Methodist History: Revivalist Phoebe Palmer
Her name may not be famous, but in her day Methodist Phoebe Palmer was called the Mother of the Holiness Movement Revival. Born in New York in 1807, Palmer experienced sanctification at a Methodist revival in in the 1830’s and dedicated her life to helping others find the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Phoebe Palmer has been called an early feminist, a theologian, and a humanitarian – a legend in her own time says historian Fred Day.
The Rev. Alfred Day: “There’s a great story related to her travels as an evangelistic speaker where she is riding a steamer. And the boiler catches fire. And the ship is on fire and there is great panic. And she calmed the crowd by leading a hymn sing. and the story goes that when the ship docked in New York one of the passengers was heard to say, ‘Thank God for the Methodists.’”
In the 1800’s when only men were preachers, Palmer led weekly Bible studies, published books, and preached at more than 300 revival camp meetings.
The Rev. Alfred Day: “She experienced and believed in the direct calling and work of the Holy Spirit in and through a person’s life that would not allow them to keep silent.”
Personal tragedy shaped Palmer’s faith. She lost 3 of her 6 children with husband Walter Palmer; one in a fire that ignited when an oil lamp fell into the crib with the infant.
The Rev. Alfred Day: “She was a person that knew great pain and hurt and tragedy in her life. But it was her experience of the power and presence of God’s love in her life that was a source for her overcoming.”
Palmer was key in establishing New York’s Methodist Five Points Mission. On the site of an old brewery, the ministry brought the healing presence of the Holy Spirit to residents in one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.
The Rev. Alfred Day: “She was the developer of what was called the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness. ‘Perfect love,’ she says, ‘issues forth in passion for lives that serve humanity.’”
An interesting footnote: Palmer’s daughter and namesake Phoebe Palmer Knapp followed in her mother’s footsteps of service to the Methodist church, composing over 500 hymn tunes including the music for Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance.”
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos here.
This video was first posted on March 21, 2018.