When Canadian Methodists erased women evangelists from their history

Check out historian Scott McLaren‘s interesting piece at Borealia, a blog about early Canadian history. McLaren, the author of Pulpit, Press, and Politics: Methodists and the Market for Books in Upper Canada, explores the ways early Methodist historians erased “the dramatic roles women played in Methodism’s early proselytizing success.”

Here is a taste of his post, “The Disappearing Daughters of Jerusalem”:

It is impossible to know, because evidence of this kind is so sparse, how often the male writers seamlessly and without vestige erased the roles women played among Methodists and other denominations in these early years. From a methodological perspective, what is particularly striking about these three narratives is that only the last – the version in which Methodist women play no role at all as active agents in the conversions – was ever published. The other two – the first from Bangs’s 1805 journal and the second from his undated autobiography – are available only to those with access to original archival documents held at the United Methodist Archives at Drew University in the United States. One can only wonder at how many other narratives like these lie dormant in the enormous bulk of handwritten narratives, journals, diaries, and letters left behind by both the men and women who lived in the years preceding Methodism’s determined rise to denominational dominance and social respectability in North America.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelicals and “Court Protestants”

Trump at St. Johns

Over at a website devoted to “contemporary evangelical perspectives for United Methodist seminarians,” Mark Gorman, a Methodist pastor and theology professor, has expanded the idea of “court evangelical” beyond evangelicalism.

Here is a taste of his piece, “Court, Evangelicals, Court Protestants“:

It does not take a cynic to wonder whether some of the outrage directed at the forty-fifth president should be redirected toward the churches and denominations that have spent decades, or even centuries, fostering the kind of conditions that result in a congregation proclaiming itself the “church of the presidents.”

I say “churches and denominations” because I know full well how United Methodists, and our predecessor denominations, have insinuated ourselves into a similar position as St. John’s and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. We have welcomed with open arms presidents and other figures of great political power, regardless of their moral character or the consistency of the policies with Christian teachings, and we have been sure to let the world see this casual familiarity.

In so doing we have tried to convince ourselves, and others, that we might somehow influence these figures, might redirect their efforts to the benefit of all. Historian John Fea has aptly identified prominent evangelical supporters of the current president “court evangelicals,” but (United) Methodists, Episcopalians, and other mainline denominations could just as easily be called “court Protestants” of presidential administrations in general.

Read the entire piece here.

I told the story of this kind of “court Protestantism” (although, of course, I did not use the phrase) in the latter chapters (covering the first half of the 20th century) of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

More on the Minnesota United Methodist Church that Reportedly Asked Older Members to Leave

Cottage Grove

Some of you remember this story from the other night.  I originally posted a taste of an article from the Duluth News Tribune reporting that The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minnesota is closing in June 2020 and reopening in November 2020.  Older members of the congregation, according to a church memo, were asked to “stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.”

When my post hit the twittersphere I heard from Jeremy Peters, the minister responsible for leading the The Grove United Methodist Church after it reopens.  Peters said that the Duluth News Tribune story was inaccurate.  I published his tweets as an addendum to the post.

This story has really taken-off in the past twenty-four hours.  Peters continues to offer clarifying tweets.  Here is a taste of Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s coverage at The Washington Post:

When a small church in the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul shuts it doors in June, some of the members, who are almost all older than 60, are worried about where their funerals will be held. When it reopens perhaps a year later, the traditional hymns could be missing and a new pastor will be almost three decades younger.

One 70-year-old member called the church leaders’ decision to fold in order to start a new congregation “age discrimination.”

A United Methodist church in Minnesota has put the spotlight on widespread generational challenges across the county, with many leaders trying to attract younger people without alienating the elderly members who are the backbone of their dwindling congregations.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently suggested in a headline that the Cottage Grove church will “usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.” But the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, its head pastor, said Tuesday that allegations of age discrimination unfairly represented the strategy for a church that has been on the decline for two decades.

“No one is being asked to leave the church,” said Wetterstrom, 59. “People are disappointed that the service is being canceled.”

After some members complained about the leadership’s vote to shutter the Cottage Grove church, leaders said Tuesday they never asked members to leave, but they did say the church will reopen with some changes to its look and feel.

“It felt like they were targeting us even though they didn’t put an age number on it,” said William Gackstetter, 70, who lives about four blocks from the church.

The church’s building sits on prime real estate because it sits across the street from an Aldi and down the street from Target, he said, and he is worried that the church will be shut down permanently and turned into apartments, like other shuttered churches across the country.

Read the rest here.

A Minnesota Church Tells Older Members of the Congregation to Leave and Not Come Back

Cottage Grove

The Grove United Methodist Church (Cottage Grove campus)

I recently talking to a 60-something friend of mine who attends an evangelical megachurch that recently hired three new pastors.  I asked him if he liked these new congregational leaders.  He said, “Yes, I like them, but they don’t seem particularly interested in me.  I don’t think I represent the right demographic.”

I thought about this conversation as I read about a United Methodist congregation in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.  The congregation is not attracting new members and the leadership has decided to close the church in June 2020.

But the story doesn’t end there.

The Grove United Methodist Church will reopen in November 2020 and the present members, most of whom are over sixty years of age, will be asked to worship elsewhere.


Here is Bob Shaw’s reporting in the Duluth News Tribune:

A prayer for survival rose from the back of the church last Sunday.

“I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing,” said William Gackstetter, as the gray-haired heads around him nodded in agreement.

Gackstetter and other members of the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove are upset enough that their church is closing in June. What makes it worse is that their church is reopening in November — pretty much without them.

The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.

Officials say the church needs a reset, and reopening the church is the best way to appeal to younger people.

But the older church members say they see that as an insult.

“This is totally wrong,” said Gackstetter’s wife, Cheryl. “They are discriminating against us because of our age.”

After the plan was explained by a visiting pastor on Jan. 5, she said, “I called him a hypocrite. I said, ‘You are kicking us out of our church.’ ”

Read the rest here.

The Grove United Methodist Church has two campuses.  The Woodbury campus seems to have a large number of younger families and holds two service each Sunday.  The Cottage Grove campus has one service on Sunday mornings and is part of a 2008 merger with the Woodbury congregation.

I imagine that some evangelical megachurch pastors will get upset about this story.  But then they will think about it some more…

Thanks to John Haas for bringing this story to my attention.

ADDENDUM (9:07pm)

Jeremy Peters is the 30-year-old minister who will be planting the new church (November 2020) at Cottage Grove.  He is a graduate of Bethel University and Bethel Theological Seminary.  Peters contacted me via Twitter:


Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic

2nd GA

Ralph Keen is writing for us this week from the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City.  Keen is Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair of Catholic Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2018 he was president of the ASCH.

In a session on Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic, Samuel Dodge (Lehigh) described the paradox of religious freedom as it affected Pennsylvania Quakers in the call-up before the Revolution—the conflict being over the absoluteness of their pacifist convictions and the demand to sacrifice personal liberties for the common good. Elizabeth Georgian (Univ of SC) presented the case of itinerant Lorenzo Dow, the subject of several disciplinary proceedings for slander and who sought vindication in the court of public opinion through his published Journal and favorable attention in newspapers. Daniel Gullotta (Stanford) elucidated some of the differences between Whig and Jacksonian attitudes toward Christianity and its appropriate role in public life. While the Whigs accused Jacksonian Democrats of godlessness (and everything implied by that), Gullotta argued that the latter saw themselves as having a religious character just as firm as that of the sanctimonious Whigs.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Laurel, Maryland

emmanuel umc feature 5.64485789

I had a wonderful morning last Sunday with the good folks at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, Maryland.  I spoke on the theme of hope in both the morning services and then met with about thirty church members who have spent the last several weeks reading and discussing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Thanks to Rev. Stephanie Vader for inviting me.

Emmanuel is a small church, but the members of the congregation are thoughtful Christians who are filled with spiritual life and vitality.  I was blessed by my visit and found myself on the drive home wishing I could be part of their community on a more regular basis.  Emmanuel is a church striving to speak truth to power in the age of Trump by living lives defined by justice, compassion, mercy, love, peace and humility.

You can watch the service here.

Hillary Clinton: Methodist Preacher

Hillary nominated

Over at The Atlantic, Emma Green has a great piece on the Christian faith of Hillary Clinton.  It turns out that the next step in Clinton’s career may have a lot do with her Methodist faith.

Here is a taste:

Hillary Clinton wants to preach. That’s what she told Bill Shillady, her long-time pastor, at a recent photo shoot for his new book about the daily devotionals he sent her during the 2016 campaign. Scattered bits of reporting suggest that ministry has always been a secret dream of the two-time presidential candidate: Last fall, the former Newsweek editor Kenneth Woodward revealed that Clinton told him in 1994 that she thought “all the time” about becoming an ordained Methodist minister. She asked him not to write about it, though: “It will make me seem much too pious.” The incident perfectly captures Clinton’s long campaign to modulate—and sometimes obscure—expressions of her faith.

Now, as Clinton works to rehabilitate her public image and figure out the next steps after her brutal November loss, religion is taking a central role. After long months of struggling to persuade Americans that she is trustworthyauthentic, and fundamentally moral, Clinton is lifting up an intimate, closely guarded part of herself. There are no more voters left to lose. In sharing her faith, perhaps Clinton sees something left to win, whether political or personal.

Read the rest here.

A Virginia United Methodist Church Restores a Slave Cabin and Opens it to the Public


It may be the oldest building in Manassas, Virginia.  Grace United Methodist Church has restored it and opened it to the public.

Here is a taste of a Washington Post story on this restored slave cabin:

Grace United Methodist in Manassas combined two historical matters in one event June 11.

One was the unveiling of a city historical marker for the church, which has ministered to Manassas-area residents for 150 years. That was a cause for celebration, the Rev. Rudy Tucker said.

The other, the public opening of a restored slave cabin on the church property, was more solemn. But while refurbishing the building meant researching one of the most gruesome times in American history, Grace United Methodist and local historic preservation volunteers considered it an important task.

“With nooses showing up on public school grounds, college campuses, and even national museums, and Klan rallies occurring with alarming frequency, we are reminded as we stand before this 19th-century building which once housed slaves that racism remains an issue we are still dealing with in this country,” Tucker said in remarks prepared for the June 11 ceremony, attended by a crowd of at least 150.

Grace United Methodist took over ownership of the slave cabin in 1987. The Johnson family, which owned and operated the last farm in Manassas, donated eight acres of land on Wellington Road to the congregation so it could build a new church building. But the family stipulated that a cemetery on the tract be preserved, along with the 1½-story structure that housed slaves who worked on the property, known as Clover Hill Farm.

Read the rest here.

Baptized in Pennsylvania

Court St

Court Street United Methodist Church, Scranton, Pennsylvania

Hillary Clinton grew up in Illinois.  She started her professional legal career in Arkansas. She represented New York in the U.S. Senate and currently lives in the state.  She has referenced all of these connections in the process of winning the 2016  primaries in these states.

And with the Pennsylvania primary coming up, Hillary wants people to know that she was baptized in the commonwealth.  This is what she told the crowd tonight at a rally in Philadelphia.

It’s true.  Hillary’s father, Hugh Rodham, was baptized as an infant at the Court Street Methodist Church in Scranton.  Rodham eventually moved to Chicago to start a drapery business, but he took all three of his children–Hillary, Hugh Jr., and Tony–back to the Court Street Methodist Church to be baptized.  Hillary was probably baptized in either late 1947 or early 1948.

Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but this may be the first time a presidential candidate has used the place of his or her baptism to garner votes in a presidential election.

Did Hillary Clinton Just Quote John Wesley?

Clinton MethodistDuring her victory speech tonight, Hillary Clinton urged her followers to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  (Or something similar to that).

She said that this was an “old Methodist saying.”

In Methodist circles, this quote has long been attributed to Methodist founder John Wesley.  Unfortunately, Wesley never said it.

Here is Kevin Watson, a professor of Wesleyan and Methodist studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology:

You may have seen this quote in a nice frame on the wall of a Methodist Church, or even published in a book, citing John Wesley as its author. (For example, it was cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.) Despite the persistence of the quote being attributed to John Wesley, you will not find in anywhere in his writing.

You can add this quote to other quotes that are stubbornly connected to John Wesley despite the fact that there is no source that connects them to Wesley’s pen. Two I have previously written about here are:

“I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” [Original post here.]

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.” [Original post here.]

There are many things I have come to appreciate about twitter, but one of the things that I find the most frustrating is the persistence of misquotes of historical figures. And due to my own area of specialization, misquoting John Wesley gets to me the most. Wesley and others were frequently misquoted before social media, but with the advent of twitter misquoting Wesley seems to be more regular. Wesley said enough interesting, surprising, and even controversial things that we should not need to attribute things to him that he did not actually say. Historical accuracy matters.

Richard P. Heitzenrater discussed these quotes and some other ways Wesley is misquoted or misunderstood in a piece published in Circuit Rider in 2003. You can view a PDF of that article here.

The United Methodist Reporter also wrote a similar piece titled “Wesley, misquoted” in 2011.

In any event, regarding this particular quote, there is no evidence that Wesley said this. We should stop saying that he did.