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European Methodist Historical Conference in Velletri, Italy

The European Methodist Historical conference took place in Velletri, Italy from 6th - 9th September, 2023 and amazingly this historical conference was held in a country with many historical values and a long history of Christianity. The conference was a gathering of Methodist historians, archivists, researchers, pastors and students etc from different nations especially Europe to share and discuss about the history of “Methodist mission at home and abroad.” The major topics discussed at the conference were: Methodist Mission across Continents, Deaconesses, social work, and Home Missions and Mission and Methodist Heritage. Each presentation and report was filled with historical information researched with passion that helped us understand more of methodist mission work in the past centuries and they opened our eyes more to see how God was always at work in this world through the missionaries – both men and women.

The keynote presentation was under the theme: The Role of training schools for methodist Deaconesses in foreign Mission (1885 – 1895),” by Priscilla Pope-Levison, who is a research professor of practical theology at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology. Priscilla spoke on the first decade of the methodist deaconess movement in America (1885 – 1895) in which she highlighted the mission works of three American Methodist women (Helen, Delle and Kate) who in her opinion were “under appreciated and nearly forgotten“ and she described them as “bold and courageous women.“ These women got involved in Christian work and became missionaries. Their decision was also influenced by their knowledge of the methodist deaconess movement and the training school founded by Lucy Rider Mayer in Chicago.

These three women devoted themselves to attending prayer meetings in churches and constantly reading their bibles. They were also in the company of matured Christians. Kate was later enrolled in the training school of Lucy and one day her two friends, Helen and Delle visited her and heard Bishop James Thoburn, a Methodist missionary in India who came and was stressing the need for trained workers as missionaries in India. Bishop Thoburn also emphasized the importance of first testing those people who intend to be trained and sent abroad to serve as missionaries. It was believed that no matter how accomplished or successful a woman was, she would be a failure in the field of mission unless she is a soul winner but she has to be first tested. Delle was actually about getting married to a man who was to be sent abroad as a missionary when she heard the address of Bishop Thoburn and that quite disturbed her. Therefore, she made a quick decision to enroll in the training school as well. Delle believed that there were still quite a number of things she needed to still learn if she were to be a missionary or a wife of a missionary. But Helen also ended up joining the training school.

Upon finishing their training, Kate, Dale and her husband served as missionaries in Korea and Helen got married and she and her husband did mission work at home.

In the late 19th century the deaconess training school played a big role in preparing Methodist women who intend to serve in mission fields abroad. Before the establishment of this training school, no special training for women missionaries was in existence with the exception of Mount Holyoke Seminary which was established in 1837 by Mary Lyons. This Seminary did send 175 foreign missionaries to 18 countries in its 50 years of existence. But the training at this seminary was for missionary wives rather than single women who were to serve as missionaries themselves.

In the later years there were many interests by women to serve as missionaries and they were supported by women organizations that the Protestant missionary force of America went from 2000 before 1870 to 6000 in 1900. Amazing!

The Methodist historical conference was really a time to remember and celebrate the great works of the Methodist missionaries and it was enlightening for us. We could learn a lot from history and how to make it part of the future in our service to our Lord and savior Jesus. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the conference.

Lara D. Herrmann

Giang An Huynh

Sabbath Kefas Mavula


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