Unsung Methodist Personalities: Biographies from the history of New Zealand Methodism by Donald Phillipps

Another women pathfinder in New Zealand Methodism

In her aptly entitled book Out of the Silence, Ruth Fry draws our attention to Sister Moody Bell, the first woman to be appointed to take charge of a Home Mission Station in New Zealand Methodism.

This claim is not entirely accurate since Amy Lill had been placed in charge of the Primitive Methodist Station at Inglewood in 1904. Nevertheless, Emma Louisa Moody-Bell was a pathfinder, and it would be good to know much more about her.

She had been born at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the daughter of William Moody Bell, a surgical instrument maker. She is recorded in the 1881 Census as being involved in that same skilled trade.

The last two decades of the 19th century saw women becoming increasingly involved in public issues, and one area of particular interest was the temperance movement. Under leaders like Frances Willard and Mary Clement Leavitt of the USA the temperance movement had become a significant world force for social change.

Emma Moody-Bell was an active worker in this cause when she came to New Zealand in July 1903. Her first years were spent in Dunedin, involved with the inter-denominational City Mission and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Her roles in these organisations may be why she was called ‘Sister’ – recognising that her work matched the ‘Sisters of the Poor’, the precursors of the deaconesses.

She very quickly became a leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and remained so until she returned to England.

She may have spent some time in Nelson, because it was the Nelson District chairman, CH Garland, who overcame Connexional scruples in gaining approval to appoint her to Kumara as home missionary. That was typical of Garland, who was one of the more enlightened Methodist leaders.

Emma remained there for two years, and then went to Shannon in 1909. She then returned to WCTU leadership and was working in Invercargill from 1911 until about 1916, before she returned to the West Coast.

She had by then become a notable lecturer on a wide variety of topics, and seems to have travelled widely, talking on such subjects as the temperance theme How to Fight the Devil; Love, Courtship and Marriage; Sweethearts; and The White Slave Traffic.

Emma returned to England in 1920. Though she seems to have intended initially to return to this country, she did not do so. A, newspaper article in 1922 reported that she had settled back at Cheltenham.

She became involved in the British Women’s Temperance Association, the National Women’s Council, and with prison reform – all the while keeping her hand in as a Methodist local preacher. ‘Sister’ Emma Moody-Bell deserves to be remembered as a pioneer.

Can you help?

No photo has been found for Emma. If you search and find an image please contact David Bell. Thank you.

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Last updated on 30 September 2020, 6:00 PM