Mary Bosanquet Fletcher (1739-1815) was an early lay preacher credited with convincing John Wesley that some women should be allowed to preach. She was from a wealthy family but rejected a lot of the trappings of wealth for a deeper spiritual life, living modestly and using her money to help people in need. She was a close friend of Wesley, who appointed her a class leader. In 1763, Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan turned her family’s large home in Leytonstone, Essex, into a school, orphanage, hospital and halfway house for the poorest in London. Bosanquet struggled with her calling to be a preacher, as did many of the early Methodist women. Wesley never ordained women; he drew a fine line between testifying and preaching and kept women from crossing that line. In 1771, Bosanquet wrote Wesley for guidance, a letter many historians consider the first significant defense of women’s preaching in Methodism. She told him there were times that God seemed to call women to preach in “extraordinary circumstances,” and Wesley agreed with her, paving the way for him to begin allowing women with “an extraordinary call” to become lay preachers as she did. He continued to consider each woman’s request individually, however. In 1781, Bosanquet married John Fletcher, Wesley’s designated successor, and they worked in partnership, essentially as a clergy team. He died only four years later but Mary Bosanquet Fletcher continued her ministry for almost 30 more years.
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Some of Bosanquet's letters can be found on The Fletcher Page, a still under development that is dedicated to the lives, theologies, ministries and context of John and Mary Bosanquet Fletcher.
Photo courtesy of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, from " The Wesleys and Their Times."