Biblical Equality and the Spirituality of Early Methodist Women -- By: Paul W. Chilcote

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 22:2 (Spring 2008)
Article: Biblical Equality and the Spirituality of Early Methodist Women
Author: Paul W. Chilcote

Biblical Equality and the
Spirituality of Early Methodist Women

Paul W. Chilcote

PAUL W. CHILCOTE is Visiting Professor of the Practice of Evangelism at Duke University Divinity School. Involved in CBE since 1999, Dr. Chilcote is widely published in the area of Wesleyan studies. His most recent book, Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women’s Writings (Kingswood Books, 2007), includes religious accounts, diaries and journals, prayers, hymns, sacred poems, and narrative.

The essential role of women in early Methodism

O, blessed fountain of love! Fill my heart more with [Thy] Divine principle. Sink me lower in the depths of humility, and let me sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn of Him. Enlarge my soul, that I may better contemplate Thy glory. And may I prove myself Thy child, by bearing a resemblance to Thee, my heavenly Father!1

This prayer of Mary Hanson expresses the power and beauty of Christian spirituality among early Methodist women. Like Mary, most of these women remain unknown, not only to the larger Christian community, but even to contemporary Methodists. Their legacy is amazing. In an effort to introduce you to this neglected treasure and the witness of these women to biblical equality, I want to begin where they would most likely begin: in a narrative fashion. Theirs is a spirituality of biography and story. The equality of women and men in early Methodism begins in the simple fact that both had stories about their lives to tell, and all honored the testimony of their faith.

There is no question whatsoever that women played a major role within the life of the eighteenth-century Wesleyan Revival, both historically and theologically.2 The fact of female preponderance in the Methodist network of Societies only serves to illustrate a much larger reality.3 Anecdotal evidence concerning the formative influence of women abounds in journals and diaries and has been preserved in local history. Women were conspicuous as pioneers in the establishment and expansion of Methodism. They founded prayer groups and Societies, and, in their attempts to bear witness to their newly discovered faith, often ventured into arenas that were traditionally confined to men.

The story of Dorothy Fisher illustrates a typical missiological scenario of functional equality. Converted under John Wesley’s preaching in London, Dorothy joined the Methodist Society there in 1779. She introduced Methodism to the village of Great Gonerby in Lincolnshire in 1784 by inviting the itinerant preachers to hold services at her home after her move to the north. Two yea...

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