The circuit system
The circuit system was established in the early days of Methodism, when ordained Methodist ministers were scarce. A minister would be appointed to a group or circuit of local churches. He would administer the sacraments and have pastoral oversight, but most of the services would be led by the lay Local Preachers. Later, circuits came to be staffed by several ministers, headed by a Superintendent Minister, though there could still be more churches than ministers.
The Quarterly Meeting was the governing body of the circuit. It met to consider matters bearing on the spiritual interests of the churches in the circuit, but it was also responsible for the finances and property of the circuit and for the appointment of ministers and circuit officials.
The minutes of the Quarterly Meeting are the key circuit records. The Quarterly Meeting was also responsible for compiling the circuit plan (also known as the preaching plan), which lists the chapels or meeting places in the circuit and gives the timetable for the preachers
The Methodists tended to form trusts, so as to provide themselves with a legal status and protect themselves from losing their land and buildings. The Circuit Trustees would oversee all the property in the circuit including ministers' houses (manses) as well as chapels and school buildings.
Trust records include minutes of trustees' meetings, trust schedules (schedules of the trust's property), title deeds and schedules of title deeds, account books.
The Circuit Steward was responsible for collecting from each church in the circuit the contributions for the support of the ministry; he was also responsible for the general expenditure of the circuit, including paying the ministers their allowances.
The main records created by the Circuit Steward are account books.
The Local Preachers were lay people accredited by the Methodist Church to preach and to lead services.
Records relating to the Local Preachers include the minutes of their regular meetings. The preachers are also recorded on the circuit plan, otherwise known as the preaching plan.
The Superintendent Minister was the head minister, supervising the other ministers in the circuit. He was responsible for drawing-up the circuit schedules (statistical records of church members) and was also involved in the day-to-day administration of the circuit.
There were a number of committees that met and reported to the Quarterly Meeting, for example, the Education and Youth Committee, the Home and Overseas Mission Committee. Minute books of these committees can often be found amongst circuit records.