Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/278

This page needs to be proofread.




hp prepared for them was an aliriilgment .and modifica- tion of the Book of Common Prayer, Imt it never came' into tmivcrsal use, sentiment among Methodists being rather unfavourable to any set form of liturgy. In America the ministrj' is divided into two orders; the deacons and the elders or presbyters; in Great Hritain and her colonies only one onler exist.s, the elders. The name of bishop u.sed in the episcopal bodies is a title of office, not of order; it expresses superiority to elders not in ordination, but in the exercise of adminis- trative functions. No Methodist denomination rec- ognizes a dilTerence of degree between episcopal and presbyterial ordination. .\ characteristic institution of -Methodism are the love-feasts which recall the agape of Christian antiquity. In these gatherings of be- lievers bread and water are handed round in token of brotherly imion, an<l the time is devoted to singing and the "relating of religious experiences.

II. Oi!«.\M/ATioN. — .\ilmission to full member- ship in the .Methodist bodies was until recently usually granted only after the successful termination of a six months' probalionarii- pcriml. The Methodist Epis- copal Church, South," has completely done away with this svstem. IJoth probationers and full members are divided into small bands known as "classes". These hold weekly meetings under the direction of the " class-leader ' '. They secure for each member individ- ual spiritual care and facilitate the collection of church funds. The financial contributions taken up by the class-leader are remitted to the "stewards" of the "society", which is the next administrative unit. The "society" corresponds to the parish or local church in other denominations. The appropriate- ness of the term will readily appear, if it be re- membered that Methodism was originally a re- vival movement, and not a distinct denomination. Several societies (or at times only one) form a "cir- cuit ' '. Among the officially recognized officers of this twofold division are: (1) the "exhorters", who are commissioned to hold meetings for exhortation and prayer; (2) the "local preachers", laymen who, with- out renouncing their secular avocation, are licensed to preach; (.3) the "itinerant preachers", who devote themselves exclusively to the ministry. At the head of the circuit is the superintendent. In some Ameri- can .Methodist branches the " circuit", in the sense de- scribed, does not exist. But they maintain the division into "districts", and the authority over tmcIi nf these is vested in a "presiding elder", or "disirict superin- tendent". In the Methodist Episcopal Church his appointment is limited to a period not exceeding six years, and is in the hands of the bishop. The latter is the only church official who is named for life. The permanent character of his position is the more remarkable from the fact that "itinerancy" has from the very beginning been a distinctive feature of Methodism. This peculiarity denotes the mis- sionarj- character of the Wesleyan movement, and calls for the frecpient transfer of the ministers from one charge to another by the bishop or the stationing committee. In the English Wesleyan Church minis- ters cannot be continued for more than three years in the same charge. In the Methodist Episcopal C^hurch the pastoral term, originally for one year in the same place, was successively extended to two years (1804), three years (1864), and five years (1888). In 1900 all limit was removed.

The administrative authority is mainly exercised by a system of assemblies, called meetings or confer- ences. Among English Mctht)dists they are: (1) "the quarterly meeting of tli(! circuit", composed of all the ministers, local prc^achers, class-leaders, stewards, Sunday-school superintendents of the circuit ; (2) " the district meeting", consisting of all the ministers of the subordinate circuits, .some lay delegates, and, for financial matters, the stewards and such officials; (;{) the "Annual Conference", which in 1784 legally

succeeded John Wesley in the direction of the Metho- dist movement and was originally composed of one hundred iliiiorant preachers (the "Legal Himdred"). .M present it inchides lay delegates and meets in two sections: (al the "pastoral session", which settles pas- toral and disciplinary questions, and from which lay- men are excluded; (b) the "representative session", in which clergy and laity discuss financial affairs and external adiiiiiiistnit ive <)uesliiins. In the .\mcrican MethodisI I'^iiscupal bodies theadniinistrative .system is organized as follows: (1) the " t^)uart('rly Confer- ence" similar in composition to the circ\iil-niectiMg. It controls the affairs of every individual church, and holds itsilcliberations under the direction of the "dis- trict suiicrintendent" or his representative; (2) the "Aiuuial Conference ",at which several "districts"are represented by their itinerant preachers under the presidency of the bishop. It elects preachers, pro- nounces upon candidates for ordination, and enjoys disciplinary power; (3) the "Quadrennial General Con- ference", endowed with the highest legislative and judicial authority and the right of episcopal elections. In recent years the holding of CEcumcnical Methodist conferences has been inaugurated. They are repre- sentative assemblies of the variousMethotlist denomi- nations, but have no legislative authority. The first conference of this type conveneil in London in 1881, the second met in Washington in 1891, and the thinl again in London in 1901. Toronto, Canada, will be the meeting-place of the fourth conference in 1911.

III. History. — (1) In the British Isles. — The names of three ordained clergymen of the Anglican Church stand out prominently in the early history of the Methodist movement: John Wesley, its author and organizer, Charles Wesley, his brother, the hymn- writer, and George Whitefield, the eloquent preacher and re\ivalist. John and Charles Wesley were bom at Epworth, Lincolnshire, the former on 17 June, 1703, and the latter on 18 December, 1707 (O. S.). In 1714 John entered the Charterhouse School in London, and in 1720 went to Oxford to continue his studies. He was ordained to the diaconate in 1725, and chosen fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in the following year. His ordination on 22 September, 1728, was both preceded and followed by a period of min- isterial activity in his father's parish at Epworth. On his return to Oxford (22 November, 1729) he joined the little band of students organized by his brother Charles for the purpose of studying the Scrip- tures, and practising their religious duties with greater fidelity. John became the leader of this group called in derision by fellow-students "the holy club", "the Methodists". It is to this that Methodism owes its name, but not its existence. When in 1735 the a.s.soci- ation disbanded, John and Charles Wesley proceeded to London where they received a call to repair as missionaries to the Colony of Georgia. They sailed from Gravesend on 21 October, 1735, and on 5 Feb- ruary, 1736, landed at Savannah. The deep religious impression made upon John by some Moravian fellow- voyagers and a meeting with their bishop (Spangen- berg) in Georgia were not w ithout influence on Meth- odism. Returning to England in 1738, whither his brother had preceded him, he openly declared that he who had tried to convert others w as himself not yet converted. In London he met another Moravian, Peter Bohler, attended the meetings of the Moravian Fetter Lane Society, and was converted (i. c., obtained and experienced saving faith) on 24 May, 1738. He then proceeded to Herrnhut in Saxony to make a study of the chief settlement of the Moravians.

In 1739 Wesley organized the first Society, laid the foundation of the firsti separate place of worship at Bristol, and also opened a chapel (The Foundry) in London. As the pulpits of the Estab- lished Church were closed against the Wesleys and Whitefield, the latter took the decisive step of preach-