PROFESSOR EMERITUS REVEREND ROBERT GRIBBEN
In his address the Rev Robert Gribben treated the AGM audience to a learned explanation of the various forms of Methodism which emerged from the Anglican Church in the 17th and 18th centuries in England and America. On the Ballarat goldfields, among the six or so varieties, it was the Wesleyan Methodists who predominated. This local majority continued to be close to the vision and practice of the founders John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788). We heard about the introduction of 'field preaching', hymn-singing and 'love feasts'. So in Ballarat the 'singing church' flourished with high teas and lay preaching. The flat structure of Methodist conferences suited the egalitarian nature of the local goldmining community.
It was most interesting to hear about the strong influence that their mother, Susanna Wesley, exerted upon her sons. She is credited with instilling in them an appreciation of the intellectual and spiritual qualities of women, thus accounting for the equality which women enjoyed in this church. Even teenage girls were licensed to preach and to be fully engaged in higher education and self-improvement programs. The best-known female preacher in the Colonies of Victoria and South Australia was Serena Lake Thorne (1842-1902), a Bible Christian and suffragette, whose sermons drew huge crowds of admirers.
BDGS members were able to enlighten the audience about which former Methodist Churches were still standing in Ballarat. In 1977 the Methodist Church joined with the Presbyterian and Congregational churches to form the Uniting Church in Australia. There was no continuing Methodist church as was the case with the Presbyterians.