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On the Edge of War and Society: Canadian Pentecostal Bible School Students in the 1940s

  • Linda M. Ambrose
Couverture de                Volume 24, numéro 1, 2013, p. 1-342, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association

Corps de l’article

“I have hardly slept the two last nights in soul agony over what I saw was coming,” wrote Dr. J.E. Purdie, Principal of the Western Bible College in Winnipeg, to one of his colleagues at the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in the spring of 1944. [1] One of his students, Gunnar Raphael Kars, had been called up for military service and Principal Purdie made it clear in a postscript to the letter that the young man in question was quite emotionally distraught as well: “p.s. Kars is about paralyzed over this thing. He felt so sure of his postponement as others had received it and [he] was placed for the summer [in a church] near the Soo…” [2] Appealing to the national executive of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) to help him in the effort to prevent one of his best students from being conscripted, Purdie made an emotional plea for justice based on his perception that Pentecostal bible college students were not receiving the same treatment as ministerial students from other denominations. “Please move every force in the country to save him for the Church,” Purdie begged his Toronto colleagues. “The Roman Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Church of England students with that much credit in character, call and learning, would not be taken.” [3]

This paper explores how the PAOC argued on behalf of their bible college students about military service and veterans’ benefits as they implored state authorities to treat Pentecostals in the same way they treated other Christians. While Pentecostals represented a relatively small number of Canadians at mid-century, this case study is significant because it intersects with recent scholarship in several ways. In the study of public religion, until recently the field was dominated by debates about secularization — what it was and when it happened. [4] More recently scholars such as Marguerite Van Die and David Lyon have asserted the need “to initiate a fresh discussion that goes beyond standard concepts in understanding some of the patterns of belief and practice in contemporary Canada,” in order to explore what it was that “allowed churches to continue profoundly to influence public life until after the Second World War.” [5] This paper comes to that conversation by exploring the question of how evangelical groups such as Pentecostals operated as part of public religion in Canada. Attention to evangelicals in the second half of the twentieth century is not new because John Stackhouse and Robert Choquette have argued that evangelicals would emerge as a strong force on the Canadian religious landscape by the 1960s. [6] However, the present study illustrates that during World War II evangelicals were already contesting the privileged relationship that existed between the Canadian state and the mainline churches. Moreover, this episode about a marginal evangelical group protesting its status resonates with the paradigm Ian MacKay suggested with his ‘liberal order framework,’ because Pentecostals were attempting to carve out recognition for themselves among the religious groups that state and military officials acknowledged as legitimate players in Canada’s public affairs. [7] Using MacKay’s analytical framework to understand Pentecostalism at mid-century begins to answer what Jean-François Constant and Michel Ducharme called for when they pointed to “the necessity of exploring the religious dimension, and the specificity of religious experiences in Canada, both institutional and popular, in the creation of the liberal order.” [8]

The Pentecostal venture into the realm of public religion in the 1940s was characterized by ambiguity and internal debate. During the war Pentecostals experienced tensions arising from their own competing desires because in some instances they lobbied for their young men to be exempted from military service or released early. In others, they asked that their conscripts be given central roles in Canadian military life by being appointed as chaplains. After the war, Pentecostal bible college administrators hoped that veterans attending their private schools would receive the same benefits as those who enrolled at state-sponsored programs and institutions. Although Pentecostals typically describe themselves as “in the world, but not of the world,” during World War II and immediately after, some PAOC leaders argued that the state should offer them the same status that other, more longstanding religious traditions in Canada enjoyed. [9] In effect, by demanding the same treatment as other churches, Pentecostals like Purdie were hoping to advance Pentecostalism away from its marginal status at the edge of society and toward the center of Canadian public life.

The fact that Purdie was hoping to make these advances during wartime only served to complicate matters further because Pentecostals were not homogenous in their views about war, let alone what their relationship to the broader society should be. This paper makes clear that even in the case of one school and one administrator’s efforts to argue on behalf of his students, there were ambiguities in the positions he took. Sometimes his views converged with the authorities of the day, and sometimes they diverged. What remained constant was his determination to lobby on behalf of his students at all costs, even if he sometimes contradicted himself and caused problems for the PAOC with the arguments he was making. Moreover, because Pentecostals did not speak with one voice, Principal Purdie’s support for the war effort (a position consistent with his Anglican upbringing) sometimes put him at odds with other Pentecostals whose convictions were rooted firmly in pacifist traditions. Convergence and divergence therefore were in evidence not only between Pentecostals and those outside their movement, but also among Pentecostals themselves. [10]

According to the 1941 census, Pentecostals were still very much on the edge of Canadian society with approximately 58,000 adherents in all of Canada. In terms of the movement’s growth, this was actually quite a remarkable statistic since the number of adherents had increased from just over 500 people 30 years earlier; but given the total population of Canada at just over 11 million people during World War II, Pentecostals were only starting to register attention in the national consciousness. [11] By the time the 2001 Canadian census was taken, there were almost 370,000 people who identified as Pentecostals. [12] These census numbers represent all Pentecostals, not just those who were associated with the PAOC; yet as Thomas William Miller, the official historian of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, recounted in his 1994 book Canadian Pentecostals: A History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada,

The Pentecostal awakening of the early 20th century began in such obscurity that it was virtually unknown to leaders of the established denominations. When noticed at all, it was reckoned a “storefront” and a “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” kind of religion. … Those of the mainline denominations who bothered to notice the religious upstart usually condemned it as a fanatical sect. [13]

Among the Pentecostals recorded by the 1941 census, PAOC archives reveal that there were 849 Canadian missionaries, ministers, and licensed workers serving approximately 420 congregations across the country. [14] In the war years, Pentecostalism in Canada was a growing movement that had been in existence for just over 30 years, full of optimism about its own growth trajectory and its potential impact on Canadian society. The war years proved to be a testing ground as the fledgling movement flexed its developing muscles through interactions with the Canadian state trying to define its place in Canadian society at large through the question of its response to conscription and the treatment of its veterans.

Pentecostalism is an expression of Protestant Christianity that draws upon its roots from evangelical, revivalist traditions. [15] The classic explanation of North American Pentecostalism traces its origin to the so-called “Azuza Street revival” which took place in Los Angeles in 1906, but recent Canadian historiography is complicating that story with simultaneous stories of origin in other locations, including the Hebden Mission on Queen Street East in Toronto, Ontario where founder Ellen Hebden reported her own testimony of having been baptized in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues in the same year. [16] Adherents to the new movement were mostly converts from other Protestant churches spanning a surprisingly wide range including Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, United Church, Salvation Army, and others. The core beliefs of the Pentecostal worldview include an emphasis on the ministries of the Holy Spirit manifesting in glossolalia (speaking in unknown tongues), miraculous healings, and a strong sense of eschatological urgency.

Given the diversity of backgrounds from which Canadian Pentecostals were drawn, it is not surprising that their positions on war were also very diverse. One Pentecostal leader in Manitoba explained to the press in Winnipeg during World War I that “Pentecostals are not united on this question of objection to military service … Some of them are believers in war and others are not. They are not a unit, and therefore, I don’t think the matter will be discussed by them as a body.” [17] Diversity continued to be a defining feature of the movement and in 1943 Principal Purdie pointed out that the students who had studied at Western Bible College came from over 25 different countries and at least 23 different church backgrounds including Mennonite, Catholic, Baptist, Holiness Movement, and many more. [18] By the time the school closed in 1950, more than 500 students had been trained there. [19] Purdie emphasized that despite the large numbers and great diversity, the college family was united on the fundamental things: “Whilst they have had such varied racial and religious backgrounds before coming to us, nevertheless, they have all experienced the great spiritual transformation we call conversion and thus have become one in the body of Christ, as well as one in their loyalty to the British Empire and the flag of Old England.” [20]

A survey of 25 years of the PAOC’s official publication, The Pentecostal Testimony (PT), confirms that among leaders of the movement, there was a wide range of opinion about war expressed during the inter-war years. For example, in the early 1920s, Pentecostal evangelists took a decidedly apocalyptic view, expressing the idea that while war was inevitable, it was not an issue that should distract Pentecostals because the second coming of Christ was imminent; “wars and rumours of wars” were only further proof of the prophecies predicting that He might return any day, and true believers should be busy preaching the gospel, not becoming entangled in worldly affairs. [21] In 1935-1936, George A. Chambers, a Pentecostal preacher from Peterborough who had served as the first General Superintendent of the PAOC from 1919-1934, published a four-part series of articles in answer to the question “Should Christians Go to War?” Chambers’ emphatic answer to that question was “no.” [22] His was a classic expression of conscientious objection to war, not a surprising position given that Chambers came into Pentecost from his background as a minister in the Mennonite Brethren Church. [23]

Articles in support of going to war were appearing regularly in the PT by the 1940s. As Miller observed, the PT began to “feature articles of special interest to military men and women,” and examples of that kind of writing abound. [24] Rev. D.N. Buntain, who served as the PAOC General Superintendent from 1937-1944, wrote an article for the September 1941 issue of the magazine entitled “If I Were Caught in the Draft.” Buntain, who was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1918, had become a Pentecostal in 1925. [25] When he addressed the tricky question of what stance Pentecostals should take on conscription, he tried to respect the conscientious objectors in the movement by saying that if one’s conscience was strong on the matter, one should refuse to enlist. But the main argument he made was that military service might in fact prove to present Pentecostals with a unique opportunity for making converts among their comrades. Subtitled “Words of Encouragement to our Young Men Who are Answering the Call to the Army,” Buntain pointed to a model recruit who was serving as a petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy, saying that this young Pentecostal “sings, testifies, and prays before and with the men with a holy joy and finds many opportunities to lift up Christ where there is no one else to do so.” [26] Buntain exhorted readers that “if I were caught in the draft, I would put myself afresh into the hands of God and say, ‘Lord, thy will be done. Keep me true, that in and through the experiences that lie ahead, I may like Joseph and Daniel rise to a place of useful service in thy kingdom.’” [27] It is worth noting that both of these bible characters rose to prominent positions of power as civil servants: Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. One does not have to reach far then, to see Buntain’s reference to this pair as a foreshadowing of the present discussion about religion’s place in public life.

When Principal Purdie was losing sleep in the spring of 1944 as he wrote the letter quoted at the beginning of this paper, he was not a pacifist making an argument about conscientious objection, and he seemed to be questioning Buntain’s position as well. Far from being a pacifist, Purdie was an ordained priest with the Anglican Church of Canada, who had been trained at Wycliffe College in Toronto before he personally experienced the “Pentecostal blessing” in 1919 with his own experience of glossolalia and became affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. A loyal supporter of the British Empire, Purdie was the founding principal of Western Bible College, the first Pentecostal bible college in Canada, and he occupied that role for 25 years, from 1925-1950. [28] Describing the attitude of the Pentecostal Bible College personnel in Winnipeg toward war, Purdie declared, “This College and the members of the Faculty are 100 % behind the Allied Cause to fight the demon of Hitlerism.” [29] However, he was convinced that the PAOC needed to do everything in its power to get exemption or postponement of military service for this student in particular. He argued: “We need to deal with this situation. Kars has a burning call into the Ministry and God is behind this young life.” [30] And as the principal of the PAOC’s first bible college, Purdie had a burning desire to protect his students and keep them out of harm’s way.

The earliest evidence of Principal Purdie’s efforts to endorse particular students and to influence state decisions about whether or not they would be called up for military service dates from 1941 when he wrote on behalf of a senior student, Stanley G. Gompf, to ask that he might be excused from military service since he was set to graduate, become ordained, and be appointed to pastor a church. [31] Because members of the clergy could be exempted from service this was a completely reasonable request and C.D. McPherson, the Divisional Registrar of the Department of National War Services, replied to Purdie asking for “more particulars as to the status and standing of the Western Bible College and the denomination which it represents.” [32] McPherson advised Purdie that with a few more details about the church placement he would be able to “establish as to whether students come under the head of ‘clergy’ who might be postponed or exempt from military training.” [33]

Other students wrote directly to Purdie asking for his advice about how they should respond to the call for military service. One such student was Herbert Wuerch from St. Ouens, Manitoba, who wrote to say that he had complied with the required medical examination and had been placed in the category C-2 because of “a dislocated and fractured ankle which I had when I was 12 years of age.” [34] On his doctor’s advice, the student had been confident that he would not be fit for service, but now he was concerned that he might be called up anyway. He wrote to ask Purdie whether or not he should also tell the authorities that he was a student at the bible college because he wondered if that would help his case or “would it be best to leave all as it is?” [35] A few months later Purdie wrote to the local recruitment authorities to ask that this student be allowed to finish his theological training. “Would it be possible for Herbert Wuerch, 42553 of St. Ouen’s, Man. [sic] a theological student of this College, who is most desirous to finish his course to do so? He has had his medical examination I believe but so far is not in the military ranks. There are others also across Canada.” [36] In making that inquiry, Purdie invoked a new argument. This was not a graduating student who was about to be ordained and placed in a permanent ministry position and it seemed that his medical limitation might not be enough to make him exempt so Purdie wrote to reinforce the request.

A third case involved a young farmer from northwestern Ontario, Leslie Tausenfrende, who wrote to Purdie in the summer of 1942 to explain that he had appeared before the army officials in Port Arthur, Ontario where the administrative board had considered his file, including a letter that Purdie had written on his behalf. The student recounted that “They considered all my correspondence, asked a few questions and then gave me a choice of either being ‘frozen’ to the farm for eight months of each year or they would consider me as a conscientious objector or allow me to enlist in the Medical Corps. So I chose the farm.” [37] The student went on to explain to his principal that he had raised the issue of attending the bible college. “I suggested that the plan [to be frozen to the farm for eight months per year] would cut into my College course pretty bad. They told me that they were afraid that would have to wait until after the war. They said, however, that I could do pretty much as I pleased during the four months I am free. … I understood them to say they will not be so particular just what months I take off. The main thing is that I remain on the farm for the duration and not go off preaching or something.” [38] Purdie responded to assure the student “you have chosen wisely to stay on the farm,” and suggested that the student should plan to spend part of his free months off the farm at school. [39] His advice was to register for the fall term beginning in October in order to complete the first year requirements.

The three examples above were quite standard grounds for exemption (clergy status, medical limitations, and essential farm work) but the principal of the Winnipeg Bible College continued trying to push the authorities further by presenting arguments about fairness and inclusion for Pentecostals specifically. In doing so, Purdie was making a case that Pentecostals should no longer be regarded as a group on the margins of Canadian society, but rather as Canadians who, like other Christians, were central to the public life of the country. Ironically though, he hoped to do this by having his students opt out of military service at the very time when the country was making concerted efforts to increase its armed forces.

When Purdie argued on behalf of his students, he was not only helping his students to follow the existing rules about enlistment and exemption but he hoped to press authorities further by asking them to expand the grounds for exemption and to be accommodating of Pentecostal students with promise, even before they had begun their ministries. Purdie made the argument that it was not just those who had already been ordained who should be exempt, but all theology students, no matter what their stage of study. Wuerch, the student with the ankle injury, was only a first-year student at the time of the request, but Purdie was hoping to broaden the grounds on which the decision makers might grant an exemption. “I understand that in [the] U.S.,” Purdie suggested to the authorities, “theological students are put in class 4D which is last in file among the physically able-bodied men.” [40] Hoping to shore up the college’s declining enrollments and guard potential pastors from making the supreme sacrifice, Purdie was suggesting that bible college students should be exempt from conscription. Moreover, Purdie made it clear that he wanted his Pentecostal students included in that exemption, just as students from the mainline churches were. Simply stated, Purdie asserted that to treat Pentecostals differently from other Christians was unjust. His line of argument was quite a departure from the eschatalogically-minded evangelists who wrote in the PT in the 1920s saying that Pentecostals should not be interested in civic matters.

To build his argument, Purdie drew on his Anglican roots reasserting “no one could be more loyal and out and out for the Empire in her struggle for victory over the devilish power of Hitlerism than I am and our College is.” [41] Although there were many in the Pentecostal movement who came from traditions that took a stance for conscientious objection, Purdie wanted state officials to realize that he and his Pentecostal students at Winnipeg were just as loyal as any other Canadians and maybe even more loyal than some. One thing that Purdie was firmly establishing by this declaration was that Pentecostals asking for exemption should not be confused with other marginal religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who staunchly refused to participate in war and came to be regarded as seditious enemies of the state. [42] Distancing himself from those who defied state authority, Purdie bluntly pointed to the special status of other, more loyal, faith groups to make his point that Pentecostals were good citizens who simply wished to be treated as equals. “The Church of Rome,” Purdie reminded the authorities, “has exemption for her young men studying for the Priesthood and many of our Protestant leaders feel to be fair we ought to have exemption also for our Theological students.” [43] In fact, that discrepancy between Catholics training for the priesthood and Protestant seminarians was already being redressed since local media in October 1942 was reporting that in fact a new class of “persons exempt from compulsory service” had recently been created, comprising “bona fide candidate [sic] or students for the ministry of a religious denomination eligible to supply chaplains to the armed forces.” [44]

Purdie’s problem was that Pentecostals were limited in their ability “to supply chaplains to the armed forces” because of their marginal status in Canadian society. To understand why that was the case requires some explanation and context. [45] In an attempt to learn from the lessons of the First World War, by 1939 the Canadian armed forces had established that there would be two principal chaplains for Canada: one Protestant, and one Catholic. Moreover, chaplains would be appointed according to the following formula: one Protestant chaplain for every 1,000 conscripts and one Roman Catholic chaplain for every 500 Catholics enlisted, based on the logic that Catholic priests would be more occupied with administering the sacraments and hearing confessions, and would therefore require more manpower than Protestant clergymen in the same role. Enlistment statistics prove that Pentecostals were simply not numerous enough among the armed forces personnel to meet the statistical quota that would necessitate the appointment of very many of their own chaplains.

To get a picture of the religious profile of enlisted personnel is no simple task. After the National Recruitment Mobilization Act came into effect in 1940, 150,000 Canadians were called up for service. Historian Daniel Byers has traced these recruits to create a portrait of who they were and what they experienced. Out of that work, Byers concluded that 49.7 percent were Protestant, 41.8 percent were Roman Catholic, 1.5 percent were Jewish, and 7 percent were “other religions,” including 2 percent who were “other Protestants,” that is other than United Church, Methodist, Congregational, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Salvation Army. [46] It is within that 2 percent of “other Protestants” that Pentecostals would be recorded and, according to Byers, this data shows that “NRMA recruits reflected the general population fairly closely.” [47]

There were, however, anomalies with the enlistment records of the Canadian military, and because Pentecostalism was a religious expression that was still not completely familiar to recruitment station personnel, there is no question that recruiters freely applied the code “O.D.” for “other denomination” when they were not certain about a conscript’s religion. Accurate statistics are therefore difficult to establish. Moreover, as Albert Fowler, historian of the Protestant Military Chaplains, reveals, “it was commonly believed that, upon enrolment, if a soldier hesitated when asked his religion, he would be recorded as either Church of England or Roman Catholic.” [48]

Archival sources about the denominational representation of those serving in 1942 reinforce that Pentecostal chaplains were not very numerous at all. In February 1942, M.P. John Diefenbaker posed a question in the House of Commons to ask how many chaplains were serving in the Canadian Army, both in Canada and overseas, whether these were Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, how the entitlement of religious faiths to appoint chaplains was determined, and how many chaplains there were for each of several Protestant denominations. Because of the level of detail that the answer would require, the Minister of National Defence, J.L. Ralston, referred the question to an order of the House of Commons. The Ralston papers at the national archives reveal the answers: as of February 1942, there were 156 chaplains serving in the Army in Canada and 173 serving overseas. Of those, 203 were Protestant, 125 were Catholic, and one was Jewish. The Protestants represented the following denominations: Church of England (88); United Church (52); Presbyterian (37); and Baptist (22). [49] That denominational list only accounted for 199 of the Protestant chaplains, and the affiliations of the other four were not indicated. Perhaps some of the four were Pentecostal, but one cannot be certain about that. Thomas Hamilton asserts that Pentecostals did serve as chaplains during World War II, alongside “clergy selected from United, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist (from six denominations), Lutheran, [and] Standard…”  [50] Two and a half years after Diefenbaker had posed his question in the House of Commons, there was news of a Pentecostal pastor being appointed as an army chaplain. In August 1944, the PT announced, “Rev. G. Deans, former pastor of the West End Tabernacle, Toronto, Ontario, has received appointment to the chaplaincy of His Majesty’s Forces. He is taking a preparatory course in Kingston, Ontario.” [51]

Pentecostal chaplains were few and far between and, as Purdie learned, changing that reality was not small challenge. [52] When it became clear that despite every effort to argue for their exemptions, Pentecostal youth would still be conscripted, the idea of trying to have them named as chaplains instead of soldiers arose. The General Superintendent, D.N. Buntain advised Purdie that the timing of this strategy might work in their favour with the case of Gunnar Kars because “Our information is, that due to the fact that the stronger denominations have released about all of their men that they care to let go, the way is opening more for the appointment of chaplains.” [53] Given that reality, Buntain advised “Since there is no possibility for the release of Kars, my suggestion is that we let him go into the army, and later recommend him for spiritual appointment.” [54]

Although it sounded like a good alternative at first, a few months later the strategy was proving problematic. As another member of the PAOC national executive explained to Purdie that summer, “The prospect of getting them off, after they are in the Army, is not very great. We have a man by the name of Douglas Rudd who has been in the Army for a couple of years. He is ordained. He has the hearty endorsement of his Commanding Officer for relief for the ministry, or for a chaplaincy. However, the matter has been referred to the Minister of War, and he will decide.” [55] The problem with these cases, however, was that there was a minimum age and experience restriction for chaplains, and therefore this strategy seemed unlikely to succeed. Chaplains had to be 27 years of age and have been ordained for at least three years in order to qualify for the post. [56]

When Kars was called up for service another student from the same class and the same hometown, Alvin Burmaster, had been granted exemption. The seemingly arbitrary nature of that decision, to exempt one student, but not the other, was what Purdie found most upsetting. Not only that, but Kars was “one of the finest chaps we have ever had in the College. From a spiritual viewpoint, as preacher, student, culture and fine appearance, we lose, if he goes, a most promising Minister.” [57] In short, this was exactly the kind of student that Purdie hoped to be able to hold up as a model. So when Kars was denied his exemption for service Purdie was shocked. That denial is what prompted him to write that emotional letter in April 1944 about how he was losing sleep. In fact Kars was recruited and did serve in the Royal Canadian Navy, having been called up just as he was in the midst of writing his exams at the end of his second year of full-time study.

Realizing that there was little chance of Kars being appointed as a chaplain given the fact that he was so young and not yet ordained, Purdie decided to try a different angle. Appealing to the policy on clergy exemption, Purdie asked PAOC officials in Kars’ home province, Ontario, if they would agree to ordain him even though he had not yet finished his program. After much discussion through the spring and summer of 1944, at the General Conference in Hamilton in September 1944, Kars was granted that ordination. [58] As a result, and on promise that he would immediately be posted to a church in the capacity of pastor, Kars was released from service to return to Winnipeg. To fulfill the terms of his release, Purdie arranged for him to be appointed as a co-pastor with his friend and classmate, Burmaster at the PAOC church in St. Vital, Manitoba. Purdie’s days of losing sleep over this student seemed to be over.

The twin issues of not having the religious affiliation of Pentecostal recruits recorded accurately by the armed forces, and the resulting lack of Pentecostal chaplains came to the floor of the September 1944 PAOC General Conference in Hamilton, Ontario. In an attempt to convince state authorities that Pentecostals should be considered mainstream, the following motion was presented,

WHEREAS many young men from The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada are now serving in the various branches of the Armed Forces of Canada, both on the various theatres of war abroad, and in Canada,

AND WHEREAS the military authorities have given little or no recognition to The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada when signing our boys up in the forces, often recording their religious denomination as O.D. (other denominations), which does not identify them at all as having come from our Pentecostal Assemblies,

AND WHEREAS on the basis of argument that we cannot hope to have our ministers serve as chaplains in the forces of Canada, because we do not have a sufficiently large percentage of our young men in the forces,

BE IT RESOLVED that this General Conference authorize the General Secretary to confer with the national military authorities regarding a change in practice, and a registration of our boys and girls in their records, which will plainly show that they are “Pentecostal”,

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that statistics from our Assemblies showing the national comparative size of our churches be used, and any other available means which will present a clear, persistent and forceful argument for the recognition of Pentecostal ministers, having necessary qualifications as candidates for chaplaincy in the forces, where so many of our young men are living without spiritual encouragement and help with a spiritual chaplain could give. MOVED by G.R. Upton, seconded by W.J. Taylor. [59]

George Upton who proposed this motion, was originally a Baptist from Ontario; he had come into Pentecost when he travelled to Saskatchewan to work as a farm labourer and was influenced by his employer’s family and by a series of meetings he attended in Winnipeg in 1919 on his way home to visit his family in Ontario. Eventually Upton became an ordained PAOC minister and rose through the ranks to serve on the national executive. When he made this motion in 1944, he had just finished a term serving as the District Superintendent for PAOC in Alberta and Northwest Territories, and was about to be named as the National Missionary Secretary. [60] The seconder of this motion was also a westerner, W.J. Taylor, who was the District Superintendent for Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. [61]

While it is not clear whether Purdie had helped Upton and Taylor to draft this motion, there is no question that it was an initiative that he would have supported. The motion deftly combined the two issues that Purdie felt were blatantly unfair: what he perceived as an inaccurate system resulting in underrepresentation of Pentecostals among the recruitment statistics, and the resultant small number of Pentecostal chaplains. These twin issues were central to the problem that Purdie was attempting to address in his efforts to protect his students and to make the authorities recognize Pentecostals as more than some fringe group. Until the statistics were collected more accurately, Purdie believed there was no hope of bolstering those numbers. In fact though, government records showed that even if the Pentecostals were being lumped together with “other denominations,” that category represented only 1.15 percent of all enlisted personnel, whereas 35.6 percent were of the Church of England and 22.17 percent were of the Roman Catholic Church. [62] These records simply do not substantiate Purdie’s perception that Pentecostals were making a very significant contribution to the war effort.

In the end, the 1944 Upton-Taylor motion at General Conference did not pass, not on the grounds of conscientious objection, or even objection to suggested equality for Pentecostals with other churches, though one suspects such views were held by some of the delegates. Instead, the minutes simply record that “After considerable discussion it was MOVED by H.J. McAlister that in view of the apparent nearing of the end of the war, that we take no action along this line, and that the motion be tabled; seconded by C. Scratch. CARRIED.” [63] While the war’s end did come only a little more than a year later, one suspects that the real reason for setting this motion aside was to sidestep the possibility of division that such a question would inevitably introduce among the delegates who came from so many diverse backgrounds and held differing views on the question of whether or not to be involved in war at all, let alone how closely the PAOC should align itself with the military establishment or how much effort should be expended in seeking greater recognition from the Canadian establishment. Finding consensus on such a thorny issue would be no easy task for the general conference, and there was wisdom in the decision not to hold the vote and split the delegates over it.

But even if it had passed, that motion would have come too late for Purdie’s student, Gunnar Kars. By the fall of 1944 he was being released from the Navy through a clergy exemption and was back in Winnipeg. Although it seemed that with Kars’ release from the Navy Purdie’s days of worrying over and writing letters on behalf of this student might be over, in fact they were not. Purdie’s correspondence files as the PAOC archives reveal that his advocacy on behalf of this student extended throughout the remainder of 1944 and into 1945. Again, this case serves to illustrate some of the issues that Purdie was facing and the rhetoric he employed as he worked on his students’ behalf. This time though, Purdie argued from a sense of entitlement to ensure that as veterans his students were receiving every state benefit to which they were entitled. Kars’ release from the navy was still conditional. In December 1944, Purdie explained to Buntain that what Kars had been granted was a ‘release,’ not an ‘exemption,’ from service. With the shortage of recruits, officials had informed Kars that “he might receive a call from the Army some months hence.” [64] Purdie found that unfair because he thought that an exemption “ought to be granted to him as an Ordained Minister.” [65]

Operating on the assumption that by placing Kars in a pastorate, he had satisfied the conditions of his release from service, Purdie now pressed the military authorities that this student should be entitled to veterans’ benefits. Specifically, he wrote to the authorities to inform them that Kars was a theology student at the Western Bible College and he was requesting that the money owed to Kars under the Veterans Rehabilitation Credit for the time he served in the navy be released to him so that Kars could pay his school fees for the fall session that was to begin in October. [66]

That request for funds to cover the cost of school proved problematic to military officials. Confused about why Kars would still need to attend school if he was already an ordained minister and employed as a pastor, one authority asked for clarification on this file. The District Administrator of Veterans Affairs, R.F.T. Greer, from Winnipeg, was demanding that PAOC executive in Toronto should give

an explanation of the fact that Mr. Kars was ordained, and yet now desires to continue his theological studies. … it appears this young man is not in the strict sense of the word a student, requiring training to obtain qualifications for his profession, any more than any other person is a student of whatever he may have taken up for his whole life. [67]

Clearly not a proponent of life-long learning (at least not at his department’s expense!) this Veterans Affairs administrator was questioning the lengths to which the PAOC had gone to have one its favourite sons released from service.

Charles Wortman, the General Secretary-Treasurer of PAOC, explained to Purdie that it was becoming difficult to justify the case to authorities since Kars himself had the understanding that “he was being released [from the Navy] to take up full-time ministerial duties and that the arrangement to return to school was made later.” [68] Purdie’s efforts on behalf of Kars were placing PAOC authorities in Toronto in a difficult situation because Purdie was making a plea for Kars to receive this veterans’ benefit that would pay for his schooling. The Veterans Affairs Administration was asking for clarification because Kars could not have it both ways: he could not be granted a release because he was an ordained, full-time minister and at the same time also be a full-time student asking for a veterans’ benefit to cover the cost of vocational training. Wortman recounted in his letter to Purdie that the PAOC’s integrity was now on the line because, as Veterans Affairs understood it, “Gunnar [Kars] was discharged because he was an ordained minister of the Gospel, having been ordained while in the Services…” [69] The ordination itself was now suspect because, according to Kars, the Veterans Affairs official “also advised him he was the youngest ordained minister in Canada. The fact that he quotes the latter expression would seem to indicate he did not approve of it very much.” [70] It seems that it was not entirely clear even to his PAOC colleagues why Kars should be offered the money to continue his schooling.

Wortman expressed in his letter to Purdie that he feared making this complicated case even more muddled and he wanted Purdie’s input on how best to respond. Caught in an accusation of “double dipping” by having Kars ordained even before he had completed his theological training, as a way to get him out of service, it seemed clear that this was a manipulation of the clergy exemption. Then, because Purdie was asking for the veteran’s benefit to pay for Kars’ continued schooling, Purdie had some explaining to do because it seemed that the young man was not, in fact a full-time and fully qualified pastor.

In a letter written the very next day, Purdie explained to Wortman that Kars’ case was indeed a complex one and that it would have to be explained very carefully in order to satisfy the military and veterans’ authorities. The complexities arose partly from Kars’ young age and stage in school: he had come to the bible college straight from secondary school and was first conscripted during his second-year exams in April 1944. The other problem was geography and jurisdiction. Kars, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was conscripted through the regional recruiting office in Ontario and he had been ordained in Toronto by the PAOC’s Western Ontario District authorities. Even though he was pastoring a church in St. Vital, Manitoba and attending the bible college in Winnipeg (a different PAOC district from his home) Purdie could not write directly on behalf of Kars because Veterans Affairs wanted to hear from church officials in the province where he had been recruited, ordained, and released.

Purdie suggested that Wortman should explain it to Greer this way: Kars was spending five mornings a week at the college, plus attending one or two afternoon lectures per week. But, Purdie hastened to add, “he gives a lot of time to preaching and other ministerial matters. I believe he is meeting the requirements of the pastoral side of his agreement [for release from the Navy]. After April he will be ready for his life work without giving any more time to college.” [71] It was an argument premised on entitlement — Kars had served and therefore he was entitled to some benefit because of his status as a veteran. The principal hoped that this would satisfy Veterans Affairs, and that they would release the money, which amounted to $60 for each month that Kars had served — likely about $360 or less in total. This training benefit was a standard one offered to veterans through the Veterans Rehabilitation Act. [72]

Purdie’s last piece of advice to Wortman in crafting the letter to Veterans Affairs is further evidence that he was being strategic about how to overcome the marginalization of Pentecostals in the eyes of the authorities. He wrote: “P.S. It would be wise to use the word ‘College’ rather than ‘Bible School’ in all such cases.” [73] Here Purdie was invoking an argument about the legitimacy of the Western Bible College as a viable option of vocational training for veterans. He had always insisted that the program at Winnipeg was academically rigorous and comparable to the university training he had received at Wycliffe College in Toronto. At the same time, when it was advantageous to do so, Purdie emphasized the practical nature of the training that young Pentecostals received at Western Bible College, with emphasis on such practical skills as public speaking, working with children, and mastering the technology of radio broadcasting for religious purposes. By insisting that this institution was a “college” and not simply a “school,” Purdie was hoping to preempt any hesitation on the part of Veterans Affairs about the legitimacy of the education that was being offered.

The effort and emotional investment that Purdie made on behalf of Gunnar Kars was extraordinary. This seems curious because while Purdie was tenacious on behalf of many students, there were many more who were on active service. The 1944 student yearbook listed the names of students who were “On Active Service.” That list included 16 students who had enlisted in the army, five in the navy, and seven in the air force, as well as one, Horace Ross, who had died in action. [74] While the College faculty and students followed the activities and correspondence with interest and prayers for their safe return, no other student captured the kind of personal investment from Principal Purdie that Kars received.

Many veterans enrolled at the Western Bible College after the war ended. Some were returning to complete their studies and others were coming into the first year of the program. The alumni newsletter reported in December 1945 “Two of our men have returned from overseas — Iver Wendelbo and Jake Fehr, and we hope soon to welcome others. A dozen or more of our present students have come to us on their release from the Forces. Benson Berry is back in the Graduating Class.” [75] A year later the December 1946 student newsletter reported that veterans were prominent among the freshman that year “in our class, we have 11 ex-servicemen and 1 ex-servicewoman. It is indeed a familiar and pleasant sight to see these men in their battle dress. I think it is very symbolic — from one army to another: from a life of destruction to a life of telling others of Jesus Christ who is Life and the Light of the World.” [76] In the same issue, the sophomore class reported “We are glad to have back with us in II Year, Robert Hoover and James Pappas whose training was interrupted by overseas military service.” [77] The 1946 College yearbook, The Portal, included profiles of 20 veterans among the student body. Of those 20, four were women, all of whom had served in the Women’s Division of the Air Force. Among the men, four were Army, four were Navy, and eight were Air Force. It seems safe to assume, given the increasing enrollment of male students particularly, that many of them were financing their education through the Vocational Training grant from Veterans Affairs.

One of the army veterans, Sgt. E. Benson Berry, who graduated in the class of 1946, wrote an entry in the college yearbook entitled “Servicemen’s Page” where he explained that war had not been God’s will. “Six years of turmoil and strife have left in their wake bloodshed and suffering. This has all been caused by Sin. It is not God’s will that any should perish….” He explained the increasing numbers of students who were coming to the College by saying “The Service Personnel who have returned from distant lands and those who served at home have seen the need of God in the lives of young men and women. Realizing this need and also the need of more study, they have turned to Western Bible College…” [78] It may very well have been the call of God that made more students flock to Western Bible College, but the fact that financial assistance was available to veterans to help pay for the cost of vocational training must surely be another explanation.

To accommodate those returning veterans, special arrangements were made with the academic calendar. In the spring of 1946, alumni members were informed of the unusual schedule that the college had adopted for that first year after the end of the war: “Our hearts have been gladdened as we have welcomed home a number of our former students from overseas service. … We are extending the spring term to about the middle of June in order that some who missed part or all of the first term may clear off the entire First Year Work and be ready for II Year in the fall. This is largely owing to the fact that a number were accepted from the Forces but were too late in getting their release to enter at the opening of the term.” [79]

The correspondence on the Kars case in the PAOC archives ended with Purdie’s letter of 17 January 1945 and it is not clear whether or not he received the money to pay for his last year of schooling. With or without that veteran’s benefit, Kars graduated in the class of 1945 and the school yearbook and newsletters show that he entered fully into campus life as a senior student that last year through his involvement as president of the Student Council, editor of the alumni newsletter, member of the College Quartette, and in other activities. [80] Two years later, the Western Bible College alumni newsletter, The Gleaner announced that Kars had married Miss B. Hamilton (class of ’47), who was also from Sault Ste. Marie; by 1950, the couple was living in Orillia, Ontario where Kars was pastoring a PAOC church. [81]

The arguments that J.E. Purdie made on behalf of his students reveal a great deal about how Pentecostals in Canada perceived themselves and how they managed their interactions with the liberal state during the war years and immediately after the end of the war. When Purdie constructed arguments to help his students avoid conscription or at least shorten their time of service, he invoked the rhetoric of equity. He wanted to ensure that his students received exemptions or release from military duty if they were placed by the church in pastoral positions, or if they had medical limitations, or if they could do farm work. Yet beyond assisting students to appeal to existing policies and protect their individual rights, sometimes he attempted to manipulate the system as in the case of Kars where he arranged for a premature ordination and placement in a church even though the candidate in question was not yet a graduate of the college. He also worked relentlessly to denounce what he perceived as unfair treatment of Pentecostals vis-à-vis other denominations. In fact, his rhetoric of equity was actually one of preferential treatment for outstanding individuals, and his claims that the authorities discriminated against Pentecostals are not statistically accurate.

After they had served in the war, Purdie approached the state authorities using an argument of entitlement to lobby on behalf of his students to help them claim veterans’ benefits. For students who interrupted their studies to serve, this was an understandable strategy because the financial support available to them meant that the enrollment at Purdie’s college increased thanks to the rehabilitation credits and vocational training grants that students could use to finance their studies. It also meant that the Western Bible College could boost its enrollments with new students who began their bible college studies after the war. In at least one case the authorities called Purdie out on his efforts because rather than simply being committed to inclusiveness and compliance with the regulations, Purdie was actually expecting preferential treatment that made exceptions for the people he favoured most.

The efforts that Purdie made were driven by his pragmatism. His actions, which sometimes seemed to contradict logic and ignore evidence, were motivated by his fierce determination to promote bible college training for Pentecostal ministers and workers. When postwar planners proposed veterans’ benefits as a way to reward those had served and stimulate the postwar economy, Purdie saw those benefits as an opportunity to shore up the college enrollments and make theological training affordable for those who sensed a call to ministry. His view of the greatest priority among postwar needs was not the same as that of state officials. He was convinced that society’s greatest needs after the war were spiritual ones and he felt sure that the training he offered to future church leaders meant he was making an important contribution to public life in postwar Canada. To address society’s needs, his students had to be trained for ministry, and that raised an economic issue on the part of individual students about how they would pay for bible college training. Purdie’s pragmatism led him to capitalize on the prospect of veterans’ benefits as a way for his students to finance their ministry training and, as a result, for him to make his college financially viable with increased enrollments.

When Purdie lost sleep during the war years over the case of one of his favourite students there was more at stake than his fierce loyalty to that one young ministerial candidate. While that young man’s fate was important, Purdie’s efforts on his behalf touch on broader questions about Pentecostals’ interactions with military and state authorities. What appears at first to have been a bid to protect the individual rights of one young conscript was in fact part of a much larger effort as Pentecostals asserted their right (and by extension the right of other evangelical groups) to be included in the broader liberal framework of public religion in Canada. Some of the lengths to which Purdie was willing to go on behalf of his students proved to be divisive even among Pentecostals themselves, not only because their diversity meant they were not united on the question of war, but also because Purdie’s attempts to manipulate the system left PAOC officials having to offer elaborate explanations about why Pentecostal recruits were entitled to exemptions and benefits. The rationale and rhetoric that Pentecostals invoked on behalf of their students raise questions about consistency and logic. When he interacted with state and military officials, Purdie provides an early example of an evangelical no longer content to see his faith group remain on the sidelines of public life in Canada. When he invoked arguments about inclusion, equity, and entitlement he was challenging the liberal hegemony, by questioning the state recognition that mainline churches enjoyed.

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