Chapter 3: The Free Methodists

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Transcribed by Michael A. O’Neill in Mar/Apr 2014

Transcribers note: This is a transcription of Mabel’s book, not an upload of the original of the document she created. It was transcribed using Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software, which will result in capitalization errors; misspellings of proper names; odd usage of prepositions or common words; and incorrect homophones. For true fidelity, you can request the book via Interlibrary Loan from the Greenville College or Azusa Pacific University libraries.

It is a little hard to explain to some of the younger members of our family just who the Free Methodists were and how they differ from the United Methodist Church. In about 1860, a group of Methodists led by the Rev. B.T. Roberts left their church to start another church. They wanted to be more like the Methodists of John Wesley’s time. They thought that the Methodists of their day were becoming worldly, less devout, and worst of all, neglectful in teaching and preaching the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The new Free Methodists adopted almost exactly the early Methodist form of church government and have followed it pretty much to this day. The founders were men of piety and education only some evangelists went to extremes on plain dress and worship. From the first, they had no choirs and no instrumental music. They called themselves “Free”, not because they were free to shout the praises of God, which they did, but because they did not charge for pews as many churches did in those days.

They were devout people who lived pious, godly lives. They set a standard of conduct and way of life that was not easy. They forbade the wearing of “gold, pearls, or costly array”. They disapproved of dancing, cards, and the theater. Those rules were in the discipline of the Methodist Church, but not enforced. The doctrine most emphasized by the new church was the seeking of the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace.

My parents were both twenty-one years old when they were married, and began their Christian ministry when they were twenty-three, when I was born! I was the only child until Ernest was born 7 ½ years later. Weston was eleven years younger than him. In those days, the ministers’ wives were just about as active as their husbands. They took part in almost every part of the work of the church; many of them preached a little. They were not ordained as the men were, but they were given certificates as evangelists. They were given no extra remuneration. In Iowa, in those days the preachers’ salaries were surely below the poverty level: about 300 or $350 a year. A day laborer got about a dollar a day at hard labor. When the appointments were read at the annual conference, ours would read: Kingsley, Iowa, W. W. Vinson, Emma Belle Vinson, Supply. Nearly all of the ministers’ wives were so recognized.

Emma Belle Vinson was quite a remarkable woman in many ways. She had only the education of the country school, but she had many natural talents. She became an excellent Bible teacher. She could recite from memory whole chapters of the Bible letter perfect. She was always well aware of any mistake or misquote by some careless preacher, assuming, of course, that it was the King James Version. No other version was readily available or accepted at that time. She had a clear soprano voice, and a very pleasant speaking voice. She was a good organizer and had the whole family right under her hand. Since she was an excellent cook, we had a stream of gas on Sundays, weekdays, sometimes for weeks touring revival meeting times. Mother quoted the Bible accurately with telling effect. Her sermons largely consisted of stories to illustrate her texts, but people loved it. At home she was the center of family life. She could and did scold us frequently, but she also had whipped . There was always lively table conversation. Some people imagine that life in a minister’s family is serious and drab, but our family there was always life and fun. If two or three ministers and their wives got together the stories were often hilarious. Every one of them could tell funny things about weddings and even funerals.

From the beginning, the Free Methodists believed strongly in education. When I was young, Greenville College was the only four-year liberal arts college they had. They did have several schools they called seminaries which were really only high schools. Some of those later became four-year colleges. I went to a public high school because my folks couldn’t afford to send me to one of the church schools.

I always felt that the Free Methodists made two mistakes. One was to ban choirs and instrumental music. The other was to emphasize plain dress so much that it was unnecessarily hard for young people, especially girls, to conform. Both those issues have been changed in recent years. At least many women wear wedding rings and earrings.

My husband and I were Presbyterians for many years, and I belong to the United Methodist Church here in Leisure World. Recently I sent $500 to the little Free Methodists Church in Knoxville, Iowa when I learned they needed money for remodeling. I gave it in memory of my father. This year, 1988, I gave $1000 toward an organ in Mountain View Free Methodist Church in Upland, California. That church was originally in Ontario, California, but has built a new church in Upland. Father had been their pastor in the 20s. Later I paid for a stained glass panel dedicated to father and mother. The Free Methodists have changed a lot, but they are still God’s people in my mind.

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