Friday, 16 May 2014

Discovering Sarah Crosby: a historian’s journey

The journey to get to know Sarah Crosby continued during my research trip to Duke University in 2009 for the Summer Wesley Seminar. The letter I mentioned in the last post was published by Paul Chilcote in a collection of early Methodist spiritual writing, and he cited the source as a manuscript in the Duke archives. I was excited to see the artifact connected to the sources I had only been reading in a published form. 

The artifact in this case is a small leather bound blank journal that Sarah Crosby used for a letterbook and journal. She copied letters both sent and received into this book, which preserved the conversation that she had with John Wesley about his publication on holiness. He solicits her opinion, and she responds and he replies with his agreement at her assessment.

I spent an afternoon looking at this artifact in the Duke archives, which are housed in this slightly imposing Gothic building (as you can see from the picture). It made Sarah Crosby feel so human and real to handle her journal. 
I took a few pictures of the book while I was there. The handwritten page and the texture of the journal form the cover art for my book.

While at Duke I also took a look at the article written about Sarah Crosby by Frank Baker in the Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society. It was historian Frank Baker who acquired the letterbook and brought it to the Duke archives. I am grateful for the work of scholars who came before me for preserving the early history of Methodism. I feel blessed to follow in their footsteps, even as I ask different questions of the sources.

My questions are different because I come from a different historical context, but also because I am asking questions particularly about the spirituality of the Early Methodists. How did they experience God? How did they talk about these experiences? I think their voices are not only interesting and inspiring, I think they can act as a corrective to today’s spiritual ethos. Today when spiritual means anything but organized religion and organized religion to some means a particular political position, it is helpful to take some time to hear from another generation of people. 

The early Methodists gathered in local societies in the wake of a few decades of the evangelical revival. They were ardent about their faith, increasingly aware of their personal sin and they were bold to change their society in a time when industrialization, the trans-atlantic slave trade and imperialism marked the current reality. The more I read the accounts from this period of historical upheaval, the more I want to know these people. These accounts show how individuals and communities encountered God and responded with great love and devotion. This is what I long for today. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Meeting Sarah Crosby

I encountered Sarah Crosby and her story of Christian Perfection first through a letter she wrote to John Wesley. It starts out with her opinion on his latest publication on holiness — he gets her approval with a suggestion to nuance his wording on one part — and then she launches into her personal story:
“It is now twenty-three years since I felt a want of something more than I had, having been justified near six months. But the predestinarians made perfection to appear such a bugbear, I was affrighted at the thought of it, yet continued to be very uneasy at times. When reading your [John Wesley’s] sermon on perfection I said, provided this is what Mr. Wesley means by perfection, this is what I want, and I believe God can and that he will make me thus perfect. And I can never rest until I attain it. After this time, I often thought of the only words I remember in your sermon, the first time I heard you, which were, ‘If it is possible for God to give us a little love, is it not possible for him to fill us with love?’ … At length the keen sense of want of constant union and communion with him, who was indeed the beloved of my soul, constrained me to cry mightily to him for help. For though I was favored with much nearness to and communion with him at times, I knew not how any longer to bear the feeling of anything that I knew displeased him, though in a less degree than ever. And my prayers and tears were not in vain. For Jesus showed me that as he had answered for my actual transgressions in his own body on the tree, so he answered for my original sin and for every deviation from the perfect law. He then gave my heart a power to believe him thus my whole Savior, which I never could do before. And now I felt a peace come into my soul, superior to all I had ever known…. 
But in answer to your question, dear Sir, whether I now experience what I did then? I freely acknowledge I have not uninterruptedly enjoyed so great a degree of the glorious liberty where with Christ made me free sixteen years past, as I did then….And glory be to his ever adorable name, I now find him as precious and present with me as ever. He is the center of all my hopes, the end of my enlarged desires. I have no pursuits nor wishes but to please him and no fears but to offend him. I would live to do his will, or would die to see him. He knows I love him with a measure of the same love wherewith he has and does love me.”
I was moved by her story, and the maturity that she expressed in reflecting back on years of ups and downs in her spiritual experience. She showed grace for herself and wisdom in what she offered to others. This was clearly someone I wanted to know more about.

The historian in me was also intrigued by this letter. Who was this that offered critique to John Wesley on his latest theological treatise? Who was this who suggested she was only slightly moved by his preaching during the Methodist revival? More over who was this that offered her own story to Wesley himself spiritual counsel? And the hint that I might actually be able to answer these questions came in the throw away line: “There were many more particulars, which I haven’t room for, and have acquainted you with many years ago.” More on that in my next blog post.

The letter quoted here is published in: Paul Wesley Chilcote (ed.) Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women’s Writings. Nashville: Kingswood, 2007.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Book Launch News!

After several delays, I am happy announce that Witnesses of Perfect Love will be in print later this month. It is volume 4 in the Tyndale Seminary Series in Wesleyan Theology and History, from Clements Publishing.

There are two events where you can celebrate the launch of the book with me. The first is that the book will be available at the Free Methodist Church in Canada General Conference in Toronto, ON May 16-19. If you are already attending this event, I would be happy for you to pick up a copy of the book that weekend. I will be at this event and will be happy to chat with you about the book.

The second event will be a Book Launch sponsored by the Regent College bookstore. I am excited to launch this book from Regent where much of the research and writing took place. Join me on May 22, at 7:30 pm at Regent College for a lecture, a book signing and a reception to follow.

 I am excited to share the stories of Early Methodist spirituality through the book and through this lecture. In the lecture I will be introducing you to the ideas, but more importantly the people I encountered in my research. The stories of encountering God in transformational ways have had a significant impact on me personally. I feel blessed to have encountered these women and men from the eighteenth century.

In addition to the book launch elements of the event on May 22, my husband Tim and I will be bidding Vancouver farewell as we move on to our next adventure in Saskatoon, SK. Please join us that evening to say farewell and hear about our new adventure at the reception.