women in ministry: phoebe palmer (1807 -1874)

Phoebe Palmer often considered the mother of the American holiness movement. The wife of a physician in New York City, Phoebe Palmer and her sister Sarah Lankford held “Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness” (Hogan, 2000, p. 216), a series of small group gatherings for women designed to make a case for holiness. “The influence of these meetings with her writings undoubtedly made her the greatest promoter of entire sanctification in the century” (Howard, 1971, p. 34).

“Before women could argue for changes in their social, political, or religious status, they first had to secure the right to mount the platform or pulpit” (Hogan, 2000, p. 211).  During a time in which the resistance to women public speaking was intense, Phoebe Palmer’s “Tuesday Meetings began for women in 1835, and by 1839 their popularity had grown, and attendance was opened to men (Black & Drury, 2012, p. 21). “Her influence was further extended by others inaugurating her “Tuesday Meetings.” They were started in half a dozen foreign countries and every major city in the United States. By 1886, 238 such meetingswere being held” (Howard, 1971, p. 34).

Mrs. Palmer was one of the earliest proponents seeking to “overthrow the monopoly of the pulpit” (Hogan, 2000, p. 212). Phoebe Palmer, though not ordained, strived to remove barriers of tradition and scripture in her effort to increase the sphere of women on the platforms and in the pulpits of the church. She became a voice in the in the efforts of the time for women’s rights.  “In 1859, Palmer published The Promise of the Father in an effort to encourage church leaders to allow and support the public speaking and witness of faithful women. In her text, Mrs. Palmer based her argument that women should be allowed to engage in public speaking on behalf of the gospel almost exclusively upon the spiritual equality of between women and men” (Hogan, 2000, p. 213).

While often not included in secular conversations on the topic of women’s rhetorical efforts, Palmer was not only an advocate for women’s rights in the publicly speaking arena she spoke before enormous crowds in the United States, Canada, and Britain (Hogan, 2000, p. 218).

Over the course of the nineteenth century, a generalized cultural portrait of womanhood was established. Quiet and demure, the passive woman was presumed too frail and timid for the public arena and the marketplace, both of which were reserved for man. The woman was suited for the private domestic life of home and family (Hogan, 2000, p. 213).  Women were to remain silent because public speaking was a masculine activity; thus religious leaders of the time formed argumentative boundaries all women, including Phoebe Palmer, were constrained to negotiate.     Male religious leaders often quoted the Apostle Paul, ““woman should be silent in churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but be subordinate, as the law also says,” (1 Cor.14:34-35b)” (Hogan, 2000, p. 214).

Believing it was following the apostle Paul’s lead, the church, throughout its first eighteen-hundred years, generally observed the public silencing of women, excluding them from public speaking and ordained ministry. However, during the life of John Wesley, he would encourage the actions of women within the Methodist class movement (Hogan, 2000, p. 216). With his death, his successor would once again silence women, “therefore when Phoebe Palmer began to speak publicly about biblical teachings and matters of faith, her presence, while grounded in a strong Methodist tradition, was, nevertheless, considered a novelty” (Hogan, 2000, p. 216).

Phoebe Palmer made six modifications (Miskov, 2011, p. 12) to John Wesley’s doctrine of holiness. This view, which came to be called “the Shorter Way” in contrast to Wesley’s more conservative counsel to wait for the inner witness of the Holy Spirit before claiming sanctification” (Black & Drury, 2012, p. 21). Because Wesley was ambiguous in his statements on how one knew when the possessed sanctification (Howard, 1971, p. 31) Palmer’s formula seemed to make holiness more accessible. This accessibility seemingly increased the popularity of the message of holiness and Methodism among everyday people, in spite of the reservations of Traditional Methodist theologians (Black & Drury, 2012, p. 22).

In Palmer’s “shorter way” she offers the urgent call to evangelism and witnessing. Quoting Palmer, Hogan writes, “The Holy Spirit’s quickening flame may fall, energizing your whole being, and the cloven tongue of fire may be given, so that you may feel intense longings to spread the sacred flame, and speak as the Spirit give utterance” (Hogan, 2000, p. 217). Additionally, “Palmer redefined preaching broadly enough to enable women to realize that they had been preaching or prophesying all along. Any time a man, or woman, spoke in public about issues of faith, that man, or woman, was preaching” (Hogan, 2000, p. 219).


Black, R., & Drury, K. (2012). The Story: The Wesleyan Church. Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House.

Hogan, L. L. (2000). Negotiating personhood, womanhood, and spiritual equality: Pheobe Palmer’s defense of the preaching of women. Atq, 14(3), 211-226.

Howard, I. (1971). Wesley versus Phoebe Palmer: an extend controversy. Wesleyan Theological Journal, 6(1), 31-40.

Lowery, K. T. (2001). A fork in the Wesleyan road: Phoebe Palmer and the appropriation of Christian perfection. Wesleyan Theological Journal, 36(2), 187-222.

Miskov, J. A. (2011). Missing links: Phoebe Palmer, Carrie Judd Montgomery, and holiness roots within Pentecostalism. Pentecostudies, 10(1), 8-28.

White, C. E. (1988). Phoebe Palmer and the development of Pentecostal pneumatolgy. Wesleyan Theological Journal, 23(1-2), 198-212.

This is an edited version of original work submitted for CHST-536-00A Wesleyan Church History/Polity, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, March 23, 2017.

Wesleyan Accent: Anxiety in Worship

This article is a repost of an article on a topic that is near to my heart. It has garnered feedback and sparked important conversation in the church. I invite you to re-read, read for the first time, and share…May your Resurrection Sunday be filled with the peace and love of God. – Elizabeth

{The full post can be found at World Methodist Evangelism}

Note from the Editor: We’re pleased to feature this important piece on mental health, anxiety, and communal worship. It also may be helpful perspective for clergy leading Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services.

“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” – Hebrews 11:25 (MSG).

What if worship has become so creative that 18% of the population is on the outside?

The pendulum for creative contemporary worship has swung so far in many regions across denominations that segments of the population cannot assemble with others. Many Christians gather weekly and experience a one-sided worship celebration. It is one-sided because, even though everyone is welcome, these worship gatherings are not for everyone.

Continue at World Methodist Evangelism…

fellowship or rent?

Unposted thoughts from 2015: ahead of a webinar I will be “attending” today I thought I would share.

I have noticed a trend for pastors desiring to help other pastors get their ministries started. This pattern involves two congregations usually one predominantly Anglo/Caucasian and the other predominantly Black/African American (or other ethnic minority) “sharing” a facility or campus. In my area, it is mainly Anglo and Black/African American.  And I am not necessarily for or against this model.

The reasons I like this model are:

  • It offers opportunities for cross-cultural conversations, relationship building, and reconciliation.
  • Provides greater opportunity to serve and reach the broader community.
  • Keeps the doors of the church open longer.
  • There is potential to birth a multi-ethnic, diverse congregation.

The reasons I struggle with this model are:

  • Often cross-cultural conversations, relationship building or reconciliation never take place. A point of clarification getting together one time when there is protest in the community or inviting one another to a respective fundraiser is not what I am referring too. I am talking about genuine, authentic fellowship with one another.
  • In some cases (not all) both congregations are struggling, and the host is charging the guest a fee for the use of the facility. The fee inevitably helps them in some small way service debt from an expansion or remodeling project and otherwise make-up funds from dwindling membership. The guest congregation may continue to struggle to make their budget in addition to paying the rental fee for the “blessing” of space. This one stings the most for me, and I silently wonder if the host did not “need” the income however small would the ethnic minority guest be in the building or on the campus. I could be off base, but I wonder if some (not all) of these partnerships may be disingenuous.
  • While the leaders may be onboard with this new opportunity, the membership may sometimes feel displaced which leads to unspoken hostility and resentment. From limited access to facilities, inadequate parking plans, and any number of unknowns, many congregants are simply silently uneasy about these types of arrangements on both sides.

I have had the opportunity to worship on both sides of this equation, as a member of the host and committed visitor of as guest congregation. My personal experience makes me somewhat not a fan. Why? What I perceive as poor planning. Leaders that enter these types of agreements are usually well intentioned, but what is the end game?  Are these forever arrangements? When do the two faith communities begin to cultivate community? What and where is the strategic plan?

My personal point of it all is cultivating community. Jesus as our example, Heaven as our goal. If we are doing all this building and campus sharing and only speaking casually in the parking lot, we are missing opportunities. Yes, I count myself as guilty. I know novel concept someone admitting they have a part to play in the problem. Yes, I have had deeper conversations with the Black/African American guest than most of my Anglo brothers and sisters but they look like me, and I look like them. I am also a social extrovert and let us just be honest they were trying to figure out why I choose to worship in an Anglo context. I will say this; it is not where I worship that should be of concern. The question is, Am I following Jesus? I prefer to worship in mixed company; usually, that means my family may be in the less than 2% of a congregation group, but we must start somewhere. As a Black/African American married to a Filipino, we instantly improve diversity for many congregations (family joke), and we are okay with that if we are following Jesus.

For most my life, I have made it a point both personally and professionally to have friendships across the lines. What does that look like. I have friends with disabilities (obvious and not so obvious), friends across ethnic and economic lines, churched, unchurched, de-churched, friendships that cross generations, liberals, ultra-conservatives and so on. My circle is so eclectic I am cautious about putting some of them in the same room together. I once even had a dear friend tell me that another dear friend was beneath me. I am still friends with them both, this is my tribe, I love them equally even if I do not agree with them. Why? Because it makes me a more evolved and understanding person.

These relationships all began with conversations. The apparently dirty word conversation. I wish that before leaders entered these arrangements genuine conversation took place and relationships began to form. What would it look like if members of both congregations committed to doing community together once or twice a month either through life groups or service to the greater community or something casual like supper groups on the front-end of these agreements? It is difficult to get to know someone with a casual hello in the parking lot, spending time in service, study and breaking bread are legitimate ways to get to know the other.

Or is it just a rental agreement?