A Sermon Illustration Understood Two Different Ways

At the 1890 Free Methodist General Conference Clara Wetherald delivered an address on women’s ordination. Clara was a powerful public speaker. A woman who heard her preach in Montrose, Michigan, at the beginning of the twentieth century noted that Clara “Usually preached with tears running down her cheeks, although she was smiling all the time. She was a very attractive woman, and the tears did not interfere with her attractiveness.” Clara stood in front of the 1890 General Conference delegates and admitted that she knew the adversity facing women in ministry but felt they were particularly gifted to care for … Continue reading A Sermon Illustration Understood Two Different Ways

Archival Research is Complicated: Additional Information on Ida Gage and Clara Wetherald

New feature: The 1890 Debate on Ordaining Women is now posted under the Debates on Women in Ministry Page. It can be downloaded in PDF, Kindle or epub formats. When I began my blog in May 2010 I began it as research tool. I really didn’t expect to get many readers. I was writing for myself and to help process my thoughts and ideas as I worked. Perhaps, my family would read it out of pity for me and say “Good job, great post,” but getting anyone outside of immediate family and a few close friends as readers wasn’t something … Continue reading Archival Research is Complicated: Additional Information on Ida Gage and Clara Wetherald

Clara Leffingwell: A Free Methodist Trailblazer

Clara Leffingwell was born in 1862 in New York. The youngest of ten children, her mother died when she was very young, and she was raised by two of her older sisters. In her biography Clara Leffingwell: A Missionary, written by Walter Sellew, she is described as a very devote, spiritually sensitive child. Sellew, who is the bishop who wrote “Why Not?” in favor of ordaining women, is attempting to create a picture of Clara as a woman of faith. While there is some literary license in the biography, Clara’s story is remarkable and humbling. As a single woman, by … Continue reading Clara Leffingwell: A Free Methodist Trailblazer

Walter Sellew’s Phamplet “Why Not?”: A Logical Defense on Women’s Ordination

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

Who is Ida Gage?

Ida Gage is one of many forgotten Free Methodist women evangelists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, while Ida might have been overlooked in the larger denominational histories, her legacy lives on through her speech at the 1890 General Conference and the debate on ordaining women. In 1890 Ida wasn’t a licensed evangelist. She was just a member of the denomination who had previous experience preaching in Michigan, and was responding to a call to serve within the Free Methodist denomination. By 1892 she was “on supply,” meaning she was traveling and preaching for the Ohio Free … Continue reading Who is Ida Gage?

The Monsterous Regiment Attacks Women in Ministry

In The Monstrous Regiment of Women the Gunn brothers attempt to evoke the language of the Old Testament prophets and warn America of impending doom if they do not return to the gender roles that are laid out in a literal interpretation of the Bible. The film repeatedly references specific God-ordained gender roles that are not open for interpretation. Women are mothers and homemakers and husbands earn money and lead the family – no negotiation.  Even Christian ministry is considered a role that women cannot fulfill. According to the Christian patriarchy movement a woman’s home is her ministry and anything … Continue reading The Monsterous Regiment Attacks Women in Ministry

Fighting for Gender Equality in the 1880s “Free Methodist”

B.T. Roberts, the founder of the Free Methodist Church, served as editor of the denominational magazine The Free Methodist from 1887-1890. During that time period he featured women’s original articles, ministry reports and testimonials. Even prior to the denomination officially buying the magazine at the 1886 General Conference it was not unusual to see women’s writings featured in the publication. However, with Roberts as editor I can’t help but feel he specifically featured some articles to promote his platform of Biblical gender equality and women’s ordination. His tenure as the magazine’s editor was during a crucial time. The 1890 General … Continue reading Fighting for Gender Equality in the 1880s “Free Methodist”

Clara Wetherald Part Three: Wife, Mother, Pastor

Clara Wetherald was born Clarissa L. Miller around 1849. While Clarissa Miller was a very popular name during this time period, Her husband John Wetherald was born in New York in 1842 to William Wetherald and Hannah Ferris. John’s father was born in England and immigrated to the U.S. It appears at some point in his family’s history they changed the spelling of their name from “Wetherell” or “Witherall” to “Wetherald.” Sometime between John’s birth in 1842 and 1860 his family moved to Vienna, Genesee County, Michigan.  On Apr. 5 1866, John F. and Clara Miller married in Genesee County, … Continue reading Clara Wetherald Part Three: Wife, Mother, Pastor

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