By Barby Bowser
Executive Assistant and Communications for the World Methodist Council
Within the walls of the World Methodist Council Museum, there are many hidden treasures. It’s rare that on my daily walks through the building where my office is now located, I don’t spot a new tidbit of information or a new historical figure that I did not know about. Several weeks ago, though, I received the monthly newsletter from the Methodist Church in India which featured on its cover the photos of William and Clementina Bulter, who were the first Methodist missionaries to India and Mexico. I remembered hearing the name and quickly walked out onto the floor of the museum to discover the source of my memory. There, occupying the far corner of a row of glass display cases near the front door a book lay open to an engraved portrait of Rev. Dr. Butler and information about his and his wife’s mission work. Fascinated, I began reading more about Rev. Butler and wife, Clementina Rowe Butler.
An Irish-born Wesleyan minister, William Butler immigrated to the United States and soon won over his third wife (he was twice widowed), Clementina Rowe, who crossed the ocean from Ireland to marry Butler in 1854. The honeymoon did not last long, though, and the two set sail for India in 1856. There, they established orphanages in the wake of the Sepoy Mutiny. Once the church was established, the two returned to the United States to raise funds for the new church, focusing mainly on the needs of women. In fact, Clementina founded the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and established the Zenana Paper fund that published Christian women’s literature in five vernaculars.
Serving as secretary of the American and Foreign Christian Union, William Butler was deemed the best candidate to bring the Methodist work to Mexico in 1873. Their missionary work there was similar to that of their work in India, founding a printing press, establishing schools, orphanages, and churches.
It seems that the couple raised their children to follow in their footsteps as well. Two of their children continued the missionary work that their parents had begun, one serving as a missionary to Mexico for 44 years, the other writing mission books for women.
I found this brief trip into Methodist history a wonderful reminder of our global connection! The World Methodist Museum is full of such reminders from early Methodist history up to modern times, and is well worth the visit, whether coming from across an ocean, or just the office next door.
The World Methodist Museum is open year-round, Tuesday – Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. It is located at 575 North Lakeshore Drive at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Groups are encouraged to schedule with the director ahead of time. Go to www.methodistmuseum.org for more information.
A note on the information in this article – I am not an academic researcher and spend a great deal of time on the computer, so the bulk of my reading about Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Butler was done online at www.bu.edu, methodistmission200.org, and www.gcah.org/research.