Bishop Turner and the New England Conference
Christian Recorder: December 27, 1888
Rev, ______, Dear Brother, your letter sent me to Philadelphia and forwarded to Atlanta and again to Pine Bluff, Ark., has reached me at this place.
You say there is a great deal of grumbling in the New England Conference about me not visiting the churches in the district, and you further charge the decline of our work there to the want of Episcopal supervision. You compliment the visitations of the Zion Bishops when compared to our Church, etc. Thank you my brother, I beg pardon of these grumblers and hope to do better; but at the same time wish to say, any person in the New England Conference who can set up a grumble on that score would grumble over their own nose, mouth, feet, hands or anything. The little time I have been Bishop of the First Episcopal District I have visited two thirds of the churches in the New England Conference, if not three-fourths of them; I have visited some of these grumbling churches I verily expect since the Holy Ghost has. There is no part of my district I have visited so largely in proportion to its size as New England. New Jersey comes next and Philadelphia next, or so much of it includes Pennsylvania. As for New York and Delaware were to set up a murmur I could not think hard, but I am sure New England cannot with any justifiable reason.
More, if you please. Judging from the way several preachers asked their congregations for my traveling expenses in the New England Conference, I thought some of them did not care much about Bishop’s visits: “Come up friends and give the Bishop a spare nickel, please, to aid him in traveling as the law of our Church requires us.” Whenever a minister limits his people to a nickel in raising my travel expenses, I think he is telling me I am a nickel Bishop and desires me to stay away.
Still more, if you please. I have grumbling letters, too. One of those letters are grumbling about the presiding elder pastors not holding each other’s quarterly meetings. I told you at your annual conference that no man could be a presiding elder and pastor too; that it was a dodge to do nothing and then complain about the law. But you insisted upon it and I yielded for one year at least. Now I am told that each presiding elder-pastor is holding his own quarter, while the law of our General Conference says he shall not.
Still more, if you please. I am further told that in some cases these presiding elder-pastors collect traveling expenses for holding their own conferences at home; and still more; that no record is kept of the quarterly proceedings at all in some cases.
Now, I do not pretend to say all these complaints are true, while I have them in black and white, but I do say I heard that some of the presiding elder-pastors were failing to do their duty while visiting the New England work this fall.
Now, this is to direct, order and command every presiding elder in the New England Conference to hold the quarters required by his appointment or report to me his impossibility that I may provide for the said quarterly conference meetings. Presiding elder-pastors must not hold their own quarters unless their presiding elder is sick and then there are enough of you to get another to hold it for you.
The quarterly conferences and meetings are the big times for the churches and the occasions should be magnified and made mighty for good. Quarterly meeting service, as Bishop Disney well tells his presiding elders, ought to commence on Friday night and continue right along till Sabbath night, and I do not care how great the pastor may be, he needs help, and the help of the presiding elder. If Bishop Gaines, as I hear, can take in members everywhere he goes, the presiding elder can do the same at every quarterly meeting.
The truth is the A.M.E. Church is in the throes of death if we would open our eyes and see it, and no man can afford to evade duty or twaddle at this time. Dr. C.S. Smith made a report at our last General Conference which frightened us all to death nearly. Giant men stood appalled and flippant tongues for once were silent. Bishop Arnett, our greatest statistician, rose to his feet and was the picture of horror for at least ten minutes. We finally blarneyed it over and cried Smith down; but I fear he was nearer right than wrong. Without telling the nature of that report I will merely say, it would seem we have been retrogressing as God requires us to do. Stagnation appears to be somewhere or everywhere in our Church. How much vitalization Bishops Gaines, Arnett, Tanner and Grant will add is to be seen. Some of us labored for episcopal increase to meet that issue. Bishop Gaines seems to have started on that line , if reports are true, which we all anticipated however, and we trust the others will do the same Indeed. I hope we will all wake up before Smith comes again, for the next time he may not down so easy; poor health made him do it this time, but I hope never to hear such a statistical report again from him or any other man. We can prevent it if we will try; a hundred thousand might easily be added to our Church in the next four years, and if they are not, the Negro will be put down as a failure in Church as well as in State, which may God forbid.
I have talked a while in the letter, Rev. ___________, but you know the condition of things I command it. I have not neglected New England: if she is neglected, her own preachers have neglected her. Every person who knows me, knows there is not a lazy bone in my body. I am never idle, day nor night, at home nor abroad, but I cannot travel by lightning yet; will in a few years, when this old body drops off, then you would not want to see me. Nor have I wings to fly with yet, but if these grumblers will get Jesus to visit them a little oftener, they will forget me and have a big time for themselves. It is all nonsense to attribute the nongrowth of the New England conference to nonepiscopal visitations Let her ministers preach with power from on high; let her presiding elder-pastors do what they said they could do at your last annual conference, when they opposed me in appointing regular presiding elders and raised that old hackneyed, yes, foolish, objection : “We are not able to support a presiding elder.” Nothing has cursed our Church so much as the howl, “We are not able,” “We can’t” “Where is the money coming from,” etc. The logic of this jargon is, there is no God in Israel. Bishop Payne told the Baltimore Conference some time ago, when a man is a layman he is free; when he becomes a licensed preacher he is a servant; when he reaches the diaconate he is more of a servant; an elder a slave; a Bishop the slave of slaves. Therefore if we are servants and slaves we are to obey our Master and not reason “from a money basis whether this or that can be done, but go and do it, or try at least. I shall endeavor to do my whole duty while Bishop of New England ; but I have too much on hand to give her all my time Nor does the able corps of ministers there need it if they will help do.
God willing I shall not visit any of your conferences during January and February. As the General Conference has made “Methodist Polity” a guidebook in our Church government, I shall spend those two months in classifying its contents to make it more convenient for preachers and people.