in two or three years, would be removed at the end of the first under the suspicion, if not the brand, of failure. Many preachers, knowing that the Church had no longer the same motive to bear with them, would be tempted to concentrate their efforts wholly on securing that kind of popularity which would enable them to return. Perhaps the " old minister" who had but "two perfect fits" in his own judgment, and eighteen "misfits," was not the most competent judge. Some close observers might have classed the two with the eighteen, or called many of the latter "fits." Certain it is that many a faithful minister has done his best work where both he and the people for some time thought the appointment a "misfit." There are other considerations bearing on this point which cannot properly be omitted from the estimate. The opportunities for merited promotion would be much less than they now are. If a pastor were succeeding finely in a small place it would be indelicate for him to ask to be removed to a larger field, and if he did it secretly, while, seeming to be pleased, it would involve

[ocr errors]

a species of duplicity. If it were proposed to remove bim the feelings of the people would be wounded, for they would know that he preferred to go. Instances can be recalled in all parts of the country where a wound that has never healed was made by a pastor's preparing to leave a station where he was greatly beloved, at the end of a first or second year, to go to another with larger salary and real or supposed higher social position. But as it now is, at the end of a third year he must be removed, and, there being a vacancy for him, he can be placed where his abilities will have full scope, still retaining the undiminished regard of the people he leaves. Again, much jealousy and discord would arise between the Societies from the attempts of Churches to allure successful men away. Recently a prominent Church under the settled system received the report of its " Committee to secure a Pastor." The report stated that they had visited upward of forty churches, listening to ministers, and it appeared that finally they had dislodged a young man who was having great success in a large town at some distance from the city. In his letter of acceptance he speaks of " coming out of the shade into the sunlight." The only way a Church about to change could do, would be to invite some successful man, to the great sorrow of his people. When such things are done under the present limitation, generally, though not always, the invitation given, to be confirmed at the Conference, has respect to the expiration of the constitutional term. Also there are few men, if it were known that they might stay, who could not make it difficult to dislodge them; their friends, many or few, would sympathize with them, and much friction and loss would result. We learn, from the observation of other denominations, that the average man in the average place cannot with success remain more than two or three years; and as the average man is arid will be as twenty to one in the Church, and as many very able men intellectually are only average men in ministerial and pastoral efficiency, the loss of harmony and satisfactory work caused by the attempt of average men to stay more than three years would be much greater in the Church, as a whole, than the gain made possible by the superior facilities given to a small minority.

4. The history of the introduction of the time limit confirms all that has been set forth. Francis Asbury, an unyielding man, who showed himself ready to see the infant Church sundered rather than yield the claim to all the prerogatives of Wesley, was, as we saw in the beginning, unable to move the Presiding Elders as he wished until the time-limit was enacted. And he was equally unable to move the more influential preachers at the end of one, or even of two, years. An amazing, though, no doubt, unintentional, misrepresentation of the early history of American Methodism and of the Methodist Episcopal Church has been put forth by the " Brooklyn Society for the Promotion of a More Effective Working of the Methodist Itineracy:"

Up to 1804 the pastorates were all short—shorter than now; but they were made so by a judgment annually exercised by those who made them. We are quite willing that the pastorates should be short, provided that they be made short by the judgment which annually fixes them.

In 1804 the pastoral limit was fixed at two years of continuous service, and this limit was in the law for sixty years. Since 1864 the limit has been set at three years. I ask you to notice that the men who fixed upon two years in 1804 were large-minded, and set the mark up to the highest demand of any Church under their care. Two years' pastorates in 1804 met the extremest city want. If a General Conference were now to imitate the men of 1804, it could not fix the limit short of ten years. John-street, in 1804, was provided with a pastoral term up to its largest ambition; no one remembering all the changes that have occurred would think of a less term than ten years if he wished to meet the largest ambition of St. Paul's in 1880.—P. 18.

Nearly every statement in that passage is incorrect. "Up to 1804 the pastorates were all short, shorter than now." This is not correct. "Two years' pastorates in 1804 met the extremest city want." This is an error. "John-street, in 1804, was provided with a pastoral term up to its largest ambition." This is wholly wrong. Joining issue so positively on these statements, it behooves the writer to furnish irrefutable proof of the errors charged, or submit to be convicted of assailing the accuracy of another's affirmations without due care and candor. The facts are that, though for some time previous to 1794 the general custom had been for the preachers to change every six months, (albeit this was only required "when convenient,") * between

• Foot-note, Minutes, 1794: N. B.—"The Bishop and Conferences desire that the Drenchers would generally change every six months, by order of the Presiding Elder, whenever it can be made convenient."

« IndietroContinua »