A characteristic feature of Methodism is the provision of a 'Plan' . The plan is in essence no more than a diary of appointments for the group of preachers working within a certain circuit - in practice they are considerably complex than this and cover more than just the Sunday services.
The need for such a plan comes from one of the major structural differences between the Established Church (and its parent the Roman Catholic Church) with its beneficed vicars attached for an indefinite period to their parish church and responsible for conducting all services there, and the Chapel arrangement in which chapels are grouped into circuits, provide a nucleus of Local Preachers nearly all of whom would be in full-time employment, supplemented by a few 'travelling preachers' appointed by conference, for a limited period (typically 3 years) to supervise and provide full-time pastoral support. Within such a scheme there is need for both these Travelling Preachers (or Ministers) to regularly visit and officiate at the various chapels and for the Local Preachers to take turns, both in their local chapel, and elsewhere.
Quite when the first plan, as such, was drawn up is not known for certain; Leary dates the first mention of a plan to a letter by John Wesley dated 16 February 1780 requesting that Christopher Hopper, one of his assistants at Colne furnish him with a copy of the 'plan' and implying that Hopper had been the originator of such plans within the Colne Society. Certainly in Wesley's journal entry for 8 June 1781, re his second visit to the Island, he states of the Local Preachers: "They speak either Manx or English, and follow a regular plan, which the assistant gives them monthly". However Wesley himself had drawn up a weekly preaching plan for the London preaching places and preachers in 1754.
These plans, originally designed for the convenience of the Preachers, were at some time started to be printed and made available for members to buy. The earliest such Manx plan to survive is that of April-June 1813, and that only because it was issued in facsimile form, as a fund-raising effort, in 1898 - however a handwritten plan for 1800 was recently found. The earliest Primitive plan to survive is that of July-Sep 1824 (i.e. within a year of the first Primitive missioning).
Three obvious components:
Taking each of these in turn and, where appropriate, using Manx examples:
The Wesleyans had fairly early on decided that chapels should be built, and thus on the plans the name of the location is given e.g. Ballakilmerton, for a chapel this is generally sufficient to identify it, though sometimes the names have changed. However some names, especially on early plans, refer not to a chapel (though one may be built at a later date) but to a private house or even parish hall. But when an entry such as "John Kewley's" is used it becomes somewhat more difficult to locate.
At the head of the list are the the travelling preachers - in Manx Wesleyan plans these are generally indicated by Surname alone whereas Local Preachers are given by Initial and Surname. The Primitives are somewhat more democratic in not distinguishing them by style, though travelling preachers still head the list.
Local Preachers are ranked in order of seniority (i.e. how long
they have been L.P.s) in the plan - they could lose some of this
seniority, to 'be sunk', by missing appointments or other
misdemeanors. To be 'on the plan' in itself meant that they had
passed some examination of their doctrinal understanding and to be of
good standing within the community. Before being fully on the plan
there would be a period of probation during which they would be
indicated as 'on trial'. They would also be expected to attend
quarterly meetings as well as to play a leading part in the running
of their chapels.
Many would spend over 50 years on the plan!
Those who had not fully met these conditions might be indicated as 'Exhorters' - in the early days of the Prims they had not fully built up their band of Local Preachers and their names appear. In other plans such people may be indicated by initials alone.
Most Manx plans, covering the main Sunday services, are for a three month quarter year - starting in July when any new Conference appointed minister would take up his position. Plans for other reasons generally cover a six month period.
The diary is arranged in a table with the Month and date of each Sunday at the head - many chapels would have weekday services and these would be indicated as 'Wednesday'.
Most plans would be headed by some apposite Biblical quotation (often given in both English and Manx).
Below the list of Preachers would be various notices for that
quarter giving dates of various meetings, special collections,
together with a list of exhortations not to miss, or be late for,
Although Leary quotes many examples of Poetry, Hymns etc. to be found on plans, it would appear that most Manx plans were somewhat sober. However I have found hymns on some special plans.
An annual plan (April/June) was a joint plan covering both North and South circuits - according to Radcliffe it also allowed for an interchange of Local Preachers.
One special Manx plan was the Yn Phlan Beg (or the 'The Little Plan') - this covered either additional services held in some of the smaller chapels (often weekday services), or more usually, services held in non-chapel buildings. Such services provided an excellent training ground for Local Preachers, it was often said of a good preacher that 'he must have been on the Phlan Beg'. Exhorters on this plan are 'would be' Local Preachers.
Similar in style to the main plans, it consists of groups of names of prayer leaders for meetings on weekday evenings. The Sulby Chapel plans also indicate which Local Preacher was to give the monthly Sunday School address.
Some plans, similar to the Prayer Leaders' plans, exist for c.1887 from the Primitive Methodists for groups involved in Missioning Laxey.
W. Leary Methodist Preaching Plans, 1977 - published by the Author (still available in 1998 via Rev W. Leary, 7 Balder Court, Scartho Park, Grimsby DN33 3RD)
E Alan Rose "Local Preachers and the Preaching Plan" - chap 7 of Workaday Preachers: The Story of Methodist Local Preaching ed by G Millburn and M Batty Peterborough:Methodist Publishing Hose (ISBN 1-85852-058-4) 1995
The Society of Cirplanologists was founded in 1955 to encourage the study and collection of such plans - it publishes a twice yearly newsletter, CIRPLAN, details of membership: Mr E.A.Rose, 26 Roe Cross Green, Mottram, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 6LP.