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

A Forgotten Pioneer

Sister Amy, the First Methodist Woman to Be Stationed

Amy Elizabeth Lill was born at Ashburton on February 15th 1882, the daughter of William Thomas Lill and his wife, Claire (née Taylor).

The Lills were at the very heart of Ashburton Primitive Methodism from its earliest days, and W.T.Lill was a star among the local preachers, according to the Church’s historian. He became Vice President of the Primitive Methodist Conference in 1912, having held every office at Ashburton from church cleaner to station steward.

With such a background it was not surprising that Amy, the second daughter in a family of 11 children, should have a strong vocation for ministry. It was said that from an early age she had wanted to be a missionary.

Amy would have been encouraged by hearing of the sending of Maud Cannon, of the Dunedin Central Mission, to the Bible Christian Mission in Western China in 1893. As it happened there was now a place in that same city where aspiring women missionaries could receive training. It had been established in 1899 by HH and Annie Driver. The Drivers also founded the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society and had themselves spent considerable time in India.

Amy’s preference was to work with the China Inland Mission and she spent about two years at the Drivers’ Missionary Training House at Dunedin, where she was also associated with the Dunedin YWCA Bible Class.

When she completed her time there she was planning to go to England for a years’ medical training and then join the CIM. Somehow this did not work out – possibly for health reasons. Instead she was employed in 1903 by the Primitive Methodist Connexion as the second of their evangelists, in the North Island, concentrating on temperance work.

There is a report on a 10 day mission in Wanganui, for example, and reference is made in it to her being a ‘fluent speaker’ with a pleasant manner. It seems that she may have been based in the area around Stratford and Inglewood, but she also conducted a mission at Feilding.

In 1904 the Primitive Methodist Conference designated Amy as a ‘hearer’, though what the status of that term means is unclear. Whatever the case, she was stationed as a ‘temporary supply’ in Inglewood, and spent a year there.

At the end of 1904 it was reported that Amy had resigned in order to undertake missionary work in China, but, again, this did not eventuate, and she stayed on in Inglewood, in business as a milliner, but still active as a local preacher.

In 1909 she married Martin Sutherland, an Inglewood saddler, who later became a stationer in the same town. Later still they moved to New Plymouth, where she died in 1964 at the age of 82. Though she spent just that one year on the Primitive Methodist stationing sheet, that year made her the pathfinder for women’s ministry in New Zealand Methodism.

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Amy Lill

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Last updated on 30 September 2020, 7:00 PM