Keep Our Faces Before Thee: Clara Wetherald’s Report from South Lyon, MI

I am beginning a long series of publishing Free Methodist women’s original articles in their entirety.  I’ve spent the past few years telling the stories of various Free Methodist women trailblazers and while I have quoted them, I want them to have a chance to say more in their own voices. This first article published in the February 22, 1888, The Free Methodist was a ministry report by Clara Wetherald from South Lyon, Michigan. Clara illustrates the tension between a believing and unbelieving spouse and women’s lack of legal status in this article. It’s a remarkable story and incredible example of her courage and the courage of the women who chose to follow Christ.

God is working here in power, but the enemy is raging the worst I ever saw. In the beginning of the protracted meeting his plan was to keep people from coming to church, and it seemed for five or six weeks he would succeed in his efforts and we must close. The congregation through the week ranged from ten to forty, and our members, what few there are, were part sick and the others had the care of them, and some discouraged so they would not take hold; and most of the time for six weeks only one or two ever attended or helped. I never saw such deep seated prejudice in any place I ever labored. Sister Smith, from Hartford, came and stayed three weeks and visited from house to house and did good and went home again; and Brother Wetherald went away on business and was gone a week, and it did seem dark as night. But I told them if there was only one came to meeting I would never give up till God came and saved souls. Then the congregation began to increase; a woman was gloriously saved, and she went three miles and got her mother to come to meeting, and she was clearly saved. She was a church member but never been converted. Then the devil began to show himself more. Several men had told their wives they would turn them out of doors if they came to church. Our circuit quarterly meeting came 3rd and 5th and it was a refreshing time. It seemed good to see some saints come, and Brother Marshall came filled with the Spirit, although tired in body. I had been prostrated with a burden for souls the Thursday night before and lay till near 11 o’clock. The people had dispersed (only as they were looking in at the windows) but this stirred up matters more than ever and brought people to the house of God, and I received the witness that souls would be saved and that our quarterly meeting would be the best we ever had; and it was. There were three altar services during the Sunday morning love-feast; and many will rejoice to know that Mr. Helmuth, the butcher, was gloriously saved in love-feast and joined the church after preaching. Brother Marshall said he could not preach. He felt like urging them to yield to God; and several got up while he was speaking.

The house was crowded Sunday night, and we have had large congregations ever since. Monday night following quarterly meeting, a sister cam forward for holiness and said she would never leave the spot until sanctified. After the congregation was dismissed they would pass along and look at her as she lay on the floor pleading with God. Her husband came with an officer to take her away. The officer came to me and said he had orders from her husband to take her out. I told him she was perfectly conscious, that he could ask her, but if not, I must forbid his disturbing her in the name of the laws of Michigan, as she had perfect right to stay. She told him she did not wish to go until she was clear. He then said he would not take her but her husband could. Her husband came forward and proceeded to take her up and carry her out. I told him he had no right to take her against her will. He went on, and Brother Wetherald said he would be obliged to arrest him for disturbing the meeting and called for help to arrest him. When he saw what would come he let her go and she went back to the altar, and such a prayer I never heard as she put up for her husband. Then another man came in crying and ragging and ordered his wife to go home. She told him it was her sister and she would not leave her. He swore and Brother Wetherald told him to leave or he would arrest him and he left crying and swearing. His wife thought he had been drinking and after her sister was set free (at about 1:30 o’clock in the morning) she said he had been so violent with her since she had been converted after holding her and keeping her from church and raging till she thought her life in danger that she wanted to go home with us, and we let her. But her husband cane with an officer and she went home with him. He was so bad that she left home again, and came to us; then he tried to get out a warrant for us for harboring his wife against his wishes; but the justice would not issue the warrant without first talking with us. I told him I would not promise to turn her into the street when she was afraid to stay at home, and had nowhere to go, and I did not believe the laws of this country demanded it, but if they did I wanted it proved, for I should certainly risk it.

Her husband watched at the church till he saw her come, then he took hold of her to force her home. She sat down on the ground; then he took her up and went to drag her away, and she began to scream and cry. A crowd soon gathered and he was afraid of consequences and let her go. An unsaved man said to him, “Oh, I would let her go to church if she wants to.” She was powerfully blessed. She is converted and sanctified and I have never seen such a miracle of grace. She seems blessed with such wondrous wisdom to answer her enemies, and has such a pure sweet countenance; no one can doubt her piety. Well gory to God! The tide of life is flowing through South Lyon, and others are seeking God for pardon and purity. I have often been tempted to be discouraged this year; everything around looked so forbidding; but I  made up my mind we would hold meeting here the whole conference year, but what we would have the victory. We have been waging war now for nine weeks, this the tenth; but it has only just begun and my prayer is “O God, keep us on our faces before thee.” I have just received the glad news that our Mary [Clara’s daughter] is gloriously saved in Gerry, N.Y. Oh pray for us! I often feel wearied and long for the “country by sin undefiled” but can say “thy will be done.” In Jesus,

Clara Wetherald

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