Exhibit #3 The Methodist Episcopal Conference of 1874
What's so important about the 1874 Methodist Conference at Napanee?
During most of the 19th century, there were several Methodist denominations active in Ontario. The two largest groups were the Wesleyan Methodists and the Methodist Episcopalian. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was founded by missionaries from the United Kingdom and organized in a similar way to the English Methodist Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church, however, was founded by missionaries from the United States and grew out of the revivals and "awakenings" of the frontier. The Methodist Episcopals believed in the ordination of Bishops, while the Wesleyan Methodists did not. The Methodist Episcopals resisted working with government even on issues of education and morality, while the Wesleyans believed this to be a way of influencing society for good. Although there had been efforts to unite all Canadian Methodists as one church, they had been unsuccessful.
By 1874, it became apparent that Bishop Richardson was failing and would soon retire. The choice of a new Bishop was critical. Would it be someone who favoured Methodist union, or someone who would continue to resist it?
Partly because of the "movers and shakers" in the area at the time, little Napanee was chosen for the Conference. With a shortage of local hotel rooms suitable for "men of the cloth", delegates were billeted with private families. Almost every local Protestant church had at least one guest preach a sermon. Between sessions, Dundas Street was flooded with serious, black-suited gentlemen, some of whom were quite eccentric having wild uncut hair or enormous patriarchal beards. The Napanee Standard, whose editor was a Presbyterian, found the situation quite comical. But inside the Conference, some serious matters were being discussed. Decisions made by such religious congresses would ultimately move the new province of Ontario away from the agrarian past. The roots of the United Church of Canada are here as well as deliberations which would effect the history of Victoria University.
Whether in towns or out in the rural areas, 19th century clergymen were important influences on Ontario society. They commanded a willing and eager audience every Sunday. Social life, even in cities such as Toronto, revolved around church sponsored activities and out on the farms, church activities were almost the only choice. At a time when many people had only a few years of schooling, the opinion of the preacher, who often had college education and had read several dozen books, was highly respected. So, when we look at the faces of the attendees at the 1874 Conference, we are seeing the faces of influential men once as well-known as television personalities are today, but now almost forgotten.
These images are from the collections of the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, housed at the Lennox and Addington County Museum, Napanee, Ontario.
Each image is the size of a large postage stamp. The face of the composite print was scratched and otherwise damaged before it was donated to the Society. Unfortunately, with magnification, the damage is often evident. Reproduction is problematic.