Miss Thorne preaches at Willunga in 1871

Event Dates:

10 January 1871

“Miss Thorne’s ease and naturalness, blended with earnestness and eloquence, commanded attention while she imparted instruction”. South Australian Register, 10 January 1871, page 3. Miss Serena Thorne (1842-1902) appeared at the Oddfellows Hall,  35 High Street in Willunga. What was unusual about this appearance was that Miss Thorne preached a sermon! Miss Thorne was a Bible Christian, but people from other churches would eagerly attend her sermons in Willunga – the Register correspondent described the attendance as “overflowing”. Woman preachers were controversial in the 19th century.

Although the Wesleyan Methodists initially approved of women preaching, this liberal attitude changed after the death of John Wesley. With the split of Methodism into several schools of belief, women preachers were embraced by the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians even though the Wesleyans no longer approved. One justification for women preachers was from James 1:17: “every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from above, from the Father of lights”. The opponents of women preaching, however, had their own biblical arguments.

“Miss Thorne spoke…referring to having received through the post a slip of paper, containing texts of Scripture, which the writer, no doubt in his ignorance, imagined proved that women had no authority for preaching. She, it was considered, proved most conclusively the contrary…”. (Adelaide Observor, 10 Dec 1870, p. 4). Some men, however, could never be convinced. When Miss Thorne preached at the opening of what is now the Inman Valley Uniting Church, the violent thunderstorm on that day was attributed by some sour parishioners to God’s ire at a woman preaching.

Serena Thorne married the Reverend Octavius Lake just two months later in March 1871 and she was a very well-known woman preacher under her married name of Serena Lake. The Willunga district also had a well-known woman preacher, Mrs Thirza Middlebrook.

References:

1870 ‘TO THE EDITOR‘, Southern Argus 3 December, p. 3. , viewed 08 Feb 2024,

1870 ‘COUNTRY LETTERS‘, Adelaide Observer 10 December, p. 4. , viewed 08 Feb 2024,

1871 “WILLUNGA, January 6“, South Australian Register 10 January, p. 3. , viewed 08 Feb 2024,

Australian Dictionary of Biography (online) – entry for Serena Lake (née Thorne)

Inman Valley Uniting church
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