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Past and Present
An Old Fashioned Quarterly Meeting


There is no institution of the Methodist Church, perhaps, which has felt the influence of the transformation our country has undergone more than the quarterly meeting, There are possibly a few of our larger rural circuits in the interior of the country, where the quarterly meeting remains in something like its primitive integrity; but these I imagine are very few, and in them I think it is scarcely what it was thirty years ago. The writer does not mention this either censoriously or regret-tingly, although he might perhaps the latter, but simply as a matter of fact and history. We have scarcely the elements for them at the present. The circuits are less extensive now than then; provision is made for the dispensation of the ordinances in the several neighborhoods more generally in this day than formerly, so that there is not the same motive or necessity for going to a distance; and the absence of the “presiding Elder” or “Travelling Chairman”—an anomalous phrase—has no doubt deprived them of a part of their eclat. But, whatever may be urged by the lover of innovation in favor of the changes the quarterly meeting has undergone, perhaps the representatives of a former generation may be allowed to linger in imagination around the hallowed scenes of past enjoyment and blessing, and “ declare to the generation following, the days of the right hand of the Most High.” Our friends from the Old Country, by the term Quarterly Meeting, must not, when applied to Canada, understand a meeting for business alone, or the convention of the official members merely. That was included in the ancient Quarterly Meeting, and was called the “Quarterly Conference,” a phrase far more just and definate than the one now in use. But the “Quarterly Meeting” comprised the assemblage of the private members from the various parts of the circuit as well, to hear the preaching; to attend the Love-feast, to have their children dedicated to God; and to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In view of this there were chapels erected in certain central positions in the several circuits, much larger than were required to accommodate the ordinary congregations in their several localities, to the erection of which the circuit generally contributed with a liberality which is not common now. There being then but few, if any Leaders’ meetings of the description there are now; and as the old Deed really empowered the Chapel and Parsonage Trustees to do nothing, except to hold the property for the connexion, all the business that is now transacted by those several courts, was then disposed of once in three months in the Quarterly Conference. This made its deliberations a matter of considerable importance. No wonder then that it should draw together all the “Preachers, Travelling and Local,” as they used to phrase it—the Exhorters, a more numerous class formerly than of late—and the Leaders and Stewards, with “all who had business with the Quarterly Meeting.” These often consisted of persons who came to prefer an appeal from some act of discipline by a committee or arbitration. Fortunately, the number of these appellants has diminished of late years, an evidence that the Methodists are less litigious than formerly. As the business of the Quarterly meeting was so large and multifarious, ample time was provided for its transaction. It was preceded by a sermon from the Presiding Elder, and usually employed the whole afternoon of Saturday. At the close of this sermon, the accommodation of the brethren and sisters from a distance was provided for. And when we take into account that it sometimes comprised hundreds, it might easily be thought, that it would be found an onerous affair. But it was never so esteemed, and it would surprise one of the moderns to see how quickly and quietly it was disposed of. If there was any exception in the matter of quietness, it was in the loving strife among the householders in the vicinity of the meeting who should take most of the guests. And it was surprising to see how many they could accommodate. The venerable Isaac Puffer tells us that the rule used to be that “ a man should take as many brethren to lodge as he had boards in his floor.” Without the least approach to anything querulous or censorious, we must confess tliat such wholesale hospitality, in a general way, is of very rare occurence now, and is perhaps impracticable. It may be accounted for in various ways: people were less precise and required less waiting on them than now; householders had no carpets to soil or ruffle; and the whole thing was more required and customary than now. The quarterly meeting business gone through and supper over, the strangers and those in the neighborhood, comprising usually all the Preachers, not often excepting the Chairman himself, met in the chapel for the great “Saturday-night quarterly prayer-meeting,” when a good part of the evening was spent in this exercise. These meetings were usually characterized by power and glory; and were seasons of refreshing and sanctification to God’s people, and of conversion and salvation to seeking penitents. The prayer meeting was closed at a late hour, only to be succeeded by songs of praise and family prayer in the several houses.

The Love-Feast was held in the morning, after an early breakfast, from half-past eight to the hour for public preaching^ which was usually at 11 o’clock, a. m. The Great Master of assemblies used to reward the self-denying worshippers for the consecration of their first thoughts and energies to him. Nothing could exceed the interest of an old-fashioned Canadian Love-Feast. The speaking was so thrilling and varied. Several things contributed to this. There was the exciting presence of so many Christian friends, many of whom had not seen each other for a quarter; there was the delightful influence of prerparatory devotions, and^the stimulous afforded by variety. A Love-Feast in a new country like this, where the persons who compose the meeting are from so many different parts, of the world, must necessarily be different from one in an older country. But besides this, the circuits were then so extensive that a greater number and variety of persons were brought together than is possible now. Only think of the Yonge Street Circuit

Comprising the country between the Highland Creek and the Humber, and from the Ontario to Lake Simcoe—Cobourg including all the country from Hope to the Trent, and as far back as Rice Lake, Percy, &c., &c. Nothing could be more touching or graphic than experiences to which the writer has listened in days past in Canada. He deeply regrets that he has not the verbal memory to recite them, or that he did not take the precaution of setting down at the time the terms in which many of these were expressed, the main facts of which have made an indelible impression on his memory. Some of these perhaps he may try to amplify at some future time.

"Haste again ye days of grace,
When assembled in one place,
Signs and wonders marked the hour,
All were fill’d and spake with power!”


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