Persistent preachers, 1807–1907
Author: Jennifer Lloyd

A response to the prominent Methodist historian David Hempton's call to analyse women's experience within Methodism, this book deals with British Methodist women preachers over the entire nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians. The book covers women preachers in Wesley's lifetime, the reason why some Methodist sects allowed women to preach and others did not, and the experience of Bible Christian and Primitive Methodist female evangelists before 1850. It also describes the many other ways in which women supported their chapel communities. The second half of the book includes the careers of mid-century women revivalists, the opportunities, home and foreign missions offered for female evangelism, the emergence of deaconess evangelists and Sisters of the People in late century, and the brief revival of female itinerancy among the Bible Christians.

Jennifer Lloyd

1 Women in eighteenth-century Methodism O 0n her forty-second birthday Catherine Cowlin O’Bryan sat down to reflect on her Methodist conversion experience nearly a quarter-century before. She had lived in the Devon village of Stoke Damerel for about a year. It was probably in one of the new small villas that were filling in the area between Stoke Damerel and the rapidly growing town of Dock (soon to be renamed Devonport), where she often preached in the newly opened Bible Christian chapel on Prince’s Street. She probably did not feel settled; the family had

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2 Women preachers’ place in a divided Methodism ‘Dear friends,’ she said at last, ‘brothers and sisters, whom I love as those for whom my Lord has died, believe me, I know what this great blessedness is; and because I know it, I want you to have it too. I am poor like you: I have to get my living with my hands; but no lord nor lady can be so happy as me, if they haven’t got the love of God in their souls. Think what it is – not to hate anything but sin; to be full of love to every creature; to be frightened at nothing; to be sure that all things will turn to

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offshoots of Wesleyan Methodism, for the entire period of the sects’ independent existence. It is likely that all their members in the nineteenth century heard a woman preach locally at least once, and probably the majority of them did so routinely. These women were part of a practice sanctioned by Wesley himself, although largely repudiated by his successors in Wesleyan Methodism. This book tells the history of the persistence of female preaching in nineteenth-century British Methodism. I am not a Methodist, so I am not writing as a denominational insider. My interest in

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to the Bible Christians before she moved to the city, her local landowner banned all Methodist preaching, and not until 1858, when she was twenty-two, did she experience conversion at a Bible Christian meeting in Bristol. She then demonstrated her faith by preaching locally and taking advantage of her father’s illness to close the shop on Sundays,   132   LLoyd_02_chap 1-4.indd 132 17/09/2009 10:04 women philanthropists preachers’ place and inlocal a divided preachers methodism with no ill effects on its profits.2 In 1859 Sarah married William Terrett, a

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people, the solemn awe, the flowing tears, &c. and was constrained to believe, that out of the mouth of babes God could perfect praise.’4 The same year, 1817, with her parents’ encouragement, she accompanied the Bible Christian woman preacher Em Cottle on a tour of Cornwall. She was not yet convinced of her calling, and although in   85   LLoyd_02_chap 1-4.indd 85 17/09/2009 10:04 women and the shaping of british methodism 1822 others prayed that she ‘might feel it her duty to exercise in public more,’ she refused a formal preaching plan.5 However, two months

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back to the mission station only to die. Lois was devastated, but accepted that it was God’s will. She intended to carry on working but had no authority to do so. The Bible Christian district meeting decided she should return to England on an overdue leave.4   207   LLoyd_03_chap 5-8.indd 207 17/09/2009 10:05 women and the shaping of british methodism Arriving in England in time to speak at the Bible Christian Conference, Lois’s address stimulated the foundation of the Bible Christian Women’s Missionary League to support the work in China. She then spent the

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scarlet fever there were public prayers for her recovery. A year later she was able to earn enough to support herself.4 She was contemplating a re-engagement with the Primitive Methodists when the Bible Christian Conference in England asked her to help open a mission in Queensland   167   LLoyd_03_chap 5-8.indd 167 17/09/2009 10:04 women and the shaping of british methodism and maintain it until the officially appointed missionary arrived. She did so gladly, but when the missionary, William Woolcock, came, according to her mother, he treated Serena in ‘so coarse

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shaping of british methodism militant suffragettes, calling them ‘silly idiots’ who ‘ought to be birched’ because she believed ‘their tactics seriously retarded rather than hastened the triumph of the cause she had so deeply at heart.’6 In the summer of 1907, aged forty-eight, Annie was ordered to take three months’ rest for her health. She refused all offers of less demanding positions elsewhere, insisting she could not leave Blackfriars. After a brief seaside holiday she was back at work, continuing until her death four years later. She was succeeded by Sister Bertha

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in Women and the shaping of British Methodism