In many Christian traditions such as the Mennonites, Quakers, Amish and various holiness movements dress was an outward expression of faith. However, there was and continues to be a fine line between an individual embracing dress as a form of religious expression and being forced to dress a certain way as a form of legalism. Playing with the Free Methodist history of dress in the late nineteenth and early 2oth century, I’ll explore some of these tensions in a multi-part series. Free Methodist women, especially those who chose to preach and teach publicly faced numerous barriers to acceptance- not least among them their attire, … Continue reading Expressing Faith Through Fashion: Choice, Legalism or Both?
It was through Walter and Phoebe Palmer that Ellen Stowe (later Ellen Stowe Roberts) first experienced a camp meeting revival. Ellen lived in New York City with her aunt and uncle – the same city as the Palmers. Her uncle George Lane was the editor of the Methodist Publishing House. Thus, putting her into contact with numerous prominent Methodists of the time period. The Sing Sing Camp Meeting in New York was one several life-changing experiences Ellen recounted in her writings. At this camp meeting she ran into people from the Allen Street Methodist Episcopal Church where the Palmers were … Continue reading The Roberts and Phoebe Palmer
A woman of passion, faith and a cunning rhetorical ability Phoebe Palmer is one of Methodism’s most skilled nineteenth century rhetoricians, and perhaps one of the most overlooked. Palmer is best remembered for her Tuesday Bible studies “Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness” and her widely read religious periodical Guide to Holiness. Her writings and preaching influenced France Willard, the long serving and influential president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army and Benjamin Titus Roberts, founder of the Free Methodist Church. Palmer was a genius at negotiating nineteenth century gender norms to main … Continue reading Phoebe Palmer: A Pioneer for Women Preachers
It’s hard to explain to people who don’t study rhetoric why it’s important or for that matter what rhetoric is. A basic definition is that rhetoric is the art of discourse. It is the study of speech. Words are powerful tools. They support ideology, stir passion and anger, and most importantly fuel action. We study the words of the present and the past to learn from our triumphs and our failures. A society that does not learn from its mistakes is a society that is guaranteed to continue repeating the same missteps. Perhaps this why I’ve turned much of my … Continue reading Why Rhetoric Matters: The Power of Words to Liberate or Manipulate
As the nineteenth century ended the Free Methodist Church began to shift into a period of extended legalism, creating an insular society that little resembled the dynamic, Spirit-filled early history of the denomination. By the 1894 General Conference there was a push back against evangelists and a focus not on sinners but on saints within the church. The massive revivals that spread Free Methodism across the country began to become fewer as the denomination focused on legalistic practices such as simple dress and strict Christian guidelines. Ida Gage’s daughter Edith Gage Tingley illustrates the increasing tension between charismatic faith and … Continue reading Free Methodism’s Descent form a Vibrant Religious Movement to a Denomination
Since I’ve discovered that both Ida Gage and Clara Wetherald were divorced, I’ve been trying to better understand the Free Methodist Church’s position on divorce in the early twentieth century. Today I often hear people refer to the “good old days” when divorce was never an option. What both these women’s stories illustrate is that divorce is not something recent. It’s been a social problem for quite sometime. However, before the twentieth century women had few legal rights and could be trapped in abusive marriages without options. While, I’m not promoting divorce; I also don’t want to endorse people staying … Continue reading A Historical Overview on Divorce & What the Free Methodist Church Believes
Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts is known as the founder of Free Methodism. Yet, standing quietly beside him was his wife Ellen Stowe Roberts. While B.T. Roberts was traveling, preaching, dedicating new churches and attending annual conferences his wife Ellen was back at home at Chili Seminary. While she traveled with him sometimes, her impact on Free Methodism rests in her gentle spirit and quiet witness. I firmly believe that when we note who founded Free Methodism both B.T. and Ellen should be given credit in the same breath. Ellen helped shape B.T. Roberts theology through her connections to Phoebe Palmer … Continue reading Ellen Stowe Roberts: Co-Founder of Free Methodism
It’s easy to believe that the debates about gender roles in evangelical culture are a recent development. Yet, looking through Free Methodist Magazine archives from over a hundred years ago, it’s clear that the debate on Biblical gender roles goes back centuries. Perhaps, I can justify the tension regarding women’s roles the nineteenth and early twentieth century Free Methodist Church somewhat, but I cannot justify nor understand why this debate still continues. As is always the case we too often forget history and do not learn from the past. In the early twentieth century America was in the midst of … Continue reading Debating Biblical Gender Roles Then and Now
The path to ordain women in the Free Methodist Church seemed to stall with the death of B.T. Roberts after the 1890 General Conference. Yet, the battle wasn’t over. In 1898 the Free Methodist Church for the first time appointed four bishops – Wilson Hogg (aka Hogue), G.W. Coleman, E.P. Hart and Walter Sellew. Sellew is the forgotten advocate for women’s ministry. Yet, without his support I believe recognition of women’s contributions within the denomination would have taken even longer to occur. While women were not granted the right to ordained elders within the denomination until 1974, they were granted … Continue reading Walter Sellew’s Phamplet “Why Not?”: A Logical Defense on Women’s Ordination
I’m re-posting this entry since I now have more readers than I did when I originally posted it. It’s my manifesto for what I believe and what I research. Occasionally I’m asked why I call myself a feminist. Now that my blog is getting a few readers I’m getting this question more often. The concept of a “Free Methodist Feminist” seems like an oxymoron. Yet, I stand by this term. I am a feminist. While there are definitely some feminists who distance themselves from organized religion and view organized religion as just another way to enforce patriarchy, I don’t see … Continue reading What Makes a Free Methodist Feminist?