Ministerial Leadership in the Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church.
Dixon, William Edge
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Statement of the Problem. At the Uniting Conference of Methodism in 1939, the annual conferences of the new Methodist Church were divided into six administrative groups which are called jurisdictions. Five of these are geographically determined while the sixth, or Central Jurisdiction, consists of the Negro annual conferences within the United States. This Central Jurisdiction overlaps each of the other five. From the very beginning of this arrangement, the ethical problem posed by this racially determined jurisdiction has been an uncertain and difficult one for the Methodist Church. The jurisdictional system has been strongly defended by some Methodists and bitterly attacked by others. One of the groups of people most intricately involved in, and most intimately concerned about, the present status and future possibilities of this Central Jurisdiction consists of the Negro ministers who serve the churches therein. This study attempts to explore certain areas concerning the present condition of these ministers, with special attention given to their economic position, their educational achievements, the special problems of which they are conscious, and their desires regarding the future of the Central Jurisdiction within the Methodist Church. Procedure. Chapter Two is an historical background tracing the attitude of the Methodist Church toward its Negro membership from its early beginnings in America up to the Uniting Conference of 1939. Chapter Three presents certain sociological factors concerning the Central Jurisdiction. It analyzes the size of the churches within the Jurisdiction, the salary scale of the ministers of these churches, and the downward trend in the number of fully ordained ministers within the Jurisdiction since the Uniting Conference. Chapters Four and Five present information obtained four a research questionnaire which was mailed to all ministers within five of the seventeen conferences of the Central Jurisdiction. A total of 688 questionnaires were mailed and 229 of these were returned either fully or largely completed. In Chapter Four the formal educational achievements of the seven living Negro bishops and these 229 ministers are analyzed. Chapter Five presents the special problems of which these ministers are aware and what they believe the Methodist Church could do to help alleviate the problems. Chapter Six deals with the attitudes and desires of Central Jurisdictional leaders concerning the position of this Jurisdiction within the Methodist Church. An attempt is made to analyze their opinion as to the ethical problem which the Jurisdiction presents and also their wishes concerning its future position within the Methodist Church. Materials for this chapter are drawn from articles appearing in the Central Christian Advocate, official publication of the Central Jurisdiction, and from replies to the research questionnaire. Conclusions. There has been much uncertainty in regard to the total position of the Central Jurisdiction within Methodism and especially in regard to the place it holds in the thinking of Negro Methodist leaders. After a consideration of the historical background and sociological construction of the Jurisdiction, and after an analysis of the completed research questionnaires, the following conclusions have been reached: 1. The jurisdictional arrangement whereby a racially segregated Central Jurisdiction was established has never been unanimously considered as a final organizational structure for the Methodist Church. The Plan of Union was adopted by the required number of annual conferences only because a way was left open whereby this Central Jurisdiction could be reconsidered and changed at any General Conference of the new Methodist Church. The majority of the Negro delegates voted against this jurisdictional arrangement at the time of unification and submitted to it only because they were out-voted. Since 1939 there has been continuous discussion of the arrangement and much agitation for a change. The agitation has been carried on by white and Negro Methodists. 2. Sociologically speaking, the churches of the Central Jurisdiction have many factors which impede their progress and hinder their effectiveness. The churches are small in terms of active membership. In 1952, 53 percent of all charges had only 100 members or less while 29 percent of all charges had 50 members or less. The churches are primarily southern and rural in terms of location. This means that they have a low economic base on which to build. The number of fully ordained ministers within the Jurisdiction has decreased steadily from 1939 until the present time, while the number of accepted supply pastors has steadily increased. The salaries paid to Central Jurisdictional ministers are very low. In 1952, 41 percent of these ministers received from their churches a yearly salary of $1,000 or less. 3. These sociological factors point to the need for a much more effective use of the available ministers of the Central Jurisdiction. These factors form a vicious circle of inter-relating forces which make progress exceedingly difficult. An unusually high proportion of very small churches make for inadequate ministerial support, which in turn makes for a part-time ministry, which in turn makes for inadequate ministerial direction and leadership, which in turn makes for small churches. A combination of churches and a reorganization of their work is strongly indicated. 4. The ministry of the Central Jurisdiction is not adequately educated. Of the 229 ministers who returned the research questionnaires, 50.2 percent were seminary graduates. Another study revealed a canparative figure of 31 percent. The educational status of the accepted supply pastors is especially low. Of the 45 supply pastors who returned the questionnaires, none had attended seminary, ll.l percent were college graduates, and another ll.l percent had attended college for a time but had not graduated. Further, 73.4 percent of these supply pastors had not graduated from high school, and 31.1 percent had never attended high school. In view of the fact that rou ghly one-third of the active ministers of the Central Jurisdiction are accepted supply pastors, this situation is especially serious. 5. There is a correlation between the amount of formal education the ministers have and their feelings toward the present status and possible usefulness of the Central Jurisdiction. Those with more education uniformly tend to take a more adverse view of the Jurisdictim and its usefulness. 6. The encountered obstacles of which the Central Jurisdictional ministers are aware are primarily obstacles due to segregation and to inadequate financial support, but the obstacles mentioned next in frequency were favoritism on the part of the leadership and the position of the accepted supply pastors within the conferences of the Jurisdiction. Segregation was the obstacle mentioned most frequently. These ministers feel that segregation has a detrimental effect by giving them a status as second-rate persons, that it excludes them from the wider fellowship of the Methodist Church, and that it prevents them from taking advantage of many opportunities which would make for their development as Christian leaders. Inadequate financial support deprives them of many of the things necessary to the development of Christian leadership and oftimes forces them to seek outside employment in order to support their families. They feel that by trying to remove these obstacles, the Methodist Church could contribute toward their development as effective Christian ministers. 7. The overwhelming majority of the ministers in the Central Jurisdiction feel that the Jurisdiction should be abolished. Statements published in the Central Christian Advocate unanimously brand it as segregation and as an unchristian compromise. Of the 229 ministers who returned the questionnaire, 73.8 percent feel that the Jurisdiction weakens the effectiveness of the Methodist Church as it tries to present the Christian Gospel today, while 60.3 percent feel that the Jurisdiction actually hinders the development of Negro leadership within the Methodist Church. Only 7.0 percent actually go on record as favoring the retention of the Jurisdiction as it is now constituted. 8. While the overwhelming majority of the ministers feel that the Central Jurisdiction is officially segregation and must be abolished, there are wide differences of opinion as to the timing, the methods, and the strategy to be used in bringing about the abolition. One group feels that the first steps must be taken at the local church level. Some feel that a program of "permissive legislation" offers the test hope for immediate progress. The president of a Negro college proposes that the next General Conference take a strong stand on the ethical indefensibility of the Central Jurisdiction, abolish it everywhere except where state law requires segregation, and then maintain a continuous program of education and experiment looking toward complete integration not only of churches into annual conferences but of individuals into churches. 9. The feelings of the vast majority of the Negro Methodist ministers concerning the ethical indefensibility of the Central Jurisdiction as an official structure within the Methodist Church are so intense that unless some positive action toward its immediate mitigation and ultimate abolition is taken in the very near future, Methodism is likely to lose increasingly the respect and loyalty of its Negro membership. The ministers of the Central Jurisdiction will probably be reasonably satisfied if the next General Conference will take an uncompromising stand toward segregation and at least make a long stride toward its abolition within the official structure of the Methodist Church. But if this next General Conference avoids a forthright stand and refuses to make real progress toward the ultimate abolition of the Central Jurisdiction, then the Methodist Church will likely have lost for a time, perhaps permanently, its position in the thinking and loyalty of great numbers of its Negro membership
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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