Bishop Turner Addresses His District
Christian Recorder: August 14, 1884
Ministers and Members Fifth Episcopal District A. M. E. Church:
Dear Brethren—By order of our late General Conference, it falls to my lot to take charge of your Episcopal District for the next four years, if Providence should prolong our lives and the adversary should not be allowed to intercept our relations. But I have been sick several weeks from the effects of malaria, contracted in a sister State, while discharging some indispensable duties, and as I am now about to enter upon my responsibilities as the Bishop of your division of the Church, I have thought that a few plain remarks might serve us mutually to a good purpose. Sometimes there is nothing like properly understanding each other; especially when reciprocal relations are about to take form. In assuming episcopal supervision of your churches and ministry, I am only obeying the mandate of our General Conference, and not gratifying any desire or ambition of my own, for the happiest man in our ministry is the pastor of a medium sized church and congregation. If I were in the pastoral ranks again, I should never willingly take any of these large city appointments. I should seek the medium places, where I could study till tired of books, and then roam the jungles,
Where the roar of bright cascades from wild, gushing fountains,
A torrent of music forever supplies. And there I should drink the nectars sweets of knowledge and of God, as no man ever can in the station of a Bishop or the cares of a mammoth church pastor. But let us come to the consideration of the matter before us.
1st. It will be my purpose to do all in my power to advance the work and promote the glory of God I pray for your cooperation.
2d. I shall travel as much as my other duties will permit. But I had as well say in advance, I cannot write to everybody in the land and travel much too, especially if my failure to reply to a heavy daily mail is to give offence, as is often the case, for our people have no idea that a Bishop is in duty bound to study; they too often think he ought to know “just so,” by an idealistic intuition and reply to their letters by return mail, though he be a thousand miles from home.
3rd. I shall expect in my visitations no nonsensical consideration; decent respect is all I want, and as I have to read and write while doing the rounds of my work, you will favor me greatly by providing quiet quarters, where I will be annoyed as little by children and loud-mouthed babblers as possible. I had rather stop in a house with a dirt floor and eat cornbread and milk, where I can have a private room with table, good fire and warm sleeping, than all the parlors and carpets in the land, vexed to distraction with inconveniences for study, and talked to death. Some people will call upon you for a brief talk just before you go into the pulpit. They will torture you with their foolish babble when they know you ought to be upon your knees asking God for help to preach his word to sinners. Even ministers, at times, will sit around you like buzzards, talking nonsense to the last moment, when they know you have to preach to large congregations, allowing you no time to think, pray or read. Whenever a minister does me so, I judge him a poor tool, for if he knew the magnitude of his calling, he would know that no man is fit for the pulpit till he has given himself afresh to God in prayer and meditation.
4th. Please remember, I accept no invitations out to dinner or supper on the Sabbath day when I have to do pulpit duty, for if you take me from a good stopping place, out dining around in the face of an expected sermon, I positively will not preach. I had rather dine upon ashcake and cold water than be running to big dinners or suppers at such a time. Besides, I think it’s wicked.
5th. I bitterly object to ministers introducing me up and down the streets to every white man they meet. If some white gentleman has rendered our church special favors, well, that may alter the case, but to be treated as I have been by some of our ministers, dragged all over town, into stores, &c, to be introduced to white men, at times received quite distantly, is very annoying, to say the least.
6th. I think the habit some of our ministers have of introducing a Bishop to the congregation when he is about to preach, and then after the benediction calling for the whole church and congregation to come up and shake the Bishop’s hand is all uncalled for. Nobody on the face of the globe, but we, do it. I do not want it. Besides, it is never proper to introduce a minister to a congregation anyway; the fact that he is in the pulpit is an introduction to the people. But it is proper for the pastor to rise and announce that Rev. Mr. Blank, from such and such a place, will preach for us at this hour, &c., but not to introduce him as though he was a stump politician.
7th. I am glad the too frequent mention of “our beloved Bishop” is going out of use, and that “our presiding Bishop” is being employed instead. I have heard men say “our beloved Bishop” at times when they disliked every hair in the Bishop’s head. I hope the term will be annihilated soon, as it is not purely Methodistic anyway. Especially since the late General Conferences of the A. M. E. Church and the great M. E. Church have decided that a Bishop is no more than an elder—the most startling piece of church humbuggery ever put upon record since God had a church on earth, carrying the ministerial parity-theory further than the anti-Bishop churches ever contemplated, for they have held under sober discussion that God had sanctified the office in all ages and made it a means of grace in the extension of his kingdom on earth.
8th. I beg to say I have rarely ever allowed my prejudices to rule me under any circumstance, but under no circumstance has personal likes or dislikes ever controlled my official duties. I never allowed it either as a pastor, presiding elder, chaplain, &c., nor shall prejudice ever influence me as a Bishop. No man will ever get what is commonly called a good appointment from my hands for any personal like. But I do have official likes and dislikes as high as the heavens. I do dislike a lazy minister. I do dislike a man who will leave his daily work and come into the ministry and impose himself upon the people for a support, and then destroy every place to which he goes, through sheer indolence. When a man cannot succeed at anything, can’t draw the people, can’t sing, can’t preach, can’t pray decently, can’t build, can’t raise any money, can’t get up a revival, can’t read respectably, can’t write legibly, can’t increase the Sabbath school, &c., of what use is he? Is he of any more use than a horse? If he is, I do not see it. Often he is worse than a horse, for a horse would not expel anybody, and three men who cannot succeed anywhere are always hunting someone to expel or suspend. O, yes, they are going to clean out the church, purify the members and do big things. Poor creatures, if they would read God’s word and the lives of great men in the church, they would find that the only way to clean out the church is to get a baptism of the Holy Ghost in the church. No man ever cleansed the church by expulsions since the world began. I do not mean a person ought not to be expelled under certain conditions; but, as Bishop Payne says, the last thing a minister ought to do is to expel a member, and so says Christ.
9th. I care not what reputation a minister has for learning, he will never be regarded by me as a great minister unless he exhibits great interest in the salvation of souls. These great learned failures are more objects of contempt than pity. I believe in a divine call to the ministry, and that God never calls a man who he knows has no elements of success in him. And no man who is a failure will ever receive recognition at my hands. Where a first-class church is at stake he is liable to removal at any moment.
10th. I believe, like Bishop Shorter, that “the church was not established by our Lord Jesus Christ for the mere purpose of giving any one man a support. Had God thought so much of him as that he would have made him a king at once, then the people would have been obliged to support him.” Therefore those ministers who are so selfish, narrow and little that they can never see or feel for their brethren, the church, missions, education, Africa and her wants, Mossell and Hayti, &c., need not be alarmed if they should receive appointments in harmony with their narrow souls.
11th. I shall make it a rule to fill the office of presiding elder with the ablest men I can find. I shall not consult the wishes of the ministers appointed. A Methodist minister has no right to a choice or wish; he gave them all away when he was ordained a deacon. I am glad the presiding eldership was made universal. Now all episcopal aspirants can have a chance to try their hands before they are made Bishops. Our Lord says he that is unfaithful over little will be unfaithful overmuch. So say I on the presiding eldership. A man who cannot succeed as presiding elder will never succeed as a Bishop. Thank God we have a drill ground now North and South. Heretofore the South only had it; now we can drill men for the Bishopric in all parts of our Church and have some conception of their fitness before they are made chief pastors.
12th. I shall expect ministerial dignity, coupled with kindness, to characterize all the brethren, and for no wranglers to invade our union. This can be accomplished with great ease, provided we make it a rule to speak well of each other; a minister who willfully slanders another is a bad man. I trust there will be none in our ranks.
13th. A letter has reached me saying, “Our presiding elder says that our late General Conference made the salary of presiding elders one thousand dollars, with traveling expenses and fuel extra, what about such a law?” etc. I have only to say, such a motion was made, but the mover withdrew it, and therefore no such law exists. But even the motion to make the presiding elder’s salary a thousand dollars never contemplated that fuel and traveling expenses were to be extra.
14th. I have been asked if a presiding elder has the right to open the doors of the church on his quarterly meeting occasion? Yes, and any presiding elder who does not preach and open the doors of the church, too, does not deserve his salary. The presiding elder has a right to do all pastoral work on the Sabbath of this quarter. He should not administer the Lord’s Supper, however, in stations where they have regular communion unless the communion day and this quarter should be at the same time. Then the presiding elder should take charge, of course. In short, the presiding elder is in charge of the church and people till his quarter is over, then he had no more to do with the pastor for three months, except in case of some confusion between him and his people; and then he should not meddle without a request from the pastor or officers. A presiding elder is not authorized to go to any church at any time and take command by virtue of his office. He should not even go into the pulpit without an invitation from the pastor, except during his quarterly meetings, nor has he the right to thrust his decisions upon the churches unless he is in the chair holding a quarterly conference. The presiding elder has only four Sabbaths in the year when he is in command of the respective churches unless they fail to pay his assessments; then, of course, he can bother around considerably, and no one blames him if he does.
I am also asked if a presiding elder simply comes, holds his quarterly conference; get his assessments and leaves without preaching to the people? No. For holding the quarterly conference does not complete his duties. He should remain over Sabbath and preach, see that the reports of stewards, trustees, etc., for the quarter ending are read to the people at least once, if not twice, during the day. Let the people know in full the condition of the church, its indebtedness, what they owe the pastor, how many have joined, died, been baptized, expelled, suspended, etc., and if the pastor has raised his assessments, then let the presiding elder pitch in and help the pastor with his allowance; of course, where the presiding elder has to hold quarters in the week, owing to the size of his district, this cannot be done fully, but it must be done in part. The object of the quarter is to set the church right if there is anything wrong and to post the people in the same unless it is so something enjoining secrecy, which should be rare.
I am also asked if members have a right to visit the quarterly conference. Yes, by all means. You cannot keep them out unless they resolve themselves in secret session. This conference is the high court of the members and they have a right to witness its proceedings, hence the quarterly conference should be held in the body of the church, where all can go who desire. Not so, however, with either the official or trustee board; they can meet to themselves and allow no one without permission to come in. but quarterly, annual and general conferences are public.
15. I must close. Before doing so, however, I hope the brethren will not forget my request, that when I am visiting them, I want privacy, warmth and all the quiet they can give me so I can write up some matter I have on hand. I care nothing for the fine eating, dirt floors, the amount of preaching you want me to do, etc., for if I am heard everywhere I go all the time, I will neglect much work than I might do in my visitations and pulpit labors.
This is not the kind of letter I sat down to write, but I have been interrupted so often that it has written itself. So here it goes for all it is worth, and may heaven go with it.
I am truly,
H. M. TURNER.