Local Preachers' Discipline (Burland circuit, 1850-70)
The Quarterly minutes of the Burland Primitive Methodist circuit 1850 -1870 reveal the challenges that confronted the circuit with respect to the conduct of their Local Preachers.
There was firstly a volatility of membership and preachers (some defecting to the Baptists, Independent Methodists, Wesleyans, or the mysterious ‘Division,’ (December 15th 1851) and an expanding membership. By 1860 the membership of the circuit was recorded at the March meeting as 970, compared to the 764 in June 1852, but this overall growth hid several major losses. Back in 1851 Thomas Bateman had been requested to secure the printing of the plan, cheaply, and that 750 be printed rather than 900. Membership growth derived from Revival meetings (as at Sound Heath in autumn 1852) in the winter months, and Camp meetings in the summer, starting at 9.00am.
Secondly there were two overpowering Connexional events.
One was the death of Hugh Bourne, recorded at the December 1852 meeting:
“In remembrance of Hugh Bourne, the co-founder of the Primitive Methodist
Connexion, who died October 11 1852 in the 81st year of his age.
‘Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.’”
(The whole surrounded by a black line).
There was also the Jubilee, with the March 1860 meeting asking “that all places wishing to have preaching on the day of the Jubilee camp Meeting make own arrangement.”
Thirdly there were the expectations of local preachers, in relation to conduct and keeping appointments. These expectations were high. So for example names of preachers could be and were removed from the plan “for neglect of attendance and the means of grace.” Failure to keep planned appointments was not tolerated, though sometimes a note was sent for neglecting an appointment, and a valid reason was accepted. In June 14th 1852 “Bro. Skerratt’s reason for neglecting his appointment of Nantwich camp Meeting as satisfactory,” and in December 1852 “J. Prince be forgiven for neglecting Spurstow but that he be requested to examine his place better in future.”
On 16 March 1857 Bro. G. Harvey had been planned as a tea speaker at Audlem on May 12th, but on June 22 the Quarterly meeting recorded the penalty for not keeping an appointment without sufficient reason-“Bro. G. Harvey sink one figure for neglecting Audlem.” Later B. Lawton suffered the same “sinking a number on the plan for neglecting an appointment at Audlem.”
Conduct in worship was monitored, the meeting on June 14 1852 requesting that Bro, Bateman see a preacher “respecting his improper statement in his two sermons at Spurstow” and in 1854 one of the preachers occupied the Singers Pew, to the disquiet of the society, again at Spurstow.
June 1857 heard it reported that Bro. Parr “having used railing language when preaching at Spurstow against the travelling preacher and also against the new hymn book, he shall be informed that until he shall promise to avoid such language when preaching he shall not have any appointment on the plan.” It was later reported that he confessed his fault and it agreed he be forgiven and his case be passed over.
Falls from the standard expected were noted and action taken. Immoral conduct took a preacher off the plan ( Nov 16th 1850), and at the same meeting “that according to the evidence produced at the meeting Thomas Lightfoot be no longer a member of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.” In December 1853 the quarterly meeting approved a “special committee – to enquire into and decide upon certain charges preferred against J. Rushton for being drunk in Nantwich on December 5th.” Such a case was not isolated.
Neglect of appointments was a threat to the life of the circuit. In March 14th 1853 it was resolved “That those preachers who shall hereafter be guilty of neglecting their appointments shall not be entrusted with any more appointments until they shall pledge themselves to attend to theirs properly,” and in March 1857 “that the names of all the preachers who have neglected appointments since March last shall be inserted in the Circuit’s report.”
Bro. (Thomas) Bateman, for all his past contribution was not exempt, for in 1861 the meeting recorded “that it is the opinion of this meeting that it is decidedly wrong to go to a circus, or any other place of vain amusement, but that the reasons given by Mr Bateman for his going and his promise not to go again be satisfactory.
Consideration was given to lady preachers. Sister Jane Walters was to be planned only with “few and near home,” and Sister E. Grocott given but one appointment when her husband was not planned. By inference the travelling preachers were male, so the Crewe Quarterly meeting of June 15th 1856 resolved “That an additional travelling preacher be called out as soon as a suitable young man can be obtained.”
The demands were great, so that Bro. Bateman was exceptionally left unplanned on the second Sunday in August of 1853!