9. Sarah Kirkland and her Gipsy Herald

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H Bickerstaffe Kendall in the series “One Hundred Years Ago”

THE month of September, 1813, affords few precise dates of happenings we can linger over. We know, however, that the band of zealous men and women who formed the Hull and Tract Mission were hard at work, with much profit to their own religious life. “Their improvement,” says Hugh Bourne, “was so great, that five of them began to preach, and in a short time were admitted on the printed plan as regular local preachers.” Who were the five? He mentions Thomas Hickenbotham, who “went on in a shining course for a few years, and then died in the Lord ’’; also John Harrison, Mary Hawksley, and Sarah Kirkland. One of the Rides might probably be the unnamed fifth.

Hugh Bourne was not prodigal of praise; but he was always ready to express a high opinion of Sarah Kirkland, and sometimes he seems to be seeking an occasion of speaking of her in unqualifiedly commendatary terms. Nor can we wonder at this; for the more we know of Sarah Kirkland’s character and work, the more natural do Hugh Bourne’s encomiums appear. How high she stood in the regard of the Hull Circuit authorities is shown by their attempt in 1822 to get her to settle amongst them. In 1825, when she had become Mrs. Bembridge, a formal proposal was made that she and her husband (an efficient local preacher) should itinerate; and in 1829 they were asked by Hull Circuit to go as missionaries to the United States.

At the Michaelmas Quarter-day of 1813, then, this estimable young woman was proposed by Hugh Bourne for the plan. The call did not come to her without forewarning. She had been prepared for it by her own half-timid aspirations and presentiments, fed and encouraged as these were by the freely expressed opinions and forecasts of friends and neighbours. “There is the making of a preacher in Sally Kirkland,” some would say. Others would go a step farther and declare: “She is bound to be a preacher.”

When the Kirkland family at Mercaston was fighting a losing battle with smallpox, one who is described as “a wicked woman” called to make sympathetic inquiries, and on leaving the house delivered herself of the dark saying, “If they all three die, I shall think that Sarah is called to be something particular.” Then, soon after three coffins had been borne from the stricken home, her leader and class-mates said: “We believe you are called to preach.” Last, and most weighty utterance of all, was Hugh Bourne’s pronouncement: “Sister Kirkland, I believe you are called of God to preach the gospel.” So, when the call came and was accepted, it was, as in Timothy’s case, “according to the prophecies which had gone before on her.”

Diffidently she went, accompanied by a few friends, to her first appointment, which was at Sutton-on-the-Hill in Derbyshire. A gipsy youth who belonged to a band encamped in the neighbourhood, was one of her many hearers, and before the service closed he had passed through mental distress to peace. As long as the gipsies remained in the district, the youth constituted himself Sarah Kirkland’s herald. When she had to preach in the neighbourhood, swift of foot he passed along with the message: “A young woman is going to preach. Come and hear her. I have heard her”; and then, shortly and simply he would try to tell the difference which hearing her had made to him. There is a pleasing touch of romance about this incident, which also is not without its hint of promise, that the stranger and the outcast should have the gospel preached unto them and should feel its power.

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/676

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