Finding Clara Wetherald Part Two

In 1888 Clara Wetherald, a licensed evangelist and circuit riding preacher in Michigan, wrote a ministerial update published in the October 10, 1888, The Free Methodist. Wetherald had been sent to dedicate a new church in Royalton, Michigan, only to find on arrival that the congregation still needed to raise $369, and the building for the church was not completed. “It was a great cross to me to go to dedicate a church, as I consider myself a poor hand to raise money,” (5) Wetherald wrote. Yet, she led the congregation into a time of prayer on Saturday September 29, 1888, since she was opposed to raising money on the Sabbath. As Wetherald and the congregation prayed for donations people began screaming out amounts of money they could give. As Wetherald recollects, “The Spirit of God fell with power upon the people. The sister who had subscribed five dollars was so blest that she stood up shouting glory; holding up both hands she said, ‘I’ll sign five more for my husband; he’s not here” (5). The fundraising was a success and $400 raised for the church building.

Wetherald summarizes the dedication by noting that “I never saw such a scene before at a dedication. All seemed to feel the power of God and I had to go down into the congregation to get the names of the givers as I could not hear their names. It reminded me of the olden days when the glory of God filled the temple so that the priests could not minister at the alter” (5). This experience occurred while Wetherald and her husband were appointed to the South Lyon and Milford Circuit in Michigan. Wetherald does not note her husband in this article, implying that it was she who traveled alone to perform the church dedication. In many of the ministry updates Wetherald sends in to The Free Methodist it seems she and her husband travelled separately around the circuit to minister to the various churches. If they had traveled together they would have been unable to cover so much territory.

This idea of both John and Clara ministering separately is confirmed in the 1890 General Conference Dailies when during the fourth sitting while the delegates are debating if ordaining women required a chance to the Free Methodist Discipline. If so, it would require a larger vote than the General Conference and must be sent back to the states for approval during their annual conferences. As an elected delegate for Eastern Michigan (one of the first two women ever elected to the FM General Conference as delegates), Clara notes her support for sending it back to the states. She knew full well that Michigan would support the move to ordain women, as she and Abby Porterfield were already ministerial candidates on trail, just waiting for official approval from the entire denomination before they were ordained senior pastors.

Wetherald stresses that ordaining women is in the welfare of the denomination and the spiritual health of the communities they minister to. As she says, “I have had people come many miles to have me marry them, and I would not do it. I have labored many years for a $100 a year. The railways refuse to grant permits to women who are not ordained, no matter if they are licensed (evangelists). I do not stand here because I want to be honored. That is all taken out of my heart.  There are those who have been saved under my labors who have desired to receive the Lord’s Supper from my hands; but I could not administer it. God has given us this right, but the conference refuses it.” (61)

Wetherald was clearly having a successful ministry but was unable to perform duties such as marriage and communion that senior pastors were allowed to conduct. She would not be granted permission to serve her communities fully during her lifetime (official ordination came in 1974). In fact, Wetherald and many other early Free Methodist women are completely excluded from Free Methodist histories. Only Howard Snyder’s Populist Saints gives them any mention or honor for their hard work, which helped found the denomination. As dynamic as Wetherald was during her life, her memory has been lost and it is up to researchers, like myself, to bring attention to her amazing ministry. She truly was a force to be reckoned with.

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