Monday, April 2, 2018

Hey Fletch … I am a researcher for a public television station. I wondered if you have ever heard of a trend where a pastor in a small, rural area may minister to more than one church?

DRF—A few thoughts come to me right away, and there is some history that is repeating itself. 

First, it is reported that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles on horseback. Whoa! That makes me sore and stiff just thinking about it. A Christianity Today article noted: “John Wesley preached in the open air to audiences estimated in the tens of thousands after Anglican pulpits were closed to him. Sometimes he began preaching at daybreak or even before daybreak, and regularly he preached three times a day.”

Second, in the classic 1963 black and white movie, Lillies of the Field, Homer Smith (played by Sidney Poitier) meets the camper-driving Catholic priest, Father Murphy (Dan Frazer). Homer builds a chapel for Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) and the nuns. It becomes the first church for Father Murphy.

These type of ministers are called circuit preachers. Pockets of them remain today. Methodism, founded by John Wesley, popularized the notion of circuit preaching. The question you ask is, are circuit riders still out there?

Katarina Schuth wrote Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes in 2006. This sociological study is of Catholic priests who serve in mostly rural, multiple parishes.

Some Methodists are circuit preachers. Traveling Preachers Bring the Word to Rural America is a 2016 article by the Voice of America News. It notes: “And meeting spiritual needs is where Pastor Dan Sweet comes in. Today, he is leading services at tiny Zion’s Hill United Methodist Church in Unionville, Tennessee. He is one of a growing number of lay pastors serving Methodist churches, primarily in small, rural congregations just like Zion’s Hill … As soon as services are over at Zion’s Hill, Pastor Sweet jumps into his jeep and rushes ten minutes cross-country to another small church where he conducts his second service of the morning.

It seems that the Methodists and Catholics dominate modern day circuit preachers. I wouldn’t say that it is a fad or trend, but is a continuation of a 200-year tradition of church in rural areas. Saddle up your horses!