is a popular term referring to clergy in the earliest years of the United States who were assigned to travel around specific geographic territories to minister to settlers and organize congregations. Circuit riders were clergy in the Methodist Episcopal Church
and related denominations.
In sparsely populated areas of the United States it always has been common for clergy in many denominations to serve more than one congregation at a time, a form of church organization sometimes called a "preaching circuit
." In the contemporary United Methodist Church
, a minister serving more than one church has a "(number of churches) point charge." However, in the rough frontier days of the early United States, the pattern of organization in the Methodist Episcopal
denomination and its successors worked especially well in the service of rural villages and unorganized settlements. In the Methodist denominations, congregations do not "call" (or employ) a pastor of their own choice. Instead, a bishop "appoints" (assigns) a pastor to a congregation or a group of congregations, and until late in the 20th century, neither pastor nor congregation had any say in the appointment. This meant that in the early days of the United States, as the population developed, Methodist clergy could be appointed to circuits wherever people were settling.
A "circuit" (nowadays referred to as a charge
) was a geographic area that encompassed... Read More