Faith, Hope, and Love in Action
February 9, 2020
Rochelle Killett, Guest Preacher
This morning as we look at the work of UMW, we want to consider John Wesley whose example drives all we do. While always retaining his loyalty to the Anglican Church, he founded the group that has become Methodists across our world. Who was John Wesley?
He was born in England in 1703 and died in the year 1791 having lived a long and productive life at the dawn of the age of industrialization in Europe. His father was an Anglican priest as well so he grew up in the church in a family of 19 children only 9 of whom grew to adult hood, 7 of whom were women. Both John and his brother, Charles, were also Anglican priests and Charles is most famous for the hymns he wrote, some of which we are using in this worship service.
John was not only a priest but he was a theologian and activist as well. His theology drove his work of activism until it became a new movement that had lasted until today. As he understood it, grace as a gift from God, was the foundation of his understanding of the world and all that abounds or not.
In his theological framework, he saw grace in three parts as he envisioned in the image of a house. Prevenient grace was the porch, justifying grace as the doorway and Sanctifying grace as the interior and rest of the house. Through prevenient grace he insisted that all people everywhere are invited into the blessing of a conscious relationship with the God of love. The divine love surrounds all of humanity and indeed all of creation including the creatures whom God has created. Prevenient grace is there for all of God’s creation whether we accept it or not, it is just a fact of everything.
In his day, evidence of the fall of humanity was all around him, and John Wesley understood God’s justifying grace by accepting Jesus invitation into conscious relationship with God as the way to the gift of repentance, forgiveness, assurance, reconciliation and the ability to start anew. He described it as, “The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God, that Jesus loved me and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I am a child of God.” This form of grace takes place when the also as recipients of that amazing gift. As John lived out this grace, his place in the church took a radical turn.
With all his theological education when he became aware of the lack of medical care for the poor he studied basic medicine and wrote simple basic medical manuals for those who could not afford care, and opened clinics for the same populations.
This understanding drove him to find ways to minister to people especially those on the margins, who lacked many of the benefit of the society in which he lived. He exemplified God’s preferential love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and others who were oppressed by going door to door begging for food and clothing for the poor, providing free health care for those were destitute, organizing literacy classes because so many were unable to read and write and therefore had few resources to understand how to change their situation, and forming a credit union so the poor had access to money they could borrow to improve their circumstances. He also worked with the Royal Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of animals founded by his friend abolitionist William Wilberforce. Understand that most of the animals about which they were concerned were the working animals needed for basic transportation and motive power for agriculture. At that time dogs and cats were not seen as pets as we know them.
Having received the best education available, he had risen being one of the very best paid of the Anglican clergy. His wealth was far above that of the average Englishman of his day. Because of that he was assigned to the best churches. However, his having accepted this grace, his faith drove him to strive to provide for the needs of the poorest among them. And in so doing, he aroused the anger of the church who thought his action unseemly and he was finally forced to go out into the streets and countryside to preach so as not to defile the churches with such scum.
Early on John felt that he must use the resources that God had given him to help those who society squeezed out of opportunities available to those with money. For all of his life he lived on only what was absolutely necessary for his own survival and gave the rest to the ministries to the poor he developed to reach out to those destitute of his place. In living out his faith, he was driven to advocate to change laws that worked against the poor. Exclusion laws had been passed making public lands available to those who would make use of it growing cash crops or raising horses driving the poor off the very land on which they had grown food to sustain their very lives. John advocated for more just use of public lands so that people could grow their food upon that land. Advocacy was foundational to his understanding of developing laws equitable for all people urging the authorities to allow the poor to make use of the public lands again so that they might survive and be able to live outside of the growing crowded cities as well as advocacy for fair laws about child labor and fair wages for all industrial workers.
But John still felt the need of something more and he undertook a trip to the United States to preach against slavery and to those who had fled Europe to begin a new country and to preach to the Natives as well. While in the new world he tried to develop similar work to what he had done in England but he found it much more difficult. He did however, begin the circuit rider system that continued for many years until churches could be established. Preachers rode their horses across vast tracts of land going from settlement to settlement preaching and providing those services the church offered such as communion, baptism, marriage. That work turned out to be short lived and not very successful so he returned to England still seeking more from God.
It was at that time he came across the Moravians whose spirituality he admired and longed to have. It was at Aldersgate where his heart was strangely warmed and he felt that he received the Holy Spirit into his heart in a new and amazing way that he came to call Sanctifying grace. That grace became an ongoing growth in love for both God and humanity. His work with the poor became even more intense. As he worked with people and learned of their needs, he was driven to even greater ways to serve their needs. He continued to preach and share his vision of God’s love for all to all those outside mainstream society in England enlisting those in the groups he formed to expand the reach to the poor of whom there were so many. John worked hard to change the social systems that were in place to keep people down. Education was costly, the poor could be kept poor if they lacked education and couldn’t read about the benefits others were provided. Health care was not available to those without the economic resources and in order to expand and grow the industrial England, cheap labor was needed in abundance. As rural folks flocked to the cities to find work, opportunities were spread thinner and thinner and more and more were receiving a smaller slice of the abundance. The needs grew and the movement John Wesley started grew.
You might wonder what that has to do with UMW. In the beginning of Methodist women organizing for mission in 1869 what drove their work was the recognition that the male doctors being sent by the Methodist Church to India were unable to make any difference for the women and children who because of their culture were unable to accept the touch of a male to whom they were unrelated. The six women who heard of the need began to tell others and to raise money to send a female doctor and a teacher who began to teach the children of India as they because of their class, they were unable to get any education.
What began by Dr. Clara Swain as the first health clinic for women, developed into a hospital that became the first women’s hospital in all of Asia, and remains a hospital today serving the people of Lucknow and the surrounding region.
Isabella Thoburn began a school for girls who had no opportunity for education and as they learned more, the education increased until there was need for a college. That college continues to educate women in Lucknow, India. Education underlies all of what John Wesley and United Methodist women do. Countless studies have demonstrated the value of educating girls and women. Girls who are educated delay having children in proportion to their level of education interrupting the cultural need to marry girls because of the family’s lack of resources to sustain so many in the family.
Education for women and girls offers much, much more. Women share what they learn caring for others and teaching them what they know training their own children and improving the society around them. Men and boys on the other hand tend to use what they have learned for themselves, to improve their own earning power and expanding their own wants and desires. Women care for everyone including the men and boys. Education and health issues remain a major thrust of mission work by United Methodist Women today.
In 1870s the Methodist women in New York realized that single women in a strange land were at deadly disadvantage. There were people who would steal their luggage and their money. The women themselves might then be forced into a life of prostitution. The goal of the Immigrant Girl’s Home was to prevent such injustices and help immigrant women transition to a new life in America. When Helen and James Mathews had to leave this ministry, Alma and others filled their place. Alma worked in this ministry for a generation — from the 1890s to 1922. By 1887, the work had grown so much that it was turned over to the Woman’s Home Missionary Society. Work began with the immigrants who were detained at Ellis Island providing food and medical care as well as other needs for those new comers. Young women once they were released were especially vulnerable in a place they didn’t understand and did not know the language.
The Matthews lived in what is now Greenwich Village and lived in this brownstone house. Initially, they took the young women into their own home here. When that was full, they purchased the brownstone next door. While only one two wide and two rooms deep, they could house a good many young women in the four floors (including the basement) until they could learn the language, get a job and find housing that was safe. Alma Matthews worked in that mission until 1922 still using her home as a residence for those who needed it. By the time she retired, the work was being done by the Methodist women but her home remained a residence for women and was eventually donated to the Methodist Women to continue their work.
As the demographics changed and Greenwich Village became gentrified, fewer and fewer needed the housing at the Alma Matthews House and it became a residence available for church workers to stay in when they were in New York to work with the GBBM. When not used for that, UMW used it to house guests in New York for various training opportunities. However, as property values have risen and maintenance costs increased and GBGM moved out of New York, the cost of keeping that property was no longer viable so UMW sold it to use the income to fund other ministries. Over the years, I was privileged to stay in the Alma Matthews House four different times when I was in New York for training.
UMW continues to work in many places across the US many of them in one of the 98 mission institutions that UMW owns. While there are no mission institutions in Idaho there is one, Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City and another in Tacoma. There are a total of 98 serving the needs of women, children and youth across the country.
Crossroads Urban Center has been serving the needs of the homeless, youth, and people in poverty for the past 50 years. They provide food, clothing, and household goods through two food bank sites and their thrift store. Items at the thrift store are either free or very low cost to those they serve. People who go to volunteer at UMCOR West (the depot that sends out flood buckets, health kits, school kits, layettes, etc. across the world) often spend a day volunteering at Crossroads sorting food or items for the thrift store or other tasks they need to have done.
In Tacoma for 110 years Methodists have been assisting immigrants to learn the language, learn the job skills they need to get jobs, and to successfully resettle in the Tacoma and surrounding area.
The greater Seattle area has always attracted immigrants, largely from Asia, seeking a better life in the US. None of their languages make learning English easy and when in a foreign country, people seek those with whom they can communicate.
Tacoma Community House provides language classes, job training opportunities, immigration services, adult educational opportunities, early childhood education, a Read2Me program, and Talk Time…time for people to converse with English speakers to better learn to handle English. All of these plus hiring events within the community to find jobs. They also offer a CNA training because the need for certified nursing assistants is so great in the community.
Several years ago I traveled to Chicago to participate in a 10-day immersion program to better learn Spanish. For the days we were there we were not allowed to use any English at all and throughout the day the 18 of us learning Spanish spent 8 one hour sessions one on one with someone whose first language was Spanish. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. But what a wonder experience I had. During those days I got to know 18 people whose native countries were from Mexico south. As we talked, we became much more proficient using our second language. What made me very sad was the two young men from Guatemala both of whom had master degrees in education in their home country who had come to the US to learn English to increase their income at home were unable to learn English though they had tried in San Diego and San Francisco before trying Chicago. If they were able to become fluent in English, they could more than double their income in Guatemala. In order to avoid deportation, they had to fit in with Hispanic people with whom they could speak and get work. Both were supporting their wives and children earning more as undocumented here than they could there. But after trying San Diego, and then San Francisco, and then Chicago always working to learn English both had decided that it was unlikely they’d become fluent but their families were doing better by them working in the US than if they were at home. No wonder people seek a better life here.
Within our group at Nampa First, there are those who volunteer in many ways meeting needs here in Nampa. Some volunteer at local schools, provide food for food banks, help at Love INC to help people get out of poverty, and many more. I invite you to ask the ladies selling cookies to help our shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence here what they are doing to help out.
United Methodist Women have sought to help women, children and youth in as many areas as they can to make our world a better place. I’ve only given you a peek into the work in the US. UMW is around the world doing similar work wherever people in need are found. Just as John Wesley let his ministry be formed by the needs of the people around him driven by his faith and understanding that God loves us all, so UMW seeks to meet the needs of the people around them where ever they are.