Woman Lancaster, Sarah Jane

Pentecostalist leader
Alternative Names
  • Lancaster, Jeannie

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Sarah Jane Murrell was born in the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown in 1858, the third child of master mariner, William Murrell and his wife Mary Anne. In 1879 she married Alfred Lancaster with whom she was to have seven children. The couple were active in the York St Methodist Mission in Ballarat, Alfred singing while his wife preached at outdoor meetings. Transferring to Melbourne in the early years of the twentieth century, Jeannie developed an interest in divine healing, preaching and practising her new found belief. In 1906 she ordered a pamphlet from England called 'Back to Pentecost' and two years later she was baptised in the Spirit and began speaking in tongues.

In 1908 Lancaster founded Australia's first Pentecostalist church, based at the Good News Hall, an old temperance hall which she had purchased in North Melbourne. Commencing her ministry with an all night prayer meeting she never returned to the family home but lived in the hall for the rest of her life. The congregation soon numbered in the hundreds and services were held throughout the week. In 1910 Lancaster embarked on an Australian tour preaching the fourfold gospel: salvation in Jesus Christ, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing and the second coming. However, the Good News Hall continued as her base, and the place from which she issued what became a monthly publication Good News. The magazine reproduced articles from international Pentecostalist publications, interspersed with reports of divine healing and articles by Lancaster in which she interpreted world events in biblical terms. She was reported as having claimed that she was 'able to foretell events ... but ... never told what she knew because it only led to persecution' (Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 11 August 1911).

Lancaster was a humble woman who eschewed personal publicity. In her teaching she asserted the equality of women and men before Christ and criticised the mainstream churches for not recognising women's ministry arguing that it was 'the pride of man [that] forbids his acceptance of the grace of God toward those women upon whom He has poured His Spirit' (Chant, p. 424). Her approach to ministry was maternal with many of her followers referring to her as 'Mother' while she referred to them as 'dear ones'. Many of the female founders of other early Pentecostalist missions in Australia had been converted under her influence.

Lancaster's belief in the imminence of the second coming meant that her focus remained on her mission rather than on the development of institutional structures. In 1926, however, she brought her congregation under the auspices of a new organisation the Apostolic Faith Mission of Australasia (AFM) of which she became the Vice President, (and one of only two female members of the executive). This transition from faith mission to church brought disputes around doctrinal issues and the appropriate role for women in leadership. The movement splintered with two rival organisations forming and taking most of the membership. Lancaster rallied what was left of the AFM and in 1930 was elected its President but the organisation folded soon after her death in 1934.

Published Resources


  • Clifton, Shane, Pentecostal Churches in Transition, Brill, Leiden, Holland, 2009. Details

Newspaper Articles


See also