District Synod

When the WM Connexion was divided up in 1791 into geographical Districts, the Assistant of any Circuit was given authority to summon the preachers of the District in full connexion where a 'critical case' occurred, in order to deal with the business, subject to any Conference resolution. They were to choose a chairman for the occasion, who was to lay the minutes of this District Committee before the next Conference. At the Conference of 1792 this ad hoc arrangement was replaced by provisions for the appointment of a Chairman for the District.

The District Committee, or District Meeting, became an important part of the connexional economy, meeting annually in May, still technically as a committee of the Conference and with regulations for its business laid down in 1812. The preachers and those on trial for the ministry were obliged to attend. By 1817 laymen (generally Circuit Stewards) obtained the right of attendance when financial matters were discussed. In 1819 a financial District Committee was created, i.e. the September District Meeting. In WM two sessions developed, the ministerial and the joint ministerial and lay session. The authority of the Conference to overrule the District Meeting was at stake in the Leeds Organ Case. Cases of discipline were dealt with by a 'Minor District Meeting', usually comprising four itinerant ministers and the Chairman. Lord Lyndhurst's judgment in the Warrenite controversy confirmed that the meeting's jurisdiction generally extended to suspending or removing a preacher, subject to the decision of Conference.

The MNC created District Meetings in 1844, with equal ministerial and lay representation, and the UMC constitution provided similarly in 1907. District Meetings were of particular importance in the PM connexion, especially in the mid-nineteenth century, because of the restrictive rules about membership of the Conference; hence the culture of this period is described as 'Districtism'. Stationing of ministers took place there until 1879 and ordinations until 1932. The District Meeting in WM was officially renamed the 'District Synod' in 1892, a term already in common usage, and a similar process took place elsewhere.

Since Methodist Union in 1932, District Synods have been held in the Spring and Autumn, comprising all those stationed in the District, lay representatives of each Circuit (including Circuit Stewards), and various District officers. Attendance is compulsory for ministers, deacons and probationers. A separate Ministerial Session continues, but the jurisdiction of the Minor Synod was replaced by that of a connexional Pastoral (later Discipline) Committee in 1985. From 1999 the Synod is only required to meet once a year.

  • WM Magazine, 1835, pp.295-315
  • J.S. Simon, A Summary of Methodist Law and Discipline (5th edn., 1923) pp.331-70
  • For the Lyndhurst judgment:Edmund Grindrod, Compendium of the Laws and Regulations of Wesleyan Methodism (1842) pp.371-409