Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862 (vol. 1)


Early Religious Instruction

The Harmons were members of the Chestnut Street Methodist church. There under a succession of pastors (most of them did not stay more than one or two years) Ellen and her twin sister and older members of the family received their early religious instruction. The church had pews in the gallery and on the main floor. The Harmons probably occupied main-floor pews. There were also backless benches for the less affluent worshipers, who paid a yearly fee of $1 apiece to reserve a place. 1BIO 32.3

Robert Harmon was a pillar in the church—an exhorter, which means that sometimes he would stand at the close of the sermon to give, in good Methodist fashion, an extemporaneous layman's response to the challenge of the sermon. 1BIO 32.4

History records one point of early contention—the use of instrumental music. The church was rocked by controversy when it installed a pipe organ—said to be the first church organ in any Methodist church in the United States. “The New York Christian Advocate came out strongly against the move, arguing that it would lead away from the simplicity of Methodism and spirituality of religion. When a Methodist bishop was asked how he liked the tone of the new organ he replied, ‘Oh, it is so loud I heard it all the way to New York.’” 1BIO 32.5

It is difficult to judge by the available data just how formal or enthusiastic the worship was in the Chestnut Street church. At one time there was quite a controversy over shouting loud amens. [There was a branch of the methodists that engaged in ecstatic experiences, particularly that of shouting. Meetings were conducted on weeknight evenings where it was expected there would be considerable shouting of the praises of God. It was not uncommon when one anticipated attending such a meeting to say that he was “going to a shout.”] 1BIO 32.6

And then there were the Methodist class meetings. These were always less formal than the Sunday services. Held in private homes, they were each attended by a dozen or so people. A Methodist paper published both in Boston and Portland gives a sketch of the class meeting: 1BIO 33.1

After opening the meeting in the usual way [with singing and prayer], he [the class leader] states his own experience for the week; then, requesting the members to keep their seats (as rising often imposes stiffness and embarrassment), he enters into a familiar conversation with each one, in which he aims to develop some one or all of the following points: namely, perfection in love, how obtained, and the evidences of it; freedom from condemnation; abiding witness of the Spirit; sense of darkness; recent victories over sin; growth in grace; besetting sins; faithfulness in duty, in prayer, watchfulness, self-denial; honesty in business transactions; entire consecration to God, etc.—Zion's Herald and the Maine Wesleyan Journal, vol. 13, p. 158. 1BIO 33.2

The comment follows that “Brother Y's class meetings are always lively, spiritual, and profitable sessions.”— Ibid. 1BIO 33.3

This kind of meeting, with its testimony, counsel, confession, encouragement, and praise, lent itself to free expression and religious fervor. Attendance was considered mandatory for any good Methodist. It was in this environment that Ellen faced the struggles in her religious experience in her girlhood. 1BIO 33.4