great grandson of Richard McAllister and Ann Miller (R04)
by Asa M. Bradley, from
Pacific Coast Universalism XI"
The Christian Leader, August 15, 1936
Of the pioneer preachers, E. A. McAllister was the only one personally known to me. He as born in Burnham, Maine, going to California in 1855. His first work was as a Free Baptist missionary among the mining camps, camping with his pack on his back from place to place. Thus he journeyed through Central California, and passed over into Oregon. He was particularly well versed as a debater, having great command of the Bible text. He related with evident relish the incident which resulted in his turning to Universalism. He was to debate with a Universalist (I have forgotten with whom), and having prepared his own argument, he thought it well to study his opponent's side. Said he, "I soon made up my mind that he had the best of it, and if he didn't beat me, it was his own fault".
He preached his first sermon as a Universalist at Coles Valley, Oregon. The Register gives the date of his fellowship as 1875, but he was pastor at Roseburg in 1873, and chairman of the Fellowship Committee at the organization of the State Convention in 1874. He held several pastorates, and was by far the most efficient of the preachers of that period. The church edifices at Dayton, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho, were built under his ministry. He received hundreds into church membership.
He began to practice medicine in a small way about the time he entered the Universalist ministry. This was an easy step for him. He was peculiarly gifted with clairvoyancy, and had large experience with sickness in his itinerary among the miners. The ministry did not, always give adequate support for the growing family, and it was necessary at times to resort to other means. At one time it was hauling freight from Scottsburg to Roseburg. In 1865 he was married to Miss Samantha Cornell, a cultured and gifted woman, who in after years as a licensed preacher rendered fine service. As has been noted, the pastorate at Albany was attended with bitter experience, and the family became the first consideration. The State University being located at Eugene, the family was moved there, and, at great sacrifice, Mr. and Mrs. McAllister succeeded in giving their six children liberal education.
McAllister was a preacher whose word was with power. He was of his time, the pioneer times. It was hard for him to adjust to the more stable religious conditions brought about by the filling up of the country with a more cultured people, and he shrank from the critical atmosphere of the modern congregation. The Portland church entertained the State Conference in 1897. The preachers present were Shinn, Felt, McAllister and myself. I had advertised McAllister to preach the closing sermon, Sunday evening. In the afternoon he came to me in a panic, asking that I substitute for him, saying: "Times have changed. These new people from the East laugh at us old-timers". But there were those to be present who would come expressly to hear the "old-timer," and there were other old-timers attending who had traveled long distances to enjoy the privileges of the meetings (Dr. Perils's father and sister among them), to whom it would have been a grievous disappointment not to hear the old-time voice telling again the old time story. They cared nothing for Shinn, or Felt, or Brawny, they were waiting to hear the old timer. Cruel as it seemed, there was no choice but to insist that he carry out the program, which he did to the edification of a large congregation, preaching a great sermon. The leading points remain in my memory even after the lapse of years.
Now for a story:
One of our Sunday school boys, perhaps ten years of age, came and seated himself beside me on the front seat, pillowed his head in the hollow of my shoulder, and promptly fell asleep. Suddenly, McAllister, pointing his finger, said, "It's no use to lick that boy", and then proceeded to develop his thought. And I observed that Charlie was wide awake. At the next circle meeting Charlie's mother brought me this story: She was about to administer punishment, but Charlie didn't flinch. "Ma, you mustn't lick me. It don't do me any good: Dr. McAllister said so."
Another incident. Soon after the organization of the Spokane Society, McAllister, visiting some former Lewiston parishioners, preached. Appreciating the cordiality of his reception, he made a round of calls. Entering one home, he saw a little girl lying on a couch. Without acknowledging the mother's greeting, he demanded, "What's the matter with that child?" The mother had not been aware that anything serious was the matter, but his unerring sense had revealed to him a critical situation. Giving hasty directions to the mother, he went on the run to the nearest drug store for the needed remedy, and he stayed by till the danger was passed. A similar attack some months later resulted fatally. Never did that father and mother forget the strange preacher, who stood not on conventionality, but was quick to serve.
McAllister was known all over the three states of the Northwest, and notice that he was to preach invariably drew those who remembered "old times". They recognized in him the prophet whose word was "Thus saith the Lord".
Again I cannot forbear the word of regret. If there could only have been sent the trained ministers to cultivate the fields which this pioneer, with large native endowment, and splendid consecration, had cleared for them! Why? No funds.
It would be unfair to close this chapter without a word for the devoted women of these churches of Spokane, Tacoma, and Portland, all of which churches were the evolution of circles organized by Dr. Shinn. In Spokane were Mrs. Ambrose Wheedle, the tactful president of the circle, and Mrs. George Bacon. This circle was the source of initiative, and justified itself in all ways. I think that in later years Mrs. Wheedle was active in Los Angeles. She was a sister of the Rev. Alexander Kent. Like may be said of the leaders of the Tacoma circle, but they had their own minister. I was there only incidentally, and the names escape with the passing of the years. In Portland my study was in a room at the rear of the church auditorium, and which was also used by the circle. These circle meetings were all-day affairs, the women gathering in the forenoon, a detail preparing dinner——at which such of the husbands as chanced to be in the vicinity might happen in, and also the minister adjourning in time for preparing the home suppers. Close on the dot of 10 a.m. would arrive simultaneously Mrs. Jones from Mt. Tabor, Mrs. Averil from the west side, and Mrs. Davis from Piedmont, all grandmothers, and all back-East Universalists. These were the leaders about whom the younger women rallied, and their leading was safe and sane. I used to call them our Three Wise Women.
And it is in order here to speak of Dr. Shinn's influence. There has been enough said of his way of working, and of setting the women at work. He fully appreciated their loyalty, and always began with the circle. There was much misapprehension as to the potential value of his work. It has been frequently said in criticism, "His churches didn't live." Now I purpose to say why. While the people welcomed him, and would follow his leading, the ministry opposed him, and he never had the cooperation of the denomination. One complained of his going into a certain city, on the grounds that he was intending to do so himself. Shinn's reply was, "You have been here ten years, and why haven't you?" His work did not fail so long as it was his work, and so long as his leading was followed. But as soon as he had passed on some one would appear to say that it was all wrong, and some other way was better. While on a business trip to Chicago I called at our Western Headquarters, and was warned against him, the phrase being: "He is running around starting sewing circles, and calling them movements, and we do not recognize him in the least." (Possibly this was why I joined hands with him.) At the General Convention in 1901, there was determined action to restrict his work to the South, and thus the Pacific State churches were cut off from his ministration. He never pushed a society beyond its ability, and yet that was the rock on which every one of those young churches was wrecked. He did not counsel the holding of regular preaching services in San Francisco, and regarded it as premature; he advised against the suicidal moving. The failures were invariably through attempting too much, not having patience to grow naturally, like the toad in the fable, who thought he could be as big as the ox. Portland was a case in point. The little meeting-house didn't amount to much, but it served its purpose, and was all paid for. While the society stayed with it there was steady growth. It is true, as the pastor said, there are those who will not come into a small, unpretentious church building; but neither will they help pay a big debt on the other kind. The time to build larger is when you have outgrown what you have. Had we been content to follow the lines on which Dr. Shinn started us, we would have a line of churches across our country today. And had our ministry cooperated instead of opposing, we should be writing a different story. Dr. Shinn was a man of vision, but he didn't chase a mirage.