It was a surprise to many when the Conference of 1895
was appointed to be held in the city of Edinburgh. Methodism has so slender
a footing north of the Tweed, that it was regarded by not a few as an unwise
step to fix the place of assembly for our chief ecclesiastical court on the
banks of the Forth. And much, no doubt, might be said for this view, but, on
the other hand, if Methodism occupies so limited a space in the outlook of Scottish
mind, it perhaps was not amiss, after all, to attempt to give the residents
of Modern Athens, and through them Scotchmen generally, a better idea of at
least one of the Communities which has sprung from the great evangelistic movement
of the last century. And we can speak, at any rate, from personal knowledge,
of some good effect in this direction. It was a surprise to some with whom we
were fortunate enough to come in contact, to find that the Primitive Methodists
were so very different from what they had anticipated; so far in advance in
all respects of what they had been accustomed to think when looking at us from
a distance; so that, after all, the journey so far north may not be so fruitless
Connexionally, as some have imagined.
It was with some satisfaction, we confess, that we found ourselves again in Edinburgh, with the prospect of spending at least a few days there. Many of the brethren had arrived ere we reached the city, so that our advent was not exactly among strangers. Passing from the station at which we arrived, we ascended the hill on the brow of which the Free Church Assembly Hall stands, and in which the Conference Sessions were to be held. It forms part of a massive pile of building, illustrative at once of the solidity of the Scottish character and the liberality of the Scottish people. Crossing the quadrangle, the hall is approached by a broad flight of steps leading to a corridor, from which at various points access is gained to the hall. It is a large square room, galleried on all four sides, and with rising seats on two sides of the inner square, devoted, we presume, to the members of the Assembly proper when the fathers and brethren of the Free Church of Scotland meet in their annual Assembly. The Moderator's chair is placed in an elevated position on that side of the hall abutting on the entrance corridor, and it is fronted by a square enclosure, where, we presume, the principal functionaries of the Assembly sit. The galleries will doubtlessly be occupied by the general public when the Assembly is in session. At any rate, such was the disposal of the space when the Conference took possession of the hall. Ample accommodation was found in various rooms connected with the hall for Committees of all kinds needful for the transaction of Conference business. The walls of these rooms were ornamented with well-executed portraits of the great leaders of the Free Church, and carried thought back to Disruption times, when Scotland was moved from centre to circumference by one of the noblest acts which finds record in the history of the churches. Here, in this building — which, though modern in age, is nevertheless associated with memories that will live throughout all coming generations; and which, as it stands under the shadow of the ancient Castle, overlooking the beautiful valley where formerly the waters of the North Loch spread, but where now the Princes Street Gardens afford a pleasant retreat to the townsfolk, with New Town stretching away beyond, is one of Scotland's finest testimonies of the heroism of the recent past, —the Primitive Methodist Conference — gathered for its Sessions; an assembly different in many respects from that usually assembled within these walls, but still one with it in spirit and purpose.
As we looked upon the Conference marshalled according to the districts, the delegates seemed to us mostly strange. We should judge that fully two-thirds had not seen much of Conferences before, and the elders were conspicuous by absence. What changes the years work as they roll on, carrying away some who were towers of strength in their day, and bringing up others who prove equally as strong, if not stronger. How little does God's work among men depend upon men themselves, even though it is always carried on by men. Some who were thought to be indispensable in Conference when we first attended, are now scarcely, if at all, missed. Their work has been accomplished, they have gone, other hands have taken up the work, and all moves on as if they had never been. And so it will come to pass with the men we saw in the foremost places of the Conference at Edinburgh. In a few years they will be gone, all that will remain will be a name, and that ungatherable bequest which some call influence, and through which men still live in the effect of what they have done, though that effect mingles with the general result of the Connexional life with which they were connected, and cannot be separated from it. Men make history, and pass into it, but it is strange how shadowy they become as the years pass on. Still, it is well for men to nobly play their part and serve their day according to the will of God, assured that whatever it may seem, life may nevertheless carry a heritage of good to the generations following.
GETTING INTO ORDER.
The first thing to be done is for the Conference to constitute itself, and make all arrangements for everything to be done decently and in order. So just on the point of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the 12th of June, the President took his place in the Moderators chair and opened the Assembly. The hymn 533 was sung with a solemn thankfulness, the Scriptures were read, prayer offered, the roll called over, and then the Conference proceeded to elect its chief officer. This year there was little speculation respecting the occupant of the chair. Several names had been mentioned, but when it was known that Principal Watson was to be a member of the Conference, it was generally anticipated that the choice would fall upon him, and for once, at any rate, general anticipation was right. Five nominations were made, and for each candidate there was something good to be said. Popular anticipation was, however, ratified, and by 117 votes out of 186, Principal Watson was elected to the chair. The new President was, according to custom, introduced to his position by his predecessor, who, in handing over to him the insignia of office, expressed the hope that his health and strength might be equal to the demands of the high and honourable office to which, by the suffrages of his brethren, he had been elected. The President thanked the Conference for the confidence thus reposed in him, and feeling, as he did just then, the responsibility of the trust placed in his hands, he would, he said, defer any remarks he might wish to make to a later period in the sessions of Conference. The election of a Vice-president was the next business in order. For this position four nominations were taken, when the ultimate choice of the Assembly fell upon Mr. W. E. Parker, of Manchester. The Rev. John Watson, who occupies the Presidential chair this year, hails from the North of England, where no man is more widely respected or beloved. Mr. Watson has served the Connexion in Africa and Australia, as well as at home, and hence he brings to the high office to which he has been appointed, an acquaintance with the Connexion and an experience of its varied phases of life, such as none of his predecessors in the chair possessed. As a scholar he has no superior in the ministry; as a theologian he takes a front-rank place; and as a preacher few can equal him. Kindly and considerate and impartial, but knowing well how to respect himself, as well as others, we feel satisfied that the duties of the chair will be discharged with urbanity and becoming personal dignity during his year of office. His colleague in office, Mr. Parker, has long occupied a foremost place among the laymen of the Connexion. He too belongs to the Northern counties, and has been connected with Manchester Primitive Methodism life-long (for he is a Primitive Methodist of the second generation), save for the brief period during which he occupied a place in the ministry of the Connexion, and from which failing health compelled him early to retire, but he has never retired from interest in all Connexional work, and our church in Manchester owes as much to him, and perhaps more, for its position to-day than to any other man...
[end of extract]
see president John Watson's conference address
Source: The Primitive Methodist Magazine, Vol. II / LXXVI, 1895