Bishop Turner on the Bishop’s Convention: July 22, 1886

Bishop Turner on the Bishop’s Convention
Christian Recorder: July 22, 1886

TO THE MINISTERS OF THE FIFTH EPISCOPAL DISTRICT, ALSO VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA:

The joint convention between the Bishops of the African M E. Church and the Bishops of the African M. E. Zion Church met punctually, as had been announced for them, in Bethel Church, on Sixth Street, at 10 o’clock A.M., on the 15th inst.  The Bishops of the two churches or wide-spread denominations, walking up the great isles of that massive church, one set from the front end, the other from the southeast end, and meeting in front of the altar, where handshaking and introductions to each other took place, was said by those who were merely lookers-on to have been one of the grandest, as well as the most impressive, sights they ever beheld and that possibly can ever occur in this country again. 
The procession of the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church marched up in the rear of each other as follows: 1st Senior, Bishop D.A. Payne, D.D., LL.D; then came Bishops Wayman, Campbell, Shorter, Ward, Brown, Turner, and Disney.  Bishop Cain, being sick, was absent.  The A.M.E. Zion Church Bishops walked in as follows:  First, Senior Bishop S.T. Jones, D.D.; then came Bishops Thompson, Moore, Hood, and Lomax. Singular as the fact may appear, notwithstanding these Bishops have been traveling all over the nation for years, there were several who had never seen each other to know it before.  The sight of Bishop Thompson had been long desired by me, while the sight of Bishop Payne was a long desire of Bishop Lomax, etc.  Bishop Disney, of Canada, appeared to be the least known by the Zion Bishops. 
After the introductions were over and a few social words had passed between the Bishops of the respective bodies, Bishop Payne called the house to order and stated that the convention had long been published and looked for with great anxiety; that the two last General Conferences had, with a view to organic union, appointed twelve ecclesiastical commissioners each, making twenty four in all, to meet and propose plans to unite these two rival connections, which were about the same age and bore the same title to the exception of the little word “Zion” and that term had only been adopted by our sister Church about eighteen years;  prior to this both were titled A.M.E. Church.  These commissioners met in Washington D.C., July 16th and 17th, 1885, held their convention and adopted terms of union and had submitted them to this joint meeting of Bishops for approval or disapproval before submitting them to the ministers and members throughout the land for ratification etc., etc. 
At the conclusion of these remarks Bishops Payne and Jones, each being Seniors in their respective churches, took chairs on each side of the channel table, when Bishop A.W. Wayman, D.D. read a hymn, which was sung, and Bishop Jones offered a solemn and heart-feeling prayer.  Bishop J. W. Hood, D.D., read the second hymn and Bishop J P. Campbell, D.D., LLD., offered prayer.  Bishop Payne then read the 17th chapter of St. John and commented on the unity of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, after which Bishop Thompson offered prayer.  Another hymn being sung Bishop Lomax prayed.  Bishops Hood and Brown were then selected Secretaries of their respective boards, with Elders Blackett and J.I. White as assistants.  The two elders were the real secretaries and the two Bishops were merely the official secretaries. 
            Thus the organization was complete, with the understanding that Bishops Payne and Jones should preside alternately, and that the sessions should be held one day in an A.M.E. Church and one in an A.M.E.Z. Church, so there should be no want of respect for either side.
            Bishop Jones then arose and gave one of the most masterly addresses to which I had ever listened.  Among other things he said, we are here to unite two of the oldest if not the greatest colored denominations in the nation.  Nearly a million of members and all of two million people have their eyes upon us; millions yet unborn would sit in judgment upon our deliberations.  The unity of these two churches would largely unite the negro race.  There was no difference between us in faith articles of religion, church rules, and government, preaching, singing and scarcely in name, and he was sure there was no difference in color.  {Applause} That we were not preparing a great church for ourselves, but for our children and for the millions of Africa to share in, as we would all soon be dead and gone.  Let us not hand the wrangles of our fathers to the children any longer; to do this we must make mutual sacrifices, give and take, &c., &c.
            It would be impossible to write up a full account of our three days’ session as every Bishop spoke from three to a dozen times, some keeping the floor the best end of an hour. Suffice it to say that eloquence, logic, history, science, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and learning, in general, entered into the debates, and if never before, dignity and prelatical decorum characterized the deportment of negro Bishops.  I never saw the United States Senate more resembled in my life than in this instance.  The only ranter in the conclave was myself. 
            Out of the fourteen articles submitted by the commission for our inspection and approval, all were adopted with some few amendments, to the exception of two – the seventh and the tenth, the first relating to the name, and the other to Episcopacy.
            The commission had recommended that the names A.M.E. Church and the A.M.E.Z. Church be dropped in the event of a union, and the First United M. E. Church be adopted.  To this, several on both side objected. Bishop Wayman moved that the United A.M.E. Church be the name, but the Zion Bishops wanted to hold on to the word Zion.  This called forth a long discussion pro and con.  Bishop Jones then moved that the name be The United Bethel and Zion A.M.E. Church.  But our side contended that we would be laughed at by the world, that it would take two lines to hold the name and be ridiculous, and after a long exhaustive discussion, the Bishops, of the Zion Church, however, finally consented to take First United M. E. CHURCH, but our side (except Bishop Payne) was opposed to dropping the word African.  So the name feature ended in a disagreement, as neither side would yield to the other.
            The tenth article, touching the touching the Episcopacy, could have been adopted easily enough had it been properly discussed and mutually understood.   But Bishop Hood, hearing that the commissioners had said something in their session which was repulsive to him, arose and remarked that if it was repeated here he should regard it as an insult, and thus retire, or words to that amount.  Some of our Bishops thought the remarks also offensive, as we did not know what he was talking about, and that it was not courteous to throw out such a hint without he had been gored in some way.  Whereupon Bishop Campbell moved to take the question without further debate, and all our Bishops voted against the article, except Bishop Payne, who voted for it, and the writer who did not vote at all, for the reason, as he thought, that both sides were voting more  in the spirit of an imaginary retaliation than upon the merits of the case. This was the only foolish thing we did.  The Bishops of the Zion Church are obligated to the full extent as we are, or any of the white Methodist Bishops.  But it appears that only a part has been consecrated by the laying on of hands. 
This irregularity or in harmony could have very easily been fixed up among themselves, had the matter been coolly and fraternally talked over; but it was defeated by the impulsiveness of Bishops Hood and Campbell, for which both will have a hard time at the Judgment Seat unless they repent  In less than twenty-five minutes afterwards, both sides saw their mistake, but it was too late, the article had been rejected and there was no honorable way to recede or reconsider.  Had the Episcopal section been tided over, I believe we would have patched up a name and secured unity.  We adjourned, however, to meet next July in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  We may pass the Rubicon then, should we live to meet again. 
This much I can say, we are a great deal closer together than ever before. Among other reasons, we know and understand each other better.  I do think, however, in all kindness, that our Zion colleagues are overreacting to the name feature. We consented to add one more term to our name.  I mean “United” while they are unwilling to have the small word “Zion” transmuted into “United”  If we were willing to increase the size of our name surely they should have been willing to change the signification of a term which they never adopted until eighteen years ago.  I think we have an elephant of a name now, but to make it a mammoth name is too much.  And I am sure that the ministry and laity of neither Church desires to drop the term “African,” since all our Church deeds are drawn up with that term in them and would infinitely more unsettle the legal aspect of our property relation than a dozen terms expressive of confederation
            This letter by no means narrates the process of our deliberation. I have merely descanted upon the vital points to let you see about where we are and what to hope for.  I now believe, however, that organic union is simply a question of the near future, for I could see, after all, when we came to adjourn, that both sides felt quite solemn, and that there was a great reluctance in separating.  I am sure our Bishops have a much higher regard for the Zion Bishops than they had when we met, and I think the same exists on the other side, the writer possibly excepted,  who played the rustic frequently for the purpose of keeping up a good humor when he thought things were waxing warm. I am &c;  H.M. Turner