BUMC History: Circuit Riders
The Ohio conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church already consisted of a number of very large circuits which used John Wesley’s system in England as a model.  Wesley had established a pattern of moving his preachers to new assignments every few month thus keeping them itinerating.  This practice was called the itinerancy” and the preachers were referred to as circuit riders.  As time went on, a circuit rider became responsible for more than one society—sometimes in America for a circuit consisting of as many as 20 or 30 societies.  The early circuit riders traveled continuously from place to place preaching, marrying, performing baptisms, singing and praying with the small Methodist societies, while the Presiding Elder visited each district four times a year and held a quarterly meeting to conduct the business of the church.

Earning fifteen dollars a year, being drenched with water, sore from the saddle and exhausted from the three to four hundred mile circuits they had to cover every two to six weeks, the circuit riding preachers of early America were a faithful, strong group of young men, who were committed to their ministry. They struggled along hard trails and through difficult trials, but, with the purpose of telling the nation about God, they could only continue on joyfully, following God's calling in their lives.

While some of these faithful men only had to cover small circuits of three to four churches others covered much larger territories.  The trail itself was always physically demanding, as one pioneer preacher records: "Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet, and some days from morning to night I am dripping with water. My horse's legs are now skinned and rough to his hock joints, and I have rheumatism in all my joints . . . what I have suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you".

As the preacher continues, he tells why he was willing to suffer as he did, "But this I can say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and I can say with Saint Paul, 'But none of these things shall move me. Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy'".

Life on the trail for the intense preachers was in fact so rugged and exacting that half of these ministers died before the age of thirty-three. Others thrived through this severity despite the hardships; one particular preacher named Peter Cartwright rode the circuit for seventy-one years!!

One of the most famous Methodist circuit riders was Francis Asbury. He clearly had a strong and deep devotion to God and the nation of America. He came over from England as a missionary to America, in 1771, and was so busy with preaching that he often only had time to study the Word of God while in the saddle. His commitment was evidenced in the fact that though he was often plagued with illness and other physical problems, he continued preaching regularly. It was recorded that he even continued to visit his circuits when he was so ill that he had to be tied to the saddle to remain upright.

The early circuit riders preached nearly every day, healthy or ill, as John Brooks related about his first three years of itinerancy. "I lost my health and broke a noble constitution." During one raging revival, he "lay in bed," but the people "literally forced me out, and made me preach".

In their first year the Brecksville Methodist Society enjoyed the preaching and spiritual leadership of James Rowe (1823-1824), Solomon Manear and John Pardo (1824-1825), Orin Gilmore and Joab Ragan (1825-1826) and John Crawford and James C. Taylor (1826-1827).  The Era of the Circuit Riders lasted until about 1910 and throughout those years 88 different men brought the word of God to the people of the Brecksville Methodist Society and the Brecksville Methodist Episcopal Church.