J. Q. A. Henry Declines FBC Vancouver’s Call

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The collection of the Online Archive of California.

This post is a footnote to the history of First Baptist Church, Vancouver. Neither These Sixty Years (1947) by W. A. Carmichael nor Our First Century (1986) by Leslie J. Cummings (the two official histories of the church) makes mention of a call from FBC issued to Rev. Dr. John Quincy Adams Henry (1856-1922) to fill the post of Senior Minister vacated in August 1907 by Rev. J. Willard Litch. Both histories note the date of Litch’s departure and then remark in the next sentence that Rev. Dr. H. Francis Perry took up the pastoral leadership at FBC in July 1909 (fully two years later). It doubtless seemed best to the authors, at the times the histories were published, not to mention the call to the then-pastor of First Baptist Church, Los Angeles. But, as all of the principals have been dead for decades, it seems to me that the that this two-year period can safely be sketched in a bit.

Who Was John Quincy Adams Henry?

Who was this man with the singular name whom FBC Vancouver leaders had concluded was the pastor who’d lead First through the pangs of establishing a new church building on the corner of Burrard and Nelson?

JQAH was born in Iowa in 1856, “a direct descendent of Patrick Henry” (Our Heritage and Our Hope). After finishing post-secondary studies at the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary, JQAH was ordained into Baptist ministry in 1880. He spent 20 years pastoring churches in cities including Denver, Chicago, and San Francisco; and he spent two years as superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League in New York State. But his greatest passion and evident giftedness was as an evangelist. After concluding his ministry in San Francisco, he spent nearly six years in the UK (he had initially planned to be there for three years), leading an evangelistic and temperance campaign, during which it was estimated he addressed over three million people.

Following a series of evangelistic meetings at First Baptist Church Los Angeles, the L.A. church called JQAH to be their pastor (August, 1907).

FBCLA was known at the time to be a less-than-peaceful pastoral charge. Indeed, as their church history reveals, it was known to have a body of lay leaders who didn’t mind stirring the pot. JQAH was no fool, and he could see from the start that this was going to be a challenge for him: “At his very first Council meeting he ‘made a strong address demanding absolute harmony and devotion to the Church’ by the official board” (Our Heritage and Our Hope). JQAH’s address to his board wasn’t the last word on the back-biting, however. It wasn’t long before there was an uproar over a (very modest by today’s standards) deficit budget,* and other issues.

The Courting of JQAH

In late 1908 or early 1909, JQAH came to FBC Vancouver, at Vancouver’s invitation, to preach. The lay leaders in Vancouver no doubt indicated to JQAH that he was ‘preaching for a possible call’. Whether the larger congregation was aware of that or not, isn’t clear. It is likely that JQAH was also interviewed by the board as part of the calling process during his time in Vancouver.

After JQAH’s visit, FBC issued a formal call for him to come to Vancouver as the new Pastor of FBC. He responded positively. Indeed, it seemed that he’d all but made up his mind to leave L.A. for Vancouver.

Abiding by the Stuff

In mid-February, 1909, a telegram was sent from L.A. to FBC Vancouver: “New difficulty here which forbids my leaving. A thousand regrets. See letter. Love to all.”

The letter (of February 17) to which the telegram referred expanded on the theme:

While visiting you, I was profoundly impressed by the greatness of the opportunity presented by your church and field….[I] left with my mind made up to accept your invitation and become your pastor, provided that I could see my way clear to leave the work in Los Angeles with a reasonable assurance that what I had already done for the peace and and prosperity of the church would be conserved and someone found to carry the work to a still further point of usefulness and power. But on my return [to FBCLA], much to my distress, I found the seeds of bitterness sown through the long years of strife bearing fruit in promised discord and disunion. It is now morally certain that if I were to leave at this junction another split would occur and irreparable injury be done to the work of God in this city.

The entire church feel that I alone can prevent this disaster. I feel therefore under sacred obligation to “abide by the stuff”** until a different state of things can be brought about – which may require weeks, months, or even years. I dare not keep you good people who have so highly honored me in  longer suspense, lest some peril should come to the great work in which you are called….”

In short, no doubt to the dismay of the board, he would not be coming to Vancouver.

It is impossible to know from this very distant point in time and space just how great a ‘disaster’ was imminent at FBCLA in the event of his departure. But, without wishing to cast any doubt on JQAH’s integrity, I’d suggest that things might not have been quite so bleak in L.A. as was the word picture he painted for FBC Vancouver. A couple of clues led me to this conclusion.

First, in a final letter sent to FBCV, just 4 weeks after his decline-of-call letter, he remarked: “The difficulties here are being smoothed out, with every prospect that the cause of all our trouble will soon be removed.”

Second, in November 1909 (eight months after indicating in his hand-wringing letter to Vancouver about the potential for “irreparable injury” should he leave FBCLA) he announced to the FBCLA congregation that he would be departing at the end of the year. In the words of FBCLA’s history, “his first love was evangelism and he had accepted an invitation for a year or more of such work in New Zealand” (Our Heritage and Our Hope).

I think that JQAH made the right choices – not to come to Vancouver and to leave FBCLA for evangelistic work. I believe he’d realized as early as February, 1909 that itinerant work as an evangelist was the life for him. There were no hassles with church boards and he could preach more or less unfettered without worries associated with political games. It turned out well for FBC Vancouver, too. The man who was ultimately called, Rev. Dr. H. Francis Perry had exactly the right skill/talent set for the job as First Vancouver prepared to move into its new building (the current one) at the corner of Burrard and Nelson.

Notes

*Projected expenses outstripped projected income by about $150/month, according to FBCLA’s history.

**This is a Biblical quotation (I Samuel 30:24). Mind you, the King James Version, which is probably the translation with which JQAH was most conversant, is a little different.

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