Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women's Writings

Article excerpt

Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women's Writings. Edited by Paul Wesley Chilcote. (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 2007, Pp. xvi, 396. $39.00, paper.)

Paul Wesley Chilcote's earlier collection of documents, Her Own Story: Autobiographical Portraits of Early Methodist Women (Nashville, 2001), is now joined by a companion volume that exhibits many of the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. It should be said at the outset that, when taken together, the two compilations of autobiographical and spiritual writings provide hundreds of pages of primary sources by early Methodist women, a contribution that helps to fill an important gap in the literature of Methodism. Moreover, because the new volume contains selections by some notable figures not included in Her Chun Story, the breadth of coverage provided by Chilcote is now quite impressive. Among those included in the new collection are Mary Fletcher and Hester Ann Rogers, women whose writings remained influential among Methodists on both sides of the Atlantic well into the nineteenth century.

Yet Chilcote should have given more thought to the selection and presentation of his material in the book under review. He opens with the claim that he will be providing "some of the best, but virtually inaccessible, material related to Methodist spirituality" (xi), but he quickly shifts ground and states that he will also focus on "the better-known works of female icons of early Methodism" (xiii). In fact, the "icons" take pride of place. While most of the volume's thirty-seven women writers are represented by a single extract which amounts to a page or less of text in many cases, Chilcote returns repeatedly to Fletcher, Rogers, Sarah Crosby, and a few other favorites. Many of these icons belonged to the circle around Mary Fletcher, many were preachers, and many of their accounts are taken from Methodist periodicals or other sources that are readily accessible. As in the earlier volume, the editorial commentary is overly long, but only sporadically enlightening, and the editing of the texts is erratic. Chilcote excuses himself in advance by stating, "My primary aim is more descriptive than analytical" (xii), and "my intent is not to present definitive texts for the scholarly community; rather, my intent lies in a balance of academic and devotional objectives" (xiv). Academic standards, in other words, are not going to be uniformly observed.

Chilcote chooses to focus on Wesleyan Methodist women and thus excludes the Countess of Huntingdon (a Calvinist Methodist) and Hannah More (an Anglican) even though "their contributions to eighteenth-century evangelical Anglican spirituality were significant" (xiii). Students of the countess will find this statement surprising, to say the least. …