Where Did All the Women Go? The Importance of History for Cultivating a Culture of Women Leading in Ministry

As churches continue to discuss the roles of women, understanding church history can help cultivate a culture of normativity for women preachers. Historically, The Wesleyan Church has held positions and published statements allowing women to participate in all areas of ministry, and, over time, there have been advancements toward increasing the number of women in ministry in the church; however, one specific category and position has been lacking. Currently, there is a lack of advancement in the specific role of women in spiritual authority positions in the church, such as women preachers. In some ways, it seems as though the movement toward a culture that tears down the implicit biases against women in the church has made great progress, but in reality, more work is necessary for the church to flourish.

In order to understand how to implement a culture of normativity, we need to start with the history and positions of women in ministry within The Wesleyan Church. Women ministering and leading in all areas is a rallying cry for The Wesleyan Church, and it has been a part of its DNA from the very beginning. John Wesley himself was an advocate for women ministers. He allowed women to join him in preaching and in his evangelism efforts. When he was questioned about this, he pointed out that God seemed to be using women in ministry and was elevating them, so why should he stand against God?[1] During John Wesley’s life and work, Methodist women served as leaders in classes and bands, but they also served as traveling preachers with full authorization at conferences.[2] He was also strongly influenced by women in his life, especially his mother Susanna, and he saw that God was using and working through women.[3] While it took Wesley a little convincing at first to allow women to join him in preaching, he began to see that it was natural to include women preachers, given his sense of the “extraordinary call” that he believed God bestowed on people.[4] Wesley, then, believed that women could be ministry leaders.[5]

After Wesley’s theological ideas of social reform and holiness came to America, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection formed in 1843 when Orange Scott, LaRoy Sunderland, Jotham Horton, Luther Lee, and Lucius Matlack left the Methodist Episcopal Church to form a denomination firmly committed to abolitionism.[6] From the very beginning, The Wesleyan Church has been about the pursuit of holiness with a profound importance on social holiness and reform. The founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection were abolitionists who sought to break away from the episcopal structure of the church, and they were the ones who paved the way for the church to go against cultural norms in order to uphold truth. The new denomination that formed was full of trailblazers who understood that upholding Scripture would lead to social reform and continued communal holiness. Understanding and knowing that the Wesleyan Methodist Connection and Pilgrim Holiness Church believed in and supported women in all areas of leadership from the very beginning shows that the question of women in ministry is not a recent issue.

In 1848, the Wesleyan Methodists continued their social reform through the history making efforts at Seneca Falls Wesleyan Methodist Church, where they welcomed the women’s rights convention that led to the creation and signing of the Declaration of Sentiments.[7] A few years after this momentous event, Antoinette Brown became the first American Christian woman to be ordained and when her fellow Congregationalist pastors refused to preach at her ordination, she turned to her Wesleyan Methodist friend Luther Lee as she knew he was an advocate for women’s ordination and would preach at her service.[8]

The momentous occasion of Antoinette Brown’s ordination and Luther Lee’s proclamation of equality for women led to the licensing of Mary A. Will in the Illinois Conference in 1860 and then her ordination in the summer of 1861, which made her the first Wesleyan Methodist woman to be given the authority to fully minister.[9] For the remainder of the 1800s, the denomination went back and forth on whether women could be ordained after resistance arose, and ordination was placed in the hands of the individual conferences.[10]

Throughout the 1900s, the statistical data of women in ministry fluctuated from decade to decade. This could potentially be attributed to the denomination’s lack of granting full clergy rights to women until 1956.[11] On June 26, 1968, the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Connection agreed to merge together to form The Wesleyan Church, and the denomination worked to empower and encourage women in ministry.[12] With that, 2008 became a year that was marked by Jo Anne Lyon joining the team of General Superintendents as the first woman to ever be elected into the General Superintendents office.[13] Her election was seen as a reminder of the denomination’s historical efforts to allow women to fully minister and lead in all areas. And the denomination has a statement today that claims,

“On the basis of the total teaching of Scripture, the sovereign call of God to women, and the demonstration of divine sanction and empowerment of women in ministry in our own denominational history, as well as that of the larger holiness movement, The Wesleyan Church affirms that woman is full equal to man in terms of her responsibility, as directed by the Holy Spirit and authorized by the Church, to preach, teach, lead, govern, or serve in any office or ministry of the Church.”[14]

Today, we know that there has been an increase of women in ministry as a whole, but there is a lack of women in head, leadership roles in the church, such as Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor. In fact, out of 4,078 ordained personnel in the denomination in 2018, only 133 of those people were women in Lead Pastor, Co-Pastor, or Supply Pastor roles.[15] The majority of women are not able  

to minister in all areas as the culture around preaching does not consistently allow for women to do so; therefore, churches need to cultivate a culture in which it is normal for a woman to preach.

In the assessment of the history of women in ministry and the overall history of The Wesleyan Church, periods of silence and lack of documentation about ordained women pastors and preachers were noted. In the book, The Story of The Wesleyan Church, which is the most recent account of the history and the most widely read and used source in the denomination, there are accounts of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection’s efforts to allow women to be able to minister in all areas. Beyond the accounts of Antoinette Brown and Mary A. Will in the 1800s, the discussions of women in ministry have to do with women as missionaries, not as preachers and pastors in United States churches. The topic of women having full clergy rights in the denomination does not come up again until 1956. Before this time, it was left up to the individual districts to determine if they were going to allow women to be ordained, but this account of history does not expound on which conferences allowed for ordination and which ones did not. Additionally, this account of history provides a brief summary of women in ministry toward the end of the book that simply explains the statistical data of women in ministry in the 1900s, but it does not expand much beyond that until 2008 when Jo Anne Lyon was elected to the General Superintendent office. Gaps and silences in history in regard to women in ministry in all areas infiltrates the writings and documents of for the entirety of Wesleyan history. The lack of acknowledgement of women in all roles is not to be blamed on any one person or book because it can be seen throughout the entirety of church history, but that is not an excuse for action not to be taken to fill in the gaps. There have been some attempts to increase knowledge of women in ministry, including Celebrate Our Daughters by Lee and Maxine Haines, but even these attempts are scarce. Beyond the pinnacle events of Antoinette Brown, Mary A. Will, and Jo Anne Lyon, the majority of accounts simplify the information to statistical data to show the number of women in ministry, rather than telling the stories.

With this knowledge of the silences in history, it is imperative that the history of women in ministry be revisited and revised to include the accounts of women in all roles. While some of the history may already be lost, there needs to be a movement from the denomination to intentionally find these stories and write them into the history. History shapes culture as it allows for people to learn from the past and to acknowledge the ways in which the past informs the present and future. The lack of documentation of women in ministry throughout the history of The Wesleyan Church has led to a denominational culture that is unaware, which in turn has resulted in a lack of cultivation of women in pastoral leadership roles. When the church decides to include the entirety of the history of women in ministry, it acknowledges the importance of the topic and the significance of the events in history that have shaped and formed the church to become what it is today.

[1] Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018,18.

[2] Ibid., 66.

[3] Kenneth Collins, A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 11.

[4] Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists: Second Edition, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 276-277. Stephen Tomkins, John Wesley: A Bibliography, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 174-175.

[5] Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018,18.

[6] Orange Scott, “The Grounds for Secession from the M.E. Church,” (New York: C. Prindle, 1848), 46. Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018, 29.

[7] Orange Scott, “The Grounds for Secession from the M.E. Church,” (New York: C. Prindle,

1848), 46. Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018, 29.

[8] Robert Black and Keith Drury. The Story of The Wesleyan Church. (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018), 65.

[9] Robert Black and Keith Drury. The Story of The Wesleyan Church. (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018), 65.

[10] Robert Black and Keith Drury. The Story of The Wesleyan Church. (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018), 65.

[11] Robert Black and Keith Drury. The Story of The Wesleyan Church. (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018), 74.

[12] The Minutes of the First General Conference of The Wesleyan Church: Uniting Conference for the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church into The Wesleyan Church, July 15, 1968.

[13] Minutes of the Eleventh General Conference of The Wesleyan Church, 2008, 39, 193.

[14] Task Force on Women in Ministry, “Position Paper on Women in Ministry in The Wesleyan Church,” the General Board of The Wesleyan Church, 2019.

[15] Ron McClung, “The Wesleyan Church-Women in Ministry-2018,” The Wesleyan Church. file:///Users/CourtneyDunn/Downloads/Women%20in%20Ministry%20condensed%20chart%20- %202018%20(1).pdf.

About the Author: Courtney Dunn is currently a student at Asbury Theological Seminary studying for her Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. She recently graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with her Bachelor of Arts in Global Ministries and Honors Humanities. While she was studying for her undergraduate degree, she completed a research project called, “A Rallying Cry: The Call for the Cultivation of a Culture of Normativity amongst Women Preachers in The Wesleyan Church” for the John Wesley Honors College. Courtney is currently in the ordination process with the Crossroads District of The Wesleyan Church, in which she plans to serve as a long-term missionary. Courtney has a passion for the local church, and she longs for all people and churches to live more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Courtney Dunn.jpg

Mary McLeod Bethune: A Faith-Filled Journey as an African-American Educator, Stateswoman, and Civil Rights Activist

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune

Who would have imagined that a young black girl, born in 1875, who did not learn how to read until she was eleven years old could become a college professor and eventually a college president?  Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune was that young girl, and she imagined what would have seemed impossible for black people at that time in the United States, but she believed that, with God, she could achieve the improbable.  In fact, she once said, “Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service.  Without it, nothing is possible.  With it, nothing is impossible” (qtd. in Jackson 82). In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, most African Americans did not have great access to the American Dream, and, in fact, for many their faith in God became the foundation for a lifelong journey toward spiritual wholeness and economic, educational, and social access, as Mrs. Bethune demonstrates in a life of Christian service by caring for the most vulnerable in American society. 

Though they were born into slavery, Sam and Patsy McLeod, Mary’s parents, eventually lived to see the end of it.  In fact, her parents, devout Christians, ended up owning their own land and house in South Carolina, where they worked on their farm with their seventeen children.  Since the family had little money, the children did not have access to an education, but young Mary had a burning desire to learn to read, and she would learn to do so but not until she was eleven years old.       

With the support of her teacher, Mary earned a scholarship to attend a boarding school, Scotia Seminary for Negro Girls in North Carolina.  At the school, she learned the “head-heart-hands” approach (Jackson 80).  “Head: Study to build your intellect,” “Heart: Grow your spiritual life with God,” and “Hand: Acquire practical survival skills so that you can maintain your independence” (80).  This philosophy fit well for Mary because she had been given the support by her parents to pursue her education, they had given her a Christian foundation, and they had taught her how to work on the family farm.  

After graduating from Scotia Seminary in North Carolina in 1893, Mary McLeod wanted to teach as a missionary in Africa, but the missionary board of most Christian denominations in the United States had a policy preventing black people from serving as missionaries in Africa; needless to say, she was deeply disappointed, so she turned her attention to teaching blacks in the United States.  She went on to attend and graduate from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1895.  She eventually returned to South Carolina for a teaching job, and it was in Sumpter, South Carolina, that she met her future husband during choir practice, Albertus Bethune; they were married in 1903 (Jackson 81).  Now with her life partner by her side, Mrs. Bethune put her energy not only into teaching but also into starting an educational facility.  

Mrs. McLeod Bethune had a vision to open her own school because she saw that the schools were lacking in educational development for black students.  She could teach reading, science, math, and music.  Along with that, she could teach black students about their heritage, which was lacking in majority-culture schools.  So she formulated a plan to start a school.  Her husband died before seeing the dream become a reality, but she was eventually able to open her first school in 1905 in a rented four-room seaside cottage in Daytona Beach, Florida.  She started with five girls and her little son Albert.  She had a big faith in God that all things were possible through Him if she only believed. In her school, she used the “head-heart-hands” approach.  She also taught students how to grow and harvest their own food.  She also developed a choir (84).      

The school later grew to over 250 girls, and then a two-year college followed.  Her school later merged with an all-boys’ school, Cookman College.  The merged colleges became known as Bethune-Cookman College.  Ms. Mary McLoad Bethune was its president for over thirteen years (85).  Under her administration, the college won full accreditation and grew to an enrollment of more than 1,000 students. To this day, the university still stands on the motto of “Our whole school for Christian service – Enter to learn-depart to serve.” 

Being the visionary that she was, would Mrs. Bethune have imagined that two decades into the Twenty-first Century, Bethune-Cookman College would have nearly 4,000 students?  Along with increased enrollment, Bethune-Cookman University offers 35 undergraduate programs and a master’s degree in transformative leadership.  The university has maintained its distinction as a small, private, co-educational, and residential institution, still educating the minds of black students as she envisioned.  Along with establishing an educational institution for black students, Mrs. Bethune saw a need to mobilize and organize for civil rights and human rights for minority groups, especially for black women.

As a champion for the rights of minority women, Mrs. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.  This organization provided a unifying mission for African-American women who often found themselves struggling for equality at the intersections of race, gender, and class in America.  Women who were part of the organization sought for “unity of purpose” and “unity of action” (ThoughtCo).

Mrs. Bethune’s efforts on behalf of education and of improved racial relations brought her to national prominence, and in 1936 she moved to Washington DC when she was appointed administrative assistant for Negro affairs (the title changed in 1939 to director of the division of Negro affairs) of the National Youth Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and she served in that post until 1944.  

After this service, President Roosevelt appointed Mrs. Bethune as an adviser on minority affairs, and she assisted the secretary of war in selecting officer candidates for the U.S. Women’s Army Corps (WAC).  She had to be released from her work as a university president but continued to stay on part-time so that she could work at the national level (Jackson 86).

Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune’s life is a testament of service, revealing the obedience of one little black girl, born roughly ten years after the Emancipation Proclamation, who believed the impossible and attained it with God’s help.  

Works Cited

“About B-CU.” April 14, 2018. https://www.cookman.edu/about_BCU/index.html

Jackson, Tricia Williams.  “Mary McLeod Bethune.” Women in Black History.  Revell 

Publishing Group, 2016, pp.75-87.

ThoughtCo.  National Council of Negro Women: Unifying for Change. April 14, 2019. 


Dr. Trent's headshot.jpg

About the Author: Dr. Mary Alice Trent is Professor of English in the Division of Modern Language and Literature, where she served as Division Chair for seven years.  Dr. Trent, founder and past chair of the Conference on Christianity, Culture and Diversity in America, teaches courses in advanced writing, professional writing, freshman composition, rhetoric, and African-American literature. Along with journal articles, poetry and stories, Dr. Trent has had four books published: Ethics in the 21st Century by Pearson Publisher in New York, USA; The Language of Diversity by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in New Castle, England; Religion, Culture, Curriculum, and Diversity in 21st Century America by University Press of America in Maryland, USA; and Cultivating Visionary Leadership by Learning for Global Success: Beyond the Language and Literature Classroom by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in New Castle, England.

Teresa of Avila, The Leader

"Detail of St. Teresa" 1827, by Francois Gerard

"Detail of St. Teresa" 1827, by Francois Gerard

St. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun in Spain during the 16th century. Though she began in obscurity, her leadership abilities and deep devotion to God led her to become a formative leader, teacher, and reformer during the Catholic Reformation. Today, she is one of four women to be recognized by the Catholic church as a “Doctor of the Church.” 

Teresa anxiously paced up and down the long stone corridor, the black fabric of her nun’s habit swishing behind her. A letter, long expected, would soon arrive containing the fate of her convent. Her pace slowed a little as she stretched out her hand and lightly ran her fingers over the stones of the wall as she walked. Each stone of these walls had been built as a result of her leadership. It had been six years since God had first called her to raise up a new monastic order of women who were devoted to following Jesus. She had faced resistance from critics both inside and outside of the church, but she knew God had called her to this task, so she would not quit. A wealthy woman had heard of her plans and had given her the money needed to fund the project, believing in Teresa as God’s chosen instrument to bring reform during one of the Church’s darkest days. Now, after the first five years of the little stone convent’s many trials and persecutions, Teresa waited for a letter from the Carmelite general that would either approve of her vision or—

Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the sound of a door opening at the end of the hall. She spun around to the see one of the new, young nuns walking toward her carrying a letter. “Abbess,” the young nun said stretching out her hand with the letter and bowing in customary respect. 

Teresa thanked her with a whisper and spun around once more to read it in private. Her hands were shaky as she slid her finger under letter’s wax seal and unfolded the single page of parchment. Her eyes raced across the lines of script; she could hear her heart pounding in her ears. Her breath caught in her throat as she neared the letter’s end, and the moment broke as a smile curled up the corners of her mouth. The Carmelite general had praised the new convent, giving it his full blessing and backing! She hugged the letter to her and tried to stem the tide of happy tears that began to fall from her eyes. All of her hard work, all of these years of risk-taking and boldness, all of the criticism she had endured had all been worth it! She was both validated and vindicated by the church’s high authorities! And could it be true? Did she read that right? She held up the letter once more—yes, there it was! The general even requested that she not only build more of her convents, but that she now build houses for men as well! Her example of reform had made such an impact in the church that now men wanted to follow in her footsteps!

She fell to her knees and began to thank the Lord for his goodness and provision through these first hard years, and through her tears, she smiled as the words left her lips—“What’s next, Lord?”

Teresa of Avila went on to found over a dozen convents—overseeing their construction, launching their sites, and providing ongoing discipleship. She founded as many houses for men and brought on St. John of the Cross to serve as a co-leader over the male monastic houses. She stands as one of the forerunners for female leaders of organizations, church planters, visionaries everywhere. In 1970, she was named a Doctor of the Church—one of only four women to ever receive the title. 

To learn more about the leadership of this remarkable visionary check out her autobiography The Life of St. Teresa of Avila.

Laura Garverick Headshot Photo.jpg

About the Author: Laura Garverick is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and is a current MDiv-MATS student at Asbury Theological Seminary. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a PhD in systematic theology, and sees this as a part of her calling to serve and empower the local church. She is an active leader and preacher at Indy Alliance Church in downtown Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, Paul. In her free time, Laura can usually be found kayaking, cycling, or indulging an inordinate love for Mexican food.

Saint Paula

"Saint Paula Teaching Her Nuns" by Andre Reinoso.

"Saint Paula Teaching Her Nuns" by Andre Reinoso.

“The holy scriptures she knew by heart, and said of the history contained in them that it was the foundation of the truth; but, though she loved even this, she still preferred to seek for the underlying spiritual meaning and made this the keystone of the spiritual building raised within her soul.” – St. Jerome, “Letter to Eustochium CVIII”

Paula was happy, which was no small thing for a woman living in the Roman Empire in the 4th century.  She lived in luxury, silk garments caressing her well-maintained skin, servants carrying her sedan chair through the city streets to protect her delicate feet.  Born to a long line of Roman nobility, she married a man with a similar pedigree, Toxotius, with whom she had five children: four girls -- Blesilla, Paulina, Rufina, Eustochium -- and one boy -- Toxotius.  Although they enjoyed their wealth, their faith in Christ compelled them to share freely with those in need. She was devoted not only to following the words of Christ, but to studying them.  She often visited a nearby monastery to examine the biblical texts, the parchment crackling under her light touch, her eyes straining against the lamplight.  When bishops gathered for councils in Rome she hosted them as her guests and soaked in their conversation and wisdom.  But this idyllic life came crashing down around her when she was only 32 years old: Toxotius died, and “when he died, her grief was so great that she nearly died herself.”[1]

In the midst of her grief, Paula cried out to God.  In response, she heard a call to commit her life to seeking Christ. She set her face toward Jerusalem, determined to visit the Holy Land to worship at the sacred sites and visit the deserts of Egypt to glean wisdom from the saints who practiced ascetic devotion there. Thus, “forgetful of her house, of her children, of her family, of her property, of everything connected with the world,” Paula and her daughter Eustochium set out.[2]  They were undeterred by the difficulty of the journey, the heat of noon sun, the sand caked to their feet and faces.  They visited the desert abbas and ammas and the holy shrines, anxious to touch the places where Christ himself had walked.  Jerome, who history would remember for his Latin translation of the Bible, wrote of her deep devotion as she traveled: “in visiting the holy places so great was the passion and the enthusiasm she exhibited for each, that she could never have torn herself away from one had she not been eager to visit the rest. Before the Cross she threw herself down in adoration as though she beheld the Lord hanging upon it: and when she entered the tomb which was the scene of the Resurrection she kissed the stone which the angel had rolled away from the door of the sepulchre.”[3]  

Paula and Eustochium eventually concluded their pilgrimage and settled in Bethlehem, where Jerome was living as a hermit beneath the Church of the Nativity.  Inspired by the example of the saints’ devotion and of Christ himself, Paula adopted a simple monastic lifestyle, fasting regularly and giving so generously to the poor that “she borrowed money at interest and often contracted new loans to pay off old ones.”[4]  Seeing the need for order and community, Paula also founded a monastery and three convents where she served as a beloved abbess for 20 years.  Jerome praised her renunciation of self, for “the more she cast herself down, the more she was lifted up by Christ.”[5]

Already a devout and knowledgeable student of Scripture, Paula found in Jerome a teacher, friend, and mentor. Together they studied and discussed Scripture, reading together under the beating sun or the glow of candles, growing in admiration for one another’s spiritual and intellectual capacities.  Her desire to understand the Scriptures deepened to such a degree that she learned Hebrew, which greatly impressed Jerome.  He went so far as to praise her skill with the language as exceeding his own: “While I myself beginning as a young man have with much toil and effort partially acquired the Hebrew tongue and study it now unceasingly lest if I leave it, it also may leave me; Paula, on making up her mind that she too would learn it, succeeded so well that she could chant the psalms in Hebrew and could speak the language without a trace of the pronunciation peculiar to Latin.”[6]  Paula and Jerome corresponded about matters of theology and interpretation of Scripture, and comforted one another in times of grief.[7]  At the core of their relationship was a shared devotion to Christ, which included following his example of chastity. Indeed, Jerome praised chastity as one of her great virtues: “Even when she was still in the world, she set an example to all the matrons of Rome, and bore herself so admirably that the most slanderous never ventured to couple scandal with her name.”[8] 

Twenty years she labored with deep joy in Palestine, overseeing her community, examining her beloved Scriptures, partnering with her friend Jerome and her daughter Eustochium to honor Christ with their devotion and work of mercy.  When she died in the year 404, bishops from across Israel and Palestine mourned and gathered for her funeral.  Jerome rejoiced even in the midst of his grief, writing, “we have lost her, it is true, but the heavenly mansions have gained her,” and he knew that Paula desired nothing more than to be with Christ.[9]

While none of Paula’s own writing has survived—indeed it is unknown whether such writing ever existed—Jerome wrote extensively to, about, and on behalf of Paula.  His admiration for her is evident as he praises her abilities as a translator and exegete.  And lest anyone think his praise was unfounded, he assures his readers “I add nothing. I exaggerate nothing. On the contrary I tone down much that I may not appear to relate incredibilities.”[10]  For the Church in all ages, Paula is celebrated for her intellect, her devotion, her friendship with Jerome, and her legacy as a ministry leader.

  1.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium.  This is all of the primary sources with Jerome as the author are available at www.ccel.org.

  2.  Jerome, The Pilgrimage of the Holy Paula

  3.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  4.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  5.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  6.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  7.  cf. Jerome, Letter XXXIII to Paula, Letter XXXIX to Paula, and Letter XLVI Paula and Eustochium to Marcella.

  8.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  9.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium

  10.  Jerome, Letter CVIII to Eustochium


About the Author: Dr. Miranda Zapor Cruz is the Director of The Sacred Alliance and is Associate Professor of Theology at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Susanna Wesley - Mother of Methodism

Susanna Wesley, image provided by the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History

Susanna Wesley, image provided by the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History

Susanna Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley and the wife of Samuel Wesley, a priest in the Church of England. Her life challenged the structures of the church in a way that made room for both her voice and the voice of others.

London - January 1, 1781

Dear friends,

As I sit here in my house this morning, I can see the grave of my beloved mother. Her amazing love for God and the Church impacted the way I approached my ministry. She  helped me to understand how important it is to stretch the rules to include those called by God into ministry. Her ministry impacted not only our lives, but also the lives of our community. Her life gave Charles and I an example of what it means to care for the people of God, an example that shaped the way we worked to reform the Church of England. 

As you know, one of the first lay people to assist me was Thomas Maxfield. Of course I gave him strict instructions not to preach since he was only a lay person. But he ignored my instructions and began to preach and eventually word of his preaching got back to me. Needless to say, I was ready to remind him that what he was a doing was wrong. On my way to confront him I stopped by to visit with my mother and we talked about Thomas Maxfield’s preaching. She said, “John, take care, he is as surely called to preach as you are.” This changed my whole approach to the situation. Instead of going to confront, I went to listen and I learned he was a powerful preacher. Her timely words opened the door not only for Thomas Maxfield, but for many other lay preachers, including Mary Bousenquet-Fletcher and Sarah Taft. Her advice shouldn’t have surprised me. I had seen her challenge the rules before.

When I was about 8 years old my mother started a Sunday evening prayer meeting in the parsonage. What started as a time for us as a family to read our prayers and hear a sermon from my mother, soon included about two hundred people from the church. My mother was so popular that more people were attending the evening meeting in the parsonage than were attending the church in the morning. The curate my father hired to take his place when he was out of town wrote to my father and asked him to have my mother stop the Sunday evening meetings. My father took the curate’s advice and asked my mother to stop preaching on Sunday evening. I still have the letters my mother wrote to my father when he asked her to stop the Sunday evening meetings. My father was concerned with order, with doing things the right way, and these meetings were outside the normal structure of the church. Among his complaints he challenged my mother’s right to speak at such a meeting because she was a woman. Here is how she responded to my father.

 To your second, I reply that as I am a woman, so I am also mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you as head of the family and as their minister, yet in your absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my care as a talent committed to me under a trust by the great Lord of all the families of heaven and earth. And if I am unfaithful to him or to you in neglecting to improve these talents, how shall I answer unto him, when he shall command me to render an account of my stewardship?

You probably will not believe it, but after receiving this letter from my mother, he asked her to stop leading the Sunday evening meetings again, but this time with more force. But my mother was convinced that what she was doing was a good thing, even if it was against the rules of the church. My mother could have a focus that was so clear. Her response to my father asked for a clear command to dissolve the meeting. Let me share her words with you so you can hear her passion for people’s spiritual health.

If you do after all think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me any more that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good to souls, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I do not know how my father replied, but my mother continued to lead the Sunday evening meetings when my Father was out of town. 

As I think about my mother’s life I realize that nobody gave her a voice -- she even had to fight with my father for her place -- but she lived her life in a way that did give others a voice. She taught me to listen, and to value the people God put in my life. She did this with her life and with her timely words. If it wasn’t for her, I might have spoken to Thomas Maxfield like my father spoke to my mother. I might have tried to silence the work of God. I am thankful for my mother’s courage and example.

Your Affectionate Brother, 

John Wesley 


Wesley, Susanna. Susanna Wesley : The Complete Writings, edited by Charles, Jr. Wallace, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1997. 


About the Author: Patrick Eby is an Associate Professor of Church History at Wesley Seminary in Marion, IN. His book, The Heart of Charles Wesley’s Theology, explores Charles Wesley description of Sanctification as being restored in the image of God.

Jarena Lee – The Preacher

An African American woman born in the late 1700’s, Jarena Lee was parted from her parents at the age of seven and sent to work as a domestic servant at a wealthy estate. Hers is the story of an extraordinary woman—chosen by God to be a preacher—who conquered all odds to live out her God-given calling.

Sitting in the front pew of the old church, Jarena Lee fanned herself with a scrap of paper, waiting for the service to start. The sweltering heat of a humid Pennsylvania summer clung to her skin like a damp garment. Staring up at the pulpit a few feet in front of her, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that she was supposed to be the one up there speaking tonight. 

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The Lord had called her to preach, and this she knew deep within her bones. But it had been eight long years since the Lord had told her this, and eight long years since she’d gone to Bishop Richard Allen—head of the African Methodist Episcopal Church—and told him what the Lord had called her to do. With a look of surprise on his face, Bishop Allen had politely told her that it would be impossible to have a woman preach; the Methodist tradition simply didn’t allow it. And for Jarena, his refusal meant ‘that was that;’ for she had always honored the leaders of the church and sought to be an upstanding member. “Besides,” she thought, trying to quiet her conflicted soul, “what would a colored woman, with no formal education, have to offer from up in that pulpit anyways?”

But as brother Williams walked up to the pulpit to preach that night, the strangest thing began to happen. First, brother Williams began to stutter a bit, like his mind was forgetting all of his words. Then, he trailed off altogether, and stood there dumbfounded, as if he couldn’t remember how to preach at all. It was like a holy hush from heaven had settled on him, keeping him from speaking. After a few moment of this, the room began to stir. Everyone was looking around for what was going to happen next, for it seemed that they all somehow knew that the Lord was up to something. 

A fire had started burning in Jarena’s chest so hot that she could ignore it no longer. After a few moments of agonizing indecision, a holy gumption surged inside of her and she rose to her feet. Once standing, she realized that she had no idea what to say, but it was too late; every face in that room had turned to look at the unschooled housekeeper who had just stood up in the front row—everyone including Bishop Allen who was seated just one row over. Without leaving her seat, Jarena turned around to face the audience, still having no idea what to say. But as soon as she turned, the Spirit loosed her tongue and passionate preaching began to flow out like a rushing stream of living water. She had never felt the power of the Holy Spirit like that before—she surged with divine energy as exactly the right words poured out like poetry from her lips and straight into the hearts of the people, many of whom were moved to either tears or shouts of praise as the Spirit worked in their hearts.

When she had finished preaching, she felt the Spirit’s release and sat right back down in her pew. An entire room of stunned faces—none more stunned than that of Bishop Allen—stared. Those next few moments were the longest of her life. No one moved a muscle, and no one dared speak a word, yet every eye was fixed on her as she sat in the front row, silently facing the pulpit. Her face flushed, and her neck grew hot as she sat there waiting for what seemed like an eternity. Would they throw her out of church for her impertinence, she wondered. Would they run her out of town? Her mind was reeling: What had just come over her? She had never seen God do that to a person before; had she just plain lost her mind? 

Breaking the awful silence, one of the wooden pews creaked. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Bishop Allen rising to his feet. With a voice loud enough for the whole crowd to hear, he boomed, “I have never, in my life, seen a preacher preach with that much authority, nor have I seen the presence of God come down and fill a room like that, Jarena Lee.” He paused as she looked up to meet his gaze. “So the way I see it,” he continued with a softer tone, “you are called to preach just as much as any man here ever was. And I am sorry that I didn’t pay you no heed eight years ago when you came to me. You truly are a preacher!” 

She scarcely could believe what she was hearing, but somehow managed to stand to her feet and meet his outstretched hand for a handshake. Then, one by one, every soul in that old church lined up to shake her hand as joy erupted inside of her and a smile of relief burst onto her face. God had shown his mighty right hand—God had called her, empowered her, parted the waters for her, and now confirmed her for all to see that she had been chosen by Him for the ministry of preaching. 

And so it began, the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal church’s first woman preacher. In a single year of her itinerant circuit, Jarena Lee traveled 2,325 miles—much of it on foot—and preached 178 sermons to black and white, slave and free congregations alike. Her autobiography chronicles her extraordinary journeys, both the opposition she faced—not only as one of the very first woman preachers, but as a black woman and former domestic servant in the 1700s—and the many stories of welcome and support she encountered along the way. Though she was refused ordination during her lifetime, in 2016, Jarena Lee was posthumously ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of the legacy that she left, and the road she pioneered, for future generations of women preachers to come.

To learn more about Jarena Lee, read her autobiography: Religious experience and journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, giving an account of her call to preach the gospel.  Also check out Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century by William Andrews (Indiana University Press, 1986).

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About the Author: Laura Garverick is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and is a current MDiv-MATS student at Asbury Theological Seminary. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a PhD in systematic theology, and sees this as a part of her calling to serve and empower the local church. She is an active leader and preacher at Indy Alliance Church in downtown Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, Paul. In her free time, Laura can usually be found kayaking, cycling, or indulging an inordinate love for Mexican food.