United Church of Canada: one woman’s story

Right now, the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada is in session in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. And in June, across Canada we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the United Church. One little-known fact is that there were four women among the more than three hundred delegates to the founding council in 1925, and one of them was from Guelph, where I live. When Guelph’s United Churches joined together to celebrate the denomination’s 75th anniversary, I took on the persona of Edith Crow at the opening of the ceremony. This seems like a good time to hear what “Edith Crowe” said through my words in 2000:

My name is there: Edith B. Crowe, of Guelph, Ontario. My name is on the Roll of Membership of The First General Council of The United Church of Canada. It was the privilege of a lifetime to be part of that grand procession on June 10, 1925, as a new church was born. We streamed into the Mutual Street Arena while thousands who’d crowded into that old building sang “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord.”

The delegates were 150 Presbyterians, the same number of Methodists, and only 40 of us Congregationalists, plus 10 people representing local Union churches. Three-hundred-fifty members from all across Canada, and only four of us were women! And I was the only person from Guelph to be chosen.

The church was formed on June 10, but the work of the new denomination went on for several days. On one of those days, I had to deliver the report of the Congregational Woman’s Board of Missions. It was my privilege to be their president.

I had done things in public: I’d organized Red Cross work in Guelph during the Great War. And—I hope it doesn’t sound immodest—I was the first woman in Ontario to chair a Board of Education! But this was different. Standing in front of all those dignified men in their dark suits, I was more than a little nervous!

 But then, we were all called on to make sacrifices. That’s what the whole union movement was about. A professor who preached the communion sermon spoke about “the law of the Cross”: how the grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die so that something new can grow from it. And we were all aware of that. My denomination, the Congregationalists, was small and we had such a close fellowship. But all of us felt that we were called to give up what divided us and be one in Christ.

 And before our very eyes we saw a supreme example of what that meant. You see, one of the things we had to do in those next days was to choose a Moderator for this new church. Now Dr. Samuel Chown had been head of the Methodists for fifteen years, and most people thought he would be elected. But the Presbyterians had been painfully divided by the question of church union.

 Well, when it came time to choose, Dr. Chown stood up and said that the first Moderator ought to be a Presbyterian! He moved that the Clerk of Council cast a single ballot for Dr. George Pidgeon.

 I will never forget! It was as if a bolt of electricity had passed through the Council. We all clapped long and loud, and the ballot was cast, and Dr. Pidgeon became the first Moderator. Dr. Chown had done a noble and splendid deed and showed us what it meant to give ourselves for the sake of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us.

And I hope that people fifty, seventy-five, even one hundred years from then will remember that that is how and that is why the United Church of Canada came into being, that we may be one in Christ.

Read a sample of The Life of Isabel Crawford!

Are you curious about the book? With the permission of  Wipf and Stock Publishers, you can now read a sample of The Life of Isabel Crawford. Then click on Look Inside. It’s a generous sample, too, including all the preliminary matter including the introduction and the first chapter. Please let me know how you like it.

Any problem with the link? Just go to http://wipfandstock.com/the-life-of-isabel-crawford.html

The book is in the mail . . .

prepub flyerAt last! The Life of Isabel Crawford: More Than I Asked For has been published. My head has been spinning these last few weeks. First came page proofs to check. Then came the corrected proofs to check. Then came the corrections of the corrections!

After that came the index. I’d previously indexed four books, and before that I’d worked part time for twelve years indexing a small part of a Canadian Methodist newspaper. I know how to do it, but each time brings fresh, new questions. Should I include these place names? these people? This is important, but what subject heading would help somebody find it? And all the time you’re working, you know that most of the index entries are never going to be used . . . but there’s no way to tell which ones will actually help someone. So you keep at it.

And then, of course, you have to check it, entry by entry, page number by page number. And how long does the subject continue? Should the entry be for one page, two, or several?

But wait! You can’t finish the index until you see the final page proofs, to make sure there’s been no change in the pagination. Fortunately for me, everything had stayed the same, and I could send off the index, hoping that my intentions would be clear to the typesetter. Then there’s a magic moment – or at least there was for me – when you see the page proofs of the index, not the ragged-looking list you sent, but all the subheadings and the overflowing lines indented. It looks like a real book!

Then traditionally comes a wait. But with today’s “print on demand” publishing – and with the publisher knowing that you’re hoping against hope to have copies at an event where you’ll be speaking – the final check of my page proofs was followed very quickly by the news that “it’s gone into production”! The first copies are off the press, my order of copies for the meeting is in production, and if all goes as it should, I will see the book for the first time at the meeting in a little more than a week. I hope that by then I’ll have recovered from the flurry of activity during these last weeks. But of course it was worth every bit of the effort.

Life as an Independent Scholar: Challenges and Rewards

At the recent meeting of the American Society of Church History, in Minneapolis, I presented a paper and chaired a session. My husband and I went on two excellent church tours, one within the Twin Cities, the other to St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville. And as usual I attended the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast, always a great occasion for sharing and support.

One other aspect of the meeting stands out: I had conversations with two independent scholars. It’s a term you may never have heard; it seemed strange to me, and it took me a while to be comfortable using it to identify myself. What are independent scholars? According to one definition, they are people who “are actively carrying out work of scholarly merit,” but their research is not supported by an institution. Many of us write articles, present papers at scholar meetings, and write books just like our counterparts in academia, but we do it on our own. No, that’s not quite right. We do it with the help of grants and short-term contracts for which we apply or while working full or part time at some other occupation. When we are fortunate, we do it with the support of family and friends and with the encouragement of other scholars, both independent and employed in their academic fields.

The economic challenges are obvious, but there are others. Among them are gaining access to library and restricted online resources; getting our work taken seriously when we have no institutional identity; and simply keeping motivated to work when no institution is prodding us by the requirements it places on us.

As I pondered this, I remembered something I presented years ago in my presidential address to the Canadian Society of Church History. It is titled “Adjusting the Sails: Reflections of an Independent Scholar.” In it I tell of my journey, one that certainly did not follow the path I intended. I had to adjust my sails not once but many times. And yet my life course has been satisfying, even more so now than when I wrote the address.

I invite you to read what I wrote. My own story begins at the bottom of page 168 (the second page of this document) and continues to page 171. Then for a while I reflect on my journey before I make some suggestions to my colleagues.

Whiteley CSCH address

And I invite you to think about the course of your own life. Are you still on the path that you anticipated? Or have you, too, needed to adjust the sails? I’d like to hear from you about it.

A Remarkable Coincidence: Isabel and Isabella

Whiteley prepub flyer

I asked the marketing coordinator at Wipf and Stock Publishers whether she might be able  to supply me with a pre-publication flyer to take along when I go to the American Society of Church History meeting in Minneapolis on April 16th to present a paper titled “Isabel Crawford among the Kiowa: Contact and Conversions.” She was happy to arrange it, and soon I received the pdf of a flyer. There was just one problem: the picture on it was not of Isabel Crawford! It was of a woman in the late 19th century, and I could use it, because no one else at the meeting would know of the mistake, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it.

Neither did I feel comfortable telling the marketing coordinator about the mistake, but eventually I did. She apologized and promised a revised version if I would send a suitable photo. I did, and very quickly I received the flyer that you see here – and an explanation.

Instead of seeking out the book illustrations I had sent for the press’s use, the design department had gone online and found Isabella Crawford, who lived in Ontario and who was a writer. Thus it was Isabella’s portrait that appeared on the first flyer. But she was not Isabel Crawford, the subject of my biography. But all’s well that ends well, and Isabel now has her rightful place on the flyer, wearing her Indian costume and signing the 23rd Psalm in Plains Indian sign language.

First reaction to my Life of Isabel Crawford!

My publisher has sent out copies of my book to advance readers, and one has sent me a copy of what he wrote after reading it. I was honoured that such a noted American church historian agreed to be one of the readers, and I’m delighted with his blurb. “Blinkered” is a perfect description of how Isabel Crawford was at times. These times were painful for me to read about in her journals and painful to include in the biography, but of course I had to give a full and honest picture of this “compelling” woman.

In this fast-paced account of the career of Isabel Crawford, Whietley brings to life a largely forgotten but remarkably compelling Canadian-American Baptist missionary to the Kiowa Indians in the Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the 20th century. Crawford emerges as a courageous—though often feisty and sometimes blinkered—woman whose determination to proclaim the gospel marched with determination to fight for the preservation of Kiowa culture. Her story is at once inspiring, sobering, and altogether beautiful.

Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History, Duke Divinity School

Canadian Baptists Learn Women’s History

Marilyn Whiteley and Sharon Bowler at the meeting of the Canadian Baptist Historical Society
Marilyn Whiteley and Sharon Bowler at the meeting of the Canadian Baptist Historical Society

This morning Sharon Bowler and I made presentations at the annual meeting of the Canadian Baptist Historical Society. Sharon is editing a book to be titled Baptists and Women, to be published next year. I am delighted to be one of the authors contributing chapters. More than twenty years ago, when Elizabeth Gillan Muir and I were editing Changing Roles of Women within the Christian Church in Canada, we regretted a lack of scholarship on Canadian Baptist women, though we were able to include one excellent essay. I am pleased that the situation has changed and that Sharon has found authors to write about a wide spectrum of topics within that general area.

Sharon spoke this morning about tangential research. It allows for “meaningful straying” from one’s major research goal. How many of us, involved in historical research, have some side issues that beg for investigation? We are often well rewarded when we have – or make – the opportunity to follow up on the tangent.

All my writing about Isabel Crawford has been something of a tangent, since my main research has focused on Canadian Methodist women, and Crawford was a Baptist. My presentation this morning was a further small tangent. My chapter is titled “Crossing Boundaries: The Mission of Isabel Crawford.” I could have simply summarized the chapter or read part of it, but I wanted to do something fresh by expanding on one of its themes.

Crawford was born in Canada and spent her final years in the land of her birth. However, from 1891 until 1942 she studied, then worked, then retired, in the United States. In 1900 she became a United States citizen. And although she died in Canada, she had made arrangements for her body to be returned to her Oklahoma mission for burial. Her grave marker in the Kiowa cemetery at Saddle Mountain bears the statement, “I Dwell Among Mine Own People.” So today I took the opportunity to explore in her writings  her feelings about the “two flags” that she had come to love.

There are more papers to come and more tangents to explore, and for me that is what makes my life as a historian and writer so rewarding.