Local Preachers The term "local," as applied to preachers in Methodist churches, is used in contradistinction to the term "itinerant" or "traveling," which designates members of Annual Conferences. Local preachers are lay preachers. They are not subject to appointment by bishops or stationing committees, as are itinerant ministers. Nevertheless, they are formally licensed, and subject to the direction and friendly requisitions of the pastoral authority in the charge in which they reside. By special arrangement, and by authority of the presiding elder, a local preacher is sometimes appointed preacher in charge or pastor for a longer or shorter period.
In the Methodist Episcopal Church the following is the process of the appointment of any person as a local preacher.
1. He must be recommended by the leaders' meeting of the Church to which he belongs. He must be elected by a Quarterly Conference before which he has been examined on the subject of doctrines and discipline.
2. An election by the Quarterly Conference at this stage appoints a candidate to the office of a local preacher. In proof of his appointment, he is furnished with a license signed by the president of the Conference. The license is given for one year only, and, in order to validity, must be renewed every year thereafter.
3. Subject to the following prerequisites, a local preacher may be ordained:
(1.) He must have held a local preacher's license for four consecutive years before his ordination.
(2.) He must have been examined in the Quarterly Conference on the subject of doctrines and discipline.
(3.) He must have received a "testimonial" from the Quarterly Conference, signed by the president and countersigned by the secretary. This testimonial must recommend the applicant as a suitable person to receive ministerial orders.
(4.) He must pass an examination as to character and acquirements before the Annual Conference, and obtain its approbation and election to orders.
Local preachers are amenable to the Quarterly Conferences of which they are members. An ordained local preacher is not required to have his credentials renewed annually, although his character must be approved each year by the Quarterly Conference. No person is eligible to admission on trial in an Annual Conference who is not a local preacher, and specially recommended by the Quarterly Conference as a suitable candidate for the "traveling connection." Thus the local or lay preacher's office is made preparatory to the itinerant or fully-constituted ministry. Local preachers are subject to all the moral and religious obligations of the regular ministry. Although expected to devise and execute plans for doing good to the extent of their individual ability, they are nevertheless required to act under the direction of their pastors or presiding elders, who are on their part required by the Discipline of the Church to give local preachers regular and systematic employment on the Sabbath.
On large circuits, and on stations embracing missionary work, and where the number of local preachers is considerable, it is customary to arrange and print a Plan covering all the appointments of a quarter, and designating the time and place of each individual's services. In the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Great Britain the insertion of a local preacher's name on the current plan of the charge is deemed a sufficient license and public authentication for his office. In his measures for training and employing lay workers in the Congregational Church, Reverend T. Dewitt Talmage, of Brooklyn, has adopted the system of mapping out the work of his lay preachers in a printed plan, after the manner above alluded to.
According to official statistics. the number of local preachers in the Methodist Episcopal Church at the close of 1889 was 13,558, a number less by but 1537 than that of the itinerant ministers of the same Church. The number of local preachers in the eight other Methodist bodies of the United States is supposed to be about 10,000. In all but a few exceptional cases, the individuals forming this great body of evangelical workers render their services to churches and people without fee or reward. Many of them faithfully and zealously obey the commands of the great Teacher: "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind;" also, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." While preaching laboriously on the Sabbath, they support themselves by diligence in business during the week.
Within a few years past a spirited effort has been made among the local preachers of the Methodist Episcopal Church for mutual improvement, and the general increase of the intellectual and spiritual power of the body. A National Local Preachers' Association has been formed, which has held public sessions in various parts of the United States. "At these annual gatherings representatives from all parts of the world come together for counsel, and for the comparison of personal experience, and observations, and methods of labor; also to discuss questions bearing upon their work generally." This association also encourages the organization of branch associations in different sections of the country. The National Association referred to memorialized the General Conference of 1872, requesting the following legislation, viz.:
(1.) To organize in each presiding elder's district a District Conference, to be composed of all the traveling and local preachers in the district, and to be presided over by the presiding elder, and meet semi-annually.
(2.) To give this District Conference authority to receive, license, try, and expel local preachers, and also to recommend suitable persons to the Annual Conference to be received into the traveling connection, and for ordination as local deacons and elders.
(3.) To authorize the District Conference to assign each local preacher to a field of labor for the quarter, and to hold him strictly responsible for an efficient performance of his work.
This scheme of District Conferences being analogous to that long practiced by the Wesleyans of Great Britain,was, with sundry additions and modifications, adopted, but, nevertheless, made subject to the option of a majority of the Quarterly Conferences in any given district. The local preacher's office may be considered a feature of Methodist churches, in all their branches and in all parts of the world. By means of it lay preaching is not only sanctioned, but regulated and made auxiliary to regular Church and missionary movements. In England a monthly magazine is published, entitled The Local Preacher's Magazine, to furnish lay preachers material for study, etc., since 1851. See also J.H. Carr, The Local Ministry, its Character, Vocation, and Position (Lond. 1851); G. Smith, Wesleyan Local Preacher's Manual (Lond. 1861); Mills, Local or Lay Ministry (Lond. 1851). (D.P.K.)