“I would be given up, both soul and body: Mary Bosanquet Fletcher and her call to Public Ministry”

Here, we have a post from organiser, Jessica Clement

Mary Bosanquet Fletcher was a woman that few would describe as “difficult” in the conventional sense of the term. But what set Fletcher apart was her independent spirit and agency to not only get an orphanage up and running, but to transform her ministry into a major hub for Methodist worship and social activism. Born in 1739, Fletcher would go on to become one of the first deaconesses of the Methodist Movement and build a thriving ministry for orphans and less fortunate. Taking her own finances and time to help people in need, Fletcher had a large part to play in the success and proliferation of the Methodist movement during the Eighteenth century, making waves by establishing and expanding an orphanage into a successful centre for Methodist worship and even preaching regularly to enthusiastic crowds.

mary-fletcher

Fletcher’s legacy began with Leytonstone House, a house that had been owned by Fletcher’s family, located in Essex. From 1763 to 1768, the Leytonstone house thrived as a place for Christian community. Serving as a meeting place for prayer and Bible study, as well as a preaching house, orphanage, and school, the property even functioned as a social service centre for the poor and needy of the neighbourhood. Visited by John Wesley in 1767, he noted in his journal, “O what a house of God is here! Not only for decency and order, but for the life and power of religion!”[1]

However in 1768, Fletcher came to the conclusion that the house in Leytonstone required more income and was too small to sustain its inhabitants. Some of her friends recommended selling the property and buying a farm in Yorkshire. Fletcher eventually felt drawn to relocate her ministry in the north, selling the house at Leytonstone after five years of ministry. On June 7, 1768, Fletcher moved to a farm in Cross-Hall, located outside Leeds. Fletcher’s life at Cross-Hall was quite different from her ministry at Leytonstone. Now the owner of a large farm with no business training, little capital, and no farming experience, Fletcher had to sustain her ministry and provide for the orphans in her care. Fortunately, Fletcher landed on her feet and transformed the farm at Cross-Hall into a thriving centre for Methodist worship, attracting people from miles around with the meetings growingly rapidly in numbers until a point where she had to suggest that they begin to break off into smaller groups to facilitate all of the followers.

Referring to these meetings, Fletcher writes,“Those meetings were to me a singular blessing. They cost me many a wrestling prayer, and when the nights approached, when we were to meet… Frequently I had many beds to make up, and many friends and their horses to entertain. But I saw it such an honour to be (as I sometimes expressed it) the Lord’s Inn-keeper, that I could feel nothing but satisfaction therein.”[2] Citing the “many beds” and “horses” of the individuals who would travel to hear her speak, we can see that Fletcher feels a sense of divine blessing in her post at Cross-Hall. For Fletcher, this blessing rests not only on herself, but is also being sublimated to members of the larger community. So not only was her ministry at Cross-Hall flourishing, Fletcher felt that the Lord was working through her and using her as some sort of “divine extension” of his will.

[1] Thomas M. Morrow, Early Methodist Women, (London: Epworth Press, 1967), 75.

[2] Mary Fletcher, The Life of Mrs. Mary Fletcher. Ed. Henry Moore. (New York: Abraham Paul, 1818), 93.

(Image Credit: Lawson Ceramics Collection)

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