A Little More About Julia Chester Emery

Elizabeth Campbell, Province VI Representative to the UTO Board
September 8, 2017

We ask you to join us in celebrating the 165th birthday of Julia Chester Emery this fall. She was born September 24, 1852 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and died January 9, 1922, in New York City. Julia served 40 years as secretary of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Board of Missions of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the legal name of our Episcopal Church). Surrounded and supported by family, friends, and clergy, she was one of the beloved early leaders and role models of laywomen in the Church. In 1997, Julia Chester Emery was honored by the entire Church and is now remembered in the Liturgical Calendar on January 9.

Julia was not the first woman appointed to the post of Women’s Auxiliary secretary. The 30th General Convention in 1871 had given the Board of Missions permission to organize a women’s society, and on January 1, 1872, her sister Mary Abbott Emery began as the first corresponding secretary, serving until she married in 1876. Julia then picked up Mary’s work of writing letters to clergy and the “Women’s Work” monthly column in The Spirit of Missions and all the other responsibilities of administration and education, including travel, for the Auxiliary. In the Emery family, their mother, four sisters (including Julia and Mary), and two brothers who were Episcopal priests actively participated in the establishment and work of the Auxiliary. Letters from bishops and clergy to Mary and Julia tell of the many missions, churches, and schools made possible by the work of the Auxiliary in the United States and throughout the world.

At the first annual meeting of the Auxiliary during the General Convention in 1874, there were “66 women from five states…. Every member was provided with a short form of prayer with the request that it be used daily on behalf of the Auxiliary and for those engaged in mission labor.”

By 1886, a significant amount of funds for missions was coming from the Women’s Auxiliary. Ida Soule, a devoted churchwoman and friend of the Emery sisters, counted the offering after the Triennial Meeting Communion Service, and the total was only $82.71. She suggested that the membership would give more if they knew how the money was to be spent. Julia encouraged Ida to write about it in a letter to print in the “Women’s Work” column. Ida wrote it, suggesting it would be “our Thanksgiving Offering,” and the letter was printed. In 1889, money was designated to be raised for a church in Alaska and a year’s salary for a missionary in Japan; the offering was $2,188.64, enough for both. By 1913, the Thanksgiving Offering was $303,496.66, supporting 175 women workers and providing $20,000 for buildings.

The 45th anniversary of the Women’s Auxiliary was celebrated at the Triennial Meeting in 1916. For four decades, Julia had been “the glue” that held it all together. She exemplified faithfulness as a follower of Jesus!

We love and celebrate “Miss Julia” mostly for welcoming others to participate in Christian ministry. To honor her, I invite you to think about doubling your gifts to the United Thank Offering in 2017!

(Quotations are from A Short History of the Triennial Meetings of the Women of the Episcopal Church by Anne Bass Fulk, and used with her permission.)

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