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, … Continue reading Finding Clara Wetherald Part Two

Women Still Struggle to Gain Acceptance in Ministry

When I tell other academics that I’m studying the rhetoric of the early Free Methodist movement I get responses such as “Free Methodists? What is a Free Methodist?” or “I’ve never even seen a Free Methodist Church.” I’ll grant that the denomination is small. Currently in North America the Free Methodist Denomination (as of 2007) estimates membership at 74,000, and worldwide there are about 730,000 members.  Yet, this relatively small denomination has a rich history that has been largely unexplored by historians and rhetoricians outside the denomination. I am thrilled that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the denomination’s … Continue reading Women Still Struggle to Gain Acceptance in Ministry

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

The Temperance Movement and First Wave Feminism Part 1

Throughout her autobiography Emma Ray’s ministry and personal life is deeply connected to the temperance movement of the early 20th century.  One of the most powerful sections of Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed takes place in 1914 when the state of Washington puts the probation issue on the state ballot. The 18th amendment, outlawing alcohol nationally, wasn’t passed until 1919. So, Washington was leading the way in a national effort to ban alcohol. The work of prohibitionists such as Emma and Lloyd who worked with other Free Methodists and members of various religious movements was a driving force in Washington deciding … Continue reading The Temperance Movement and First Wave Feminism Part 1

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

The Gould vs. Roberts Debate on Women Leadership in the Free Methodist Denomination

I have just spent the last two days at the Marston Memorial History Center, which is home to the Free Methodist archives. The amazing amount of material available for research is mind numbing. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. For now, I have enough information to get through the spring, but I will be making trips back over the next few years I continue my research. I would like to begin sharing some of the “gems” I found in the archives. First, I want to return to the time prior to the 1890 General Conference and the debate … Continue reading The Gould vs. Roberts Debate on Women Leadership in the Free Methodist Denomination

A Small Snippet of Ellen Robert’s Life

The powerful example of early Free Methodist women has been having a deep impact on me. As I’ve looked over the archives of the 1890 debate on ordaining women and saw the fiery response of women such as Ida Gage defend her right to ministry and read about the example of Ellen Roberts, who though not ordained served as a pastor alongside her husband B.T. Roberts, I can’t help but feel that the way I live my life is sadly lacking in comparison.  I don’t usually like to be self-reflexive on this blog. I prefer to keep my opinions to … Continue reading A Small Snippet of Ellen Robert’s Life