This letter was written by John D. Rockefeller’s attorney, Starr J. Murphy (1860-1921), in response to a now-lost letter sent by Dr. L. N. MacKechnie (1864-1926) of First Baptist Church (Vancouver). It seems reasonable to conclude from the context that the letter from FBC was a plea for financial support from Rockefeller (1839-1937), to which Murphy replied in the negative on JDR’s behalf.
Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, was a noted philanthropist and well-known Baptist. He attended and supported (in both deeds and dollars, apparently) Erie Street Baptist Mission Church (later known as Euclid Avenue Baptist Church) in Cleveland.
MacKechnie was a major mover and shaker at FBC in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was prominent in the building of FBC’s current structure at Burrard and Nelson streets.
In June 1911, First Baptist was on the verge of moving into their brand new ‘fortress’ church at the corner of Burrard & Nelson (the dedication service was on June 9, 1911). Exact figures are hard to come by, but there is no question that the new church building had set the congregation back by an unanticipated amount. So much so that the FBC ‘powers that were’ had been in contact with the architects (Burke Horwood & White) and Heard (of Matheson & Heard, general contractors) about getting them to reduce their charges, which were in excess of the original estimates. Burke, apparently, was prepared to accommodate FBC. But Heard was more uncompromising. According to a minute from March 28, 1911, a committee had had “several interviews” with Heard “regarding the suggestion made by the Committee, that in view of the excessive cost of the buildings over the estimates, particularly the Contracts under Mr Heard’s charge, some reduction might be made in Heard’s charges by the way of commission or otherwise.” According to the minute, Heard was prepared to make “some reduction”, but not nearly enough to satisfy the committee: $100.
MacKechnie, who appears to have been the de facto chairman of the church board at this time, must have been at his wits end and in desperation thought to invite the richest Baptist of the day to make a donation to FBC’s financial mess. There is no mention in any FBC minutes that I’ve been able to unearth of the church instructing MacKechnie to approach JDR.
A few years subsequent to the Murphy/MacKechnie communication, JDR would give $10,000 to the Western Canadian denominational regional body (the Baptist Union) to support missions work in the area.*
*John Byron Richards. Baptists in British Columbia: A Struggle to Maintain Sectarianism. M.A. Thesis. UBC, 1964.