There are three synods or judicatories styled Conferences in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
I. The Quarterly Conference of each circuit or station consists of the "travelling and local preachers, exhorters, stewards, and class-leaders of the circuit or station. The presiding elder, and, in his absence, the preacher in charge, is president. The regular business of the Quarterly Conference is to hear complaints, and to receive and try appeals; to superintend the interests of Sunday-schools, to license local preachers, 'to appoint stewards," etc. (Discipline, pt. 2, ch. 1, § 3).
II. The Annual Conference is composed of all the ministers in a certain territory included in the "Conference." There are now (1867) fifty-nine Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, including Mission Conferences, besides those of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The functions of the Annual Conference are purely administrative. At each session the preachers are "appointed" to their several stations for the ensuing year by the bishop (Discipline, pt. 2, ch. 1, § 2).
III. The General Conference is "composed of one member for every twenty-seven members of each Annual Conference, appointed either by seniority or choice, at the discretion of such Annual Conference." It meets once in four years, and is presided over by the bishops. It has full power to "make rules and regulations for the Church," subject to certain limitations known as "constitutional restrictions" (Discipline, pt. 2, ch. 1, § 1). SEE METHODISM.
In the Wesleyan Church, in England, all the ministers meet in one Conference. "The first Conference of the Wesleyan Methodists was held in London in the year 1744. It was attended only by six persons, five of whom were clergymen. By them the characters of the preachers were examined, differences of theological opinions repressed, the stations of the preachers determined, and their hearts warmed and cheered by mutual consultation and prayer. As Mr. Wesley declined into the vale of years, the perpetuity of that system of doctrine and discipline, which had been so signally owned of God in the conversion and salvation of men, became a matter of anxious concern both to himself and his people. The appointment of the preachers to the various chapels, and to the consequent pastoral charge of the societies, presented the greatest difficulty. The preachers felt the importance of the case, and requested Mr. Wesley to consider what could be done in this emergency, so that, in the event of his death, the connection might not be dissolved. He took legal advice, and drew up the 'deed of declaration,' constituting one hundred preachers by name 'the Conference of the people called Methodists;' at the same time defining their powers, and making provision for the filling up of all vacancies occasioned by death, superannuation, or expulsion. This deed he caused to be enrolled in the High Court of Chancery in the year 1784. Thus the power of government which Mr. Wesley possessed during his life, by his appointment devolved upon the Conference after his decease, he having nominated its members, provided for its perpetuity, and defined its powers by the 'deed of declaration.' To prevent any abuse of this instrument on the part of the 'legal hundred,' Mr. Wesley left a letter, to be read by the Conference at its first assembling after his death, of which we subjoin an extract: 'I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you never avail yourselves of the "deed of declaration" to assume any superiority over your brethren, but let all things go on, among those itinerants who choose to remain together, exactly in the same manner as when I was with you, so far as circumstances will permit. Have no respect of persons in stationing the preachers, in choosing children for Kingswood school, in disposing of the yearly contribution and the preachers' fund, or any other public money, but do all things with a single eye, as I have done from the beginning.' When this letter was read after Mr. Wesley's decease, the Conference unanimously resolved that all the preachers who are in full connection with them shall enjoy every privilege that the members of the Conference enjoy, agreeably to the above-written letter of our venerable deceased father in the Gospel. The Conference of the preachers of the Methodist societies is held annually in some one of the principal cities and towns in the kingdom. Representatives from the Irish Conference, whose sittings precede the English Conference by a few weeks, regularly attend." See Jackson, Centenary of Wesleyan Methodism, 1839; Stevens, History of Methodism.