Dr. Sarah Anne Grant served as an evangelist in Northren Indiana, Iowa and Oklahoma for the Free Methodist Church. While she appears as a licensed evangelist for the Northern Indiana Conference in 1890 and 1891, her ministry in Iowa and Oklahoma appears to have been more informal (or else annual conference minutes aren’t incredibly accurate and didn’t report all licensed evangelists). She turns in regular ministry reports while working in Iowa and in Oklahoma. The Grant family appears to encourage Free Methodist elders to come and hold revivals where Sarah would assist.1
She again appears as a licensed evangelist in the Southern California Conference in 1911. Her Free Methodist obit notes she moved to Southern California in 1911 for health reasons, but instead of retiring and resting, she again takes up active ministry, serving as the appointed pastor for the San Diego church from 1912 to 1913. The Free Methodist published a profile of the city in the January 7, 1930 issue.2
It was common for the periodical to publish descriptions of new locations the church was working in. It gave readers unlikely to travel to those destinations a chance to understand the conditions their fellow Free Methodists were laboring in. San Diego was a rough place for anyone, let alone a female minister leading a new church. The Free Methodist describes 1913 San Diego as having a population of 60,000 and was a destination for men who wanted to visit the red-light districts of the city. Because the city was hosting the Panama- California Exhibition in 1915 (meant to celebrate San Diego as the first U.S. port of entry from the canal), the city was “cleaning up.” The red light district was shut down, although The Free Methodist noted the business just went elsewhere. Largely gravitating into the local saloons, where male tourists continued their “dirty talk and life.” The bustling saloon industry was abhorrent to temperance supporting Free Methodists, but they recognized the power of the San Diego saloon industry by noting local saloons had donated $50,000 to the Panama-California Exhibition so any local crackdown by officials was unlikely. 3
The 1912 Free Methodist reports note the local pastor (Grant) was active with city reformers working with women in the red-light districts. She is also very active in writing ministry reports for The Free Methodist during this time. In some of the reports, it’s clear that these male tourists ended up in her church and had conversion experiences before heading back to wherever they called home.
1912-1913 Updates from the San Diego Church
January 23, 1912– She invited Free Methodists traveling to Southren California to visit the church at 917 Front and Bush Street in San Diego.
January 30, 1912– “I wish to say glory to God that he is blessing us with a continuous revival here. We have not had any foreign help, but just our regular meetings. Souls are getting saved and believers are getting sanctified. Eleven have joined our class since conference and more to follow.”
She goes on to report continued growth in April 1912:
April 9, 1912– “We feel it will glorify God to report this work here. We are in continuous revival. The Holy Ghost is ordering battle and giving us victory. Five more have been saved. We have not had any special meetings, but God does pour out His Spirit on our saints as we meet together. Seventeen have joined our society since last conference. Most of our converts are tourists from other states. They come a few times and are gone, but our great Captain keeps records.”
Grant alludes to her work in each report by noting they have not brought in guest preachers or held special revival services. The revival spirit is felt in the weekly meetings which she is leading.
In March 1912 The Free Methodist republished a recent 1912 San Diego Sun article profiling Grant and her work. The article gives an amazing snapshot into her life during this time. The Sun reported the church had between five to six members, and held four weekly services that averaged fifteen to twenty attendees at each service. Because the membership was so small, the paper notes Grant’s salary was extremely tiny(although she commented to the paper that she never counted the offering). Her adult children are noted as supplementing her salary so she and her husband John could get by. 4
In one of Grant’s final reports on the San Diego church she paints a picture of how rugged San Diego was during this time. In a March 11, 1913, account about a four-week revival with a guest evangelist she notes that over “thirty-souls, directly or indirectly, found their way to sound conversion and entire sanctification.” According to the article a spiritual battle “waxed hot at times, reminding me of the inquisition in the dark ages, when men and women were put to death for their fidelity to Gold and nothing but the strong army of the law prevents us from receiving violence, as several nights a crowd would gather in front of the church. They sent a Catholic in with concealed weapons to kill the preacher, but he was hindered by one of God’s little ones. He even followed him to the parsonage to antagonize him there, but two of their members were converted and one Catholic preacher was sanctified.5
Grant’s time as pastor of the San Diego church came during a time in the denomination where countless women were pursuing evangelists’ licenses and serving in ministry. In 1910, 81 percent of all licensed evangelists were women, which was an almost fifty percent increase from five years ago in 1905 when only 33 percent were women. 6 By 1910, women evangelists who were appointed to a church, like Grant was, and served in the post for two years could also be appointed a ministerial delegate to the quarterly and annual conferences. Previously, they had only been allowed to serve as lay delegates.7 The designation of “ministerial delegate” was just another acknowledgement of their important work within the denomination. However, it is ironic that women could be appointed to the same delegate position as ordained male elders but were still not allowed to become one.
1 Hamner, W.G. “Granite Oklahoma.” The Free Methodist (Chicago, March 24, 1903), 5.
2 Anderson, W. H. “San Diego,” The Free Methodist (Chicago, January 7, 1913) 5.
4 San Diego Sun, “San Diego, California,” The Free Methodist (Chicago, March 12, 1912) 5.
5 Grant, Anna S. “San Diego California” The Free Methodist (Chicago, March 11, 1912) 12.
6 Christy Mesaros-Winckles, Data on Free Methodist Women Evangelists 1876-1912 (March 2022), distributed by Christy Mesaros-Winckles.