Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sarah Righter Major

James Quinter called her "a woman of energy and strong convictions ... a remarkable woman" who overcame the obstacles to become the first woman preacher among the Brethren.

After being converted under the preaching of Harriet Livermore in the Philadelphia congregation, Sarah experienced the call in her heart to preach. She suppressed it for a while and suffered such great distress of mind that her father persuaded her to open her heart to him. He sympathized with her call, and along with Peter Keyser, enabled her to overcome her fears and begin the work of witnessing. About that same time Brother Israel Poulson invited her to visit the Amwell NJ congregation where she spoke to the great edification of the congregation.

In 1834 the question of her preaching came before the Annual Conference, and the Conference responded: Concerning a sister's preaching, not approved of. Considered such sister being in danger, not only of exposing her own state of grace to temptation, but also causing temptations, discord, and dispute among other members. Several elders were appointed to silence her. However, after hearing her preach, one of them said, "I could not give my voice to silence someone who could out-preach me." Nevertheless, Sarah was never licensed or even authorized to do so by any congregation. She was simply tolerated. In certain congregations, permission was granted for her to preach, accompanied by her husband.

Henry Holsinger who had the experience of sharing the pulpit with Sarah in Philadelphia wrote of that experience, confessing his own prejudices against women preachers and the importance of accepting the ministry of one so gifted as Sarah Major.

Sarah Righter had great influence over her audiences, and when she became deeply interested in her subject, she grew eloquent. Her appeals were especially effectual to those of her own sex. Notwithstanding the strong prejudice against women preaching ... Sister Righter's extreme modesty and exemplary life subdued much of [the criticism]....

... It was my turn to preach in the forenoon, and I confess I was guilty of a feeling closely akin to humiliation, at the the thought of being in the same stand with a woman preacher. In the evening Sister Major preached, and I now humbly acknowledge that I was very much ashamed of myself and of my effort, but most of all I was dissatisfied with myself because of the prejudice confessed to above, but which I am thankful to have the assurance I had carefully concealed. She preached an excellent sermon. Her style was simple, her manner perfect, and every gesture in place.

Sarah devoted her life to preaching, caring for those in need, working for the release of slaves, and speaking out for the equality of women.

Sources: Preaching in a Tavern, Morse; Some who led. Miller and Royer;
A self-instruction Guide Through Brethren History, Donald Miller