Since the early years of Free Methodism, general conferences have played a key role in shaping the doctrine, structure and direction of the church. General conferences have been held every four years since 1862 except for three five-year and two six-year interludes. Here are a few important moments at past general conferences:
The denomination’s first general conference convenes Oct. 8–15 in St. Charles, Illinois, and then adjourns to meet again Nov. 4–6 in Buffalo, New York.
Legislation creates the General Missionary Board to separate “foreign missions” from “home missions.”
Delegates support simplicity in dress on principle of freeing resources to help the poor, but they warn against an “unscriptural spirit of judging … for things that are not clearly contrary to the Word of God.”
The general conference lifts the ban on choirs in public worship. It also allows the use of musical instruments by a majority vote of the local church. (General Conference 1943 approved instrumental music on a two-thirds vote of the local church.)
Women are granted ordination as elders, more than eight decades after B.T. Roberts first pushed for their full ministerial status.
The entry level for church membership changes to focus primarily on repentance, faith and baptism.
Delegates approve a resolution inviting “every Free Methodist and every Free Methodist Church” to “pray and fast for the purposes of seeking God and pursuing God’s will,” “challenge each other to increased time for personal and corporate involvement in the Word of God,” “ask God and each other what it is God wants us to start doing and what it is God wants us to stop doing” and seriously consider the question: “What will we do as a result of what God is saying to us?”
Sources: “A Future With a History” by David L. McKenna (Light & Life Communications, 1997); “The ‘Free’-ing of Methodism” (fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm/history); “Five Resolutions from GC11” (fmchr.ch/gc11resolutions); “From Age to Age a Living Witness” by Leslie R. Marston (Light & Life Press, 1960).