The Suggs’ Family Conversion Narrative and Emma Ray’s Conversion

(Part of an ongoing series on the rhetorical narratives of two late nineteenth century and early twentieth century African-American Free Methodist Women) The conversion of Eliza Suggs’ father Suggs’ spent much of her life riding around in a baby carriage pushed by her sister Katie, who served as her caretaker, or another family member. So, while she had her own physical hardships to deal with, worldliness was not one of the vices she struggled with. Yet, Suggs realized this tension between things of the world and things of the spirit was an essential rhetorical device for her conversion narrative. As … Continue reading The Suggs’ Family Conversion Narrative and Emma Ray’s Conversion

Emma Ray and Eliza Suggs Writing and Wesleyan Rhetoric

Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts felt strongly that the antebellum Methodist Episcopal Church had forgotten the vision of John Wesley. Thus, it is not surprising that the early Free Methodist publications, including Roberts own magazine The Earnest Christian, strongly resembled Wesley’s Arminian Magazine.  In fact, Methodist conversion narratives changed little from the time of Wesley in the 18th century to the narratives of Suggs and Ray in the early 20th century.  In the 18th century preachers would receive letters from individuals they had converted and these letters were often published to encourage conversion and the faithful (Hindmarsh, 2008). The rise … Continue reading Emma Ray and Eliza Suggs Writing and Wesleyan Rhetoric

History is More than Just Remembering Facts: It’s a Call to Action and Reform

The Free Methodist Denomination has a long history of supporting women in ministry. However, the battle for official ordination went on almost a 100 years. It began in 1860 when the denomination was founded. B.T. Roberts, one of the main founders, decided for the health of the fledgling denomination not to pursue ordaining women at the same time the denomination was forming. So, the debate raged on at general conferences and in the denominational magazine The Free Methodist (later to become Light and Life magazine) until 1974 when women were officially approved for ordination. The commitment of women in the … Continue reading History is More than Just Remembering Facts: It’s a Call to Action and Reform

Eliza Sugg’s Use of Poetry for the Temperance Cause

While Eliza Suggs and Emma Ray both were African-American women at the turn of the 20th century their narratives are very different. Ray focuses on her urban ministry with her husband and her involvement in the Colored Women’s Christian Temperance Union. While her faith does play a very large role in her autobiography, you don’t see the strong ties to preaching and speaking at revivals that Eliza notes in her narratives. What seemed to come easily to Eliza (speaking up at revival meetings and testifying) did not come easily to Ray. Yet, the place where their narratives intertwine the most … Continue reading Eliza Sugg’s Use of Poetry for the Temperance Cause

Small in Stature but Big in Faith: The Story of Eliza Suggs Part 1

There are only two autobiographies written by 19th century African- American women in the Free Methodist Denomination. While this could be viewed as another example of segregation in Christian culture, I prefer to view the narratives of Emma Ray and Eliza Suggs as examples of women who bridged racial and gender barriers to actively engage in their chosen denomination. I’ve already written in detail about Emma Ray’s narrative, which is the more overlooked narrative of the two, but I would like to spend a few posts talking about Eliza Suggs influence. Suggs has received more attention from historians within the … Continue reading Small in Stature but Big in Faith: The Story of Eliza Suggs Part 1

The Vision and Founding of the Free Methodist Church: Separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church Skit

This is a short skit I wrote for the 150th anniversary of the Free Methodist denomination this past August. I’ve found that creatively writing out some of the historic details helps me better understand the history and passion of the individuals I’m researching. Feel free to reproduce this play at your own church, just make sure to give me credit as the author. I’m basing this off the honor system. Minor changes to staging or script are permitted. Cast: Narrator 1 Narrator 2 Genesee Conference Delegate B.T. Roberts Ellen Roberts Trial Observers (2 to 3) Stage Setting: Two podiums (or … Continue reading The Vision and Founding of the Free Methodist Church: Separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church Skit

Women and Temperance Part 2

The temperance movement, while often viewed as a failure because of the repeal of the probation, was in fact a huge success in terms of social movements.  The temperance movement was one of the most popular, successful and long lasting social movements in American history (Dannenbaum, 2001). This was in large part due to the commitment and conviction of religious women who spent decades fighting against alcohol consumption.  Many women who were involved in the temperance movement also become involved in the women’s suffrage movement because they realized the lack of voice they had in national issues.  Thus, by organizing … Continue reading Women and Temperance Part 2

Emma and Lloyd Ray

In 1860 when the United States was on the brink of Civil War the Free Methodist Denomination was founded. One of founding beliefs of the denomination was freedom – freedom for slaves and the poor and the socially forgotten. By breaking off from the Methodist Episcopal Church, which rented pews to wealthy parishioners, refused to denounce slavery and made little effort to reach out to the poor. What I have found interesting in my research is that while faith can be divisive and draw attention to difference, it can also serve as a way of empowering and drawing people together. … Continue reading Emma and Lloyd Ray

A Glance at Women in Ministry in the Free Methodist Denomination

Over the past year as I’ve studied the rhetorical arguments against women in church leadership positions, I’ve noticed that not much has changed over the years. When the Free Methodist denomination was founded B.T. Roberts faced opposition to ordaining women.  He faced so much opposition that he didn’t encourage the new denomination to “officially” appoint women to senior leadership positions for fear it would divide a new, but fragile denomination. As the denomination strengthened and grew women became increasingly important to furthering the denomination’s growth and spreading Christianity. Yet, while women have been officially ordained as pastors for decades (since … Continue reading A Glance at Women in Ministry in the Free Methodist Denomination

Women’s defense of their ministry in the 1890 Free Methodist

The debate continued in The Free Methodist over the next four years, in the May 1890 issue Clara Wetherald wrote a two page defense of her ministry and a woman’s right to be part of the denomination’s governing body. Wetherald, who would go on to become one of the denomination’s first seated female delegates at the 1890 General Conference, noted in her article “Shall Women be Ordained?” that at prior conferences women were not allowed to speak until the delegates voted her approval and that men who were not members of the denomination were allowed to be seated while women … Continue reading Women’s defense of their ministry in the 1890 Free Methodist