In the news reports swirling around the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, something struck me as odd – there were "lay delegates" among the 800 delegates able to vote on the future direction of the denomination. For example, NPR reported:
Also speaking against the plan was Nancy Denardo, a lay delegate of western Pennsylvania (source)
Methodism was born out of the Church of England, which has an "episcopal" system of government – churches are led by priests and overseen by bishops. It's a more hierarchical structure than Presbyterianism, for example, where churches are led by a group of elders and each church is overseen by all the elders in a particular region.
But at least in my Presbyterian denomination, there is no concept of "lay delegates" at the general assembly – the only people who can vote are those who have been ordained as an elder/pastor. Thus it seems odd to me that the Methodists – more hierarchical than Presbyterians – would allow the laity to vote in their general assemblies.
From my cursory research on Wikipedia, it sounds like the system today is not the way it was from the beginning – apparently the laity were denied voting rights at the 1792 General Conference, and a faction split from the church when laity were not given voting powers in the 1820s (source).
Thus my question is – when did the UMC, or its predecessor denominations, first allow laity to vote in its general conferences?