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Superintendent is the head of an administrative division of a Protestant church, largely historical but still in use in Germany. It replaced the title of bishop in Northern Germany and Scandinavia after the Protestant Reformation, since bishop was associated with Roman Catholicism. It was also used in the early days of the Church of Scotland. Later, the title was adopted to describe clerical positions in the hierarchy of Methodist churches.
Superintendents were created in Sweden after the Protestant Reformation. The office was similar to that of bishop, but instead of being ordained by the archbishop, the superintendent was appointed by the Crown. This new model of ecclesiastical polity was partly political, as the Roman Catholic bishops before the Reformation held considerable political power and often used it against the king. Superintendents' loyalty was supposed to lie with the head of the new Church of Sweden, the monarch. Some Lutheran theologians also considered the term less Catholic and therefore preferable to 'bishop'.
In Sweden proper, the following dioceses have been governed by a superintendent:
- Diocese of Kalmar (1603–1678, thereafter presided by a bishop till 1915, when merged with the diocese of Växjö.
- Diocese of Göteborg (1620–1665, thereafter presided by a bishop)
- Diocese of Visby (1645–1772, thereafter presided by a bishop)
- Diocese of Mariestad (1583–1646, superintendent moved to Karlstad and Mariestad absorbed into the diocese of Skara)
- Diocese of Karlstad (1647–1772, superintendent moved from Mariestad; presided by a bishop since 1772)
- Diocese of Härnösand (1647–1772, thereafter presided by a bishop)
- Superintendents in the diocese of Oslo
- Hans Rev 1541-45
- Anders Madssøn 1545-48
- Frants Berg 1548-80
- Jens Nilssøn 1580-1600
- Anders Bentssøn Dallin 1601-1608
- Niels Clausen Senning 1608-17
- Niels Simonsen Glostrup 1617-39
- Oluf Boesen 1639-46
- Henning Stockfleth 1646-64
- Superintendents in the diocese of Stavanger
- Jon Guttormsen 1541-57
- Jens Gregoriussen Riber 1558-71
- Jørgen Erikson 1571-1604
- Laurits Clausen Scabo 1605-26
- Thomas Cortzen Wegener 1627-54
- Marcus Christensen Humble 1655-61
- Superintendents in the diocese of Bjørgvin
- Gjeble Pederssøn 1537-57
- Jens Skjelderup 1557-82
- Anders Foss 1583-1607
- Anders Michelsen Kolding 1607-15
- Niels Paaske 1616-36
- Ludvig Munthe 1636-49
- Jens Pedersen Skjeldrup 1649-65
- Superintendents in the diocese of Nidaros
- Thorbjørn Olavssøn Bratt 1546-48
- Hans Gaas 1549-78
- Hans Mogenssøn 1578-95
- Isak Grønbek 1596-1617
- Anders Christensen Arreboe 1617-22
- Peder Jenssøn Schjelderup 1622-42
- Erik Bredal 1643-72
The Church of Sweden's organisation in the Baltic provinces were created by similar provisions. Livonia came under a superintendent in 1622 and a superintendent-general from 1678. Superintendents were also appointed to Ingria in 1641 and to Saaremaa in 1650; a superintendent was also appointed to Estonia for a shorter period, probably 1622-1638, as well as to Riga and Reval.
The Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Hanover used to maintain several consistories until 1922, each led by a General Superintendent.
In the Electorate of Brandenburg the title General Superintendent was used until 1632. In the years since 1817 during the constitutional reforms of the Evangelical Church in Prussia, including the then March of Brandenburg provincial subsection, the title General Superintendent was reintroduced in 1828, with each general superintendency (German: Generalsuperintendentur) supervising a number of deaneries. The title superintendent referred to the head of a deanery.
In the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, a successor church body of the former, the term Superintendent refers to the head of a deanery (German: Kirchenkreis). The term General Superintendent refers to the each head of one of the three regions (German: Sprengel), each comprising several deaneries.
From 1561 to 1564 Primož Trubar was superintendent of Slovenian Protestant church in Ljubljana (Laibach).
The term "Superintendent" is used for several varying positions in Methodism worldwide. In the American sense, specifically within the United Methodist Church, the title is used not to refer to a minister who is equivalent to a bishop but to the supervisor of a district, which is a regional subdivision below an episocopal area (equivalent to a diocese). According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,
The offices of bishop and district superintendent exist in The United Methodist Church as particular ministries. Bishops are elected and district superintendents are appointed from the group of elders who are ordained to be ministers of Word, Sacrament, and Order and thereby participate in the ministry of Christ, in sharing a royal priesthood which has apostolic roots (I Peter 2:9; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2-3; I Timothy 3:1-7).
In the British Methodist Church and its offshoots, a Superintendent is a minister who serves in a supervisory position over a Methodist Circuit (a small group of churches to which ministers are appointed).
The term Superintendent evolved in Britain before the death of Methodist founder John Wesley and was a description of the responsibilities of some of his Assistants (a role which later evolved into what is now known as ordained presbyteral ministry).
The Hungarian Reformed Church has bishops which continue to this day unlike in Scotland where the positions were more like roles rather than offices of the church and were historically discontinued. The Church of Scotland's First Book of Discipline of 1560 provided for Scotland to be divided into ten dioceses with superintendents. They were: -
However, only five superintendents were ever appointed. They were: -
- Séon Carsuel - Argyll and the Isles
- John Erskine of Dun - Angus and Mearns - appointed while still a layman.
- John Spottiswood - Lothian - father of John Spottiswoode, Archbishop of St Andrews
- John Willock - the West
- John Winram - Fife and Strathearn
There were other roles not used by later Scottish Presbyterians. For example John Row was appointed Commissioner of Nithsdale and Galloway.
- The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008: Chapter Three. The Superintendency. Section II. Offices of Bishop and District Superintendent - ¶ 402. Special Ministry, Not Separate Order(retrieved 10 October 2014).
- What is a Circuit Superintendent?. The Methodist Conference. 2005.
- The First Book Of Discipline (1560) - The Fifth Head Concerning the Provisions for the Ministers, and for the Distribution of the Rents and Possessions Justly Pertaining to the Kirk - The Names of the Places of Residence, and Several Dioceses of the Superintendents
- Kirk, James (1980). "The Polities of the Best Reformed Kirks': Scottish Achievements and English Aspirations in Church Government after the Reformation". The Scottish Historical Review. 59 (167 part 1): 30. JSTOR 25529356.