Riding the Circuit

The typical circuit riding preacher of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wasn’t someone who had been afforded formal seminary training. Rather, it was more likely a former common laborer like a blacksmith or carpenter who, following a dramatic religious conversion, answered the call to preach to the masses by riding from village to village spreading the Gospel.  It certainly wasn’t a well-paying job and many died at a young age.  In 1855 a man who signed his editorial “An Old Circuit Rider”1 knew all too well the pittances afforded the itinerant preacher. In 1827 missionaries received only fourteen cents a day on average and he had heard of ministers who hadn’t received one cent in a six-month period.  The itinerant minister might “pass the hat” and gather enough to send him down the road a bit further.  One minister receive a saddle girth for his services.  That would keep his saddle in place but not food in his belly. Yet another minister known by the “old circuit rider” made only one “cut bit” one year.  He went on to explain how in those days it was customary to make change by cutting larger pieces of silver into smaller ones.  A cut bit was an eighth of a dollar, also called a “sharpskin”.  The man was about to set upon a trip of 250 miles and what was he to do?  He started riding, making stops along a seventy-mile stretch.  Upon preaching the last service of the stretch the “cloud bursted” and his act of faith was rewarded. A friend had heard about his plight and informed the congregation ahead...