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'Lichfield Plan'

An unofficial meeting of senior itinerants, convened by Thomas Coke, was held on 1-2 April 1794 at Lichfield, where there was as yet no Methodist society and secrecy might therefore be preserved. Its purpose was to consider the future government of the Connexion. Those attending were Alexander Mather, Thomas Taylor, John Pawson, Samuel Bradburn, James Rogers, Henry Moore and Adam Clarke. Coke's offer to ordain those present who were not already ordained and so enable them to administer the Sacrament, met with general approval, but Moore and Mather persuaded them to take no action without consulting the Conference. It was agreed to propose (a) that preachers be 'received into full connexion\' by ordination as deacons, (b) that those approved by Conference be ordained elders, and (c) that the Connexion be organized into eight 'divisions', each under an annually appointed 'Superintendent'. Although this was in line with the organization of American Methodism, the plan was rejected by Conference as 'tending to create invidious and unhallowed distinctions among brethren', partly because its proposers had nominated all but one of themselves as 'Superintendents'.

Quotations

Minutes of a Meeting held at Lichfield, April 2nd, 1794

1. A Promise of Secrecy 2. All the company except Mr. M[ather?] promise to abide by the decisions of the Majority except where he believes the Bible is against it or his conscience cannot approve of it. 3. We will make no avowed separation from the Church of England. 4. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper shall be administered wherever there is a majority of the Society who desire it; but the preachers must not canvass for votes, or do anything to obtain a majority which may lead to division or strife; nor should the Lord's Supper be administered in any chapel when a majority of the trustees are against it, except a fair and full indemnity be afforded them for all the debts which they were responsible for, supposing they require such indemnity. 5. That there be an order of superintendents appointed by the Conference. 6. That all the preachers who shall be approved by the Conference shall from time to time be ordained as elders. 7. That all the preachers, when admitted into full Connexion, shall receive their admission by being ordained deacons by the Superintendents appointed by the conference: provided, 1. That no preacher at present on probation, or in full Connexion, shall be under any obligation to submit to ordination. 2. That no preacher shall receive letters of orders till he has been ordained an elder. 8. That the superintendents appointed among us by the Conference shall be annually changed, if it be good. 9. That the Connexion be formed into seven or eight general divisions. 10. That each superintendent shall visit the principal Societies in his division at least once a year; that he shall have authority to execute, or see executed, all the branches of Methodist discipline, and to determine, after having consulted the preachers who are with him, in all cases of difficulty till the Conference. 11. That the superintendent of any division, where he judge himself inadequate to determine in any given case, shall have authority to call in the president to his assistance; in which case the president shall, if possible, attend, and shall have the ultimate determination of the case till the next Conference…

The whole of the above plan to be laid before the ensuing Conference, to be adopted or rejected, as they may think proper; but those present agree to recomnmend and support it as a thing greatly wanted, and likely to be of much advantage to the work of God.

A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988) pp257-9

Sources

  • G. Smith, A History of Wesleyan Methodism (1858-61) 2 pp.99-104, 691
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 4, 'Documnts and Source Material' (1988) pp.257-60

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Subject

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