Charles Templeton
An Anecdotal Memoir

Foreword

Chapters
Beginnings
Sports
Evangelism:
Toronto
Graham
Princeton
TV:
CBS & CTV
The CTV
Toronto Star
Politics:
Begin
Liberal Party
After
Maclean's
Inventing
Radio
Books
Etc. Etc.
Postscript


Charles Templeton Home

Jesus


Brad Templeton Home
Brad's Photo Pages

Brad's Panoramic Photos

RHF Home

   
 

Inside Evangelism (Charles Templeton Memoir)

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INSIDE EVANGELISM
In Toronto

Driving north on Avenue Road in Toronto in the summer of 1941, an unlikely sign caught my eye. It was affixed to an imposing limestone church, gothic in style and surmounted by a massive stone bell-tower. The sign read:

FOR SALE OR RENT
Auditorium or
Meeting Rooms
INQUIRE: 243 Avenue Rd.

I was in Toronto for a brief visit with my family after three years on the evangelistic trail. I had travelled most of Michigan, had ranged across northern New York state to parts of Indiana and Illionis, even dipped to the Deep South, preaching to congregations of as few as five and as many as five hundred. I owned two suits, one sufficiently presentable to preach in, a 1935 Ford Victoria with no window on the driver's side - the crumpled left door was fastened by a trousers-belt to the steering column -- and six hundred dollars in savings.

During my travels I had met and married Constance Orosco, a beautiful Californian of Mexican extraction. she was a "licenced song-evangelist" in the church of the Nazarene and had a superb soprano voice. Three years earlier, she had been awarded a starlet contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but having been raised in a deeply religious family; she had sought release from it, choosing to sing in a evangelistic campaigns. We met in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she was the singer and I was the evangelist, and were married six weeks later.

I pulled over to the curb, pointed to the sign and said to Connie, "Let's take a look."

I learned from the rental office across the street that the building had been vacant since the formation of the United Church of Canada in 1927, when its congregation amalgamated with the membership of the St. Paul's Methodist church down the road. The interior was forbidding. The sanctuary smelled of must and neglect. Many of the lights were burned out and the walls were streaked and peeling. I trailed my fingers through the dust on the pews.

But I was intrigued by the possibilities. The ceiling reared high in a graceful Gothic arches. The great windows were of leaded glass. On the platform there was a solid oak pulpit and three massive chairs, and behind them a choir loft and an impressive bank of organ pipes. For all the dinginess, for all the peeling paint and the dust and debris, it was a soaring cathedral compared to the consecrated shacks I'd been preaching in. Could I bring this echoing sanctuary to life again? On the spot I decided to try.

"The rent's a hundred dollars a month, "I told Connie." It will take all our savings. Are you game to try it?"

She nodded, smiling, happy and wanted very much to live in one place for longer than the customary fifteen days of a campaign. I signed a six-month lease, paid six hundred dollars, closing out our bank account, crossed the street and removed the sign. Three years as an evangelist had profoundly tested my new- found faith and had introduced me to an entirely different way of life. I had been converted through the Church of Nazarene, which did not require high academic standards of its clergy. I was oral examination by a group of local preachers. They seemed more interested in my orthodoxy than in my intellect, and one summed it all up: "You'll do fine, chuck. What you lack in lightnin' you make up for in thunder."

I learned to preach by preaching and by aping others. In those early years, I traded on my ability to draw, doing swift, dramatic sketches -"chalk talks," they were called - before audiences composed mostly of young people. In the circumscribed world of the Church of the Nazarene, my background as a newspaper cartoonist made me something of a celebrity, and soon invitations to speak came from farther afield. I began my career as an evangelist by crossing the American border with a bus ticket to Lowville, New York and $1.67 in my pocket. The immigration officer was loath to let me pass. "We got plenty of unemployed here already," he said. It was 1936.

I preached in tarpaper shacks and concrete-block basements, on street corners, and at out-of-doors "camp meetings"; in hamlets marked only by a cluster of buildings at the intersection of two highways and in grubby, storefront churches in the dying cores of great cities. I preached in 110-degree heat in Paris, Kentucky, and in a tiny frame church in northern Ontario, where the only heat came from a pot-bellied stove at the centre of the meeting hall and a haze rose from the bundled bodies of the congregation. When we sang an up-tempo hymn, the exhalations suggested a steam calliope.

I preached from a wrestling ring parked in a softball stadium in Sudbury, Ontario; in an outdoor "tabernacle" in Clarksville, Tennessee, where the summer insects attracted by the platform lights were sometimes inhaled; in a church basement in Lapeer, Michigan, where the pastor and his family lived in quarters back of the platform and you could smell what they'd had for dinner each night; in an unfinished shed in Carbondale, Illinois, where all the young mothers sat in the front row breast-feeding their babies; in Tullahoma, Tennessee, where my bed swarmed with bedbugs and the chicken I saw expiring in the driveway when I arrived was served for dinner that evening; in Pontiac, Michigan, where the church building was adjacent to the shunting-yard of the railway terminus and I lost my voice competing with it; and I preached on the subject of "God's Perfect Love" in Minden, Louisiana, as a tornado touched down, disintegrating the segregated African Methodist church across the street and killing eight members of the congregation, including the pastor....

There was a notion in the 1930s that the skies would soon be filled with light aircraft, that we would fly as casually as we drove a car. I decided that, as I was living on the road, I should learn to fly. Conducting a campaign in Chicago, I went to a flying school in Harvey, Illinois, a suburb south of the city. The airport was no more than a mown pasture. The hangar was a refurbished barn. Navigation aids were limited to a tattered windsock and a single flag at each of what served as a runway. The Harvey Flying school equipment consisted of one early Piper Cub with a sixty horsepower Lycoming engine.

The instructor was a gargantuan man who ate pistachio nuts and spat shells. He wore khaki coveralls and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap and cursed with an incredible inventiveness. I decided not to tell him that I was a preacher - if I was doing something foolish at the controls, I wanted to be told so in language that would brand it on my brain.

"How much to learn to fly?" I asked.

"Ten dollars an hour. If you're any good, you'll solo after eight hours, and that's the minimum."

The first seven and a half hours were without incident. I did all the mandatory manoeuvres - circuits, landings and takeoffs, power-on and power-off stalls, figure eights on pylons (trees), forward-slips and side-slips and two hours of cross-country. On occasion, he cursed me fervently: "Pile her in if you like, you stupid bugger; she's insured. But not with my ass aboard, for Chrissake!"

The day I was scheduled to solo there were strong, gusting winds. "I don't know", he said, frowning, hesitant, standing at the middle of the field, his coveralls flapping, "it's pretty roller-coaster up there."

I was apprehensive, but said, "Look, I leave for Charleston, West Virginia, tomorrow. It's mountain country, and if I don't solo with you, it'll cost me twenty bucks to get checked out down there."

He got in and we did a couple of circuits. It was very bumpy. As he heaved his bulk out of the front seat, he said, "Okay. Go around once. But take it easy."

I taxied into position, did a cockpit-check (there were precious few instruments to check), and gave the engine full throttle. To my horror, the tiny plane was airborne almost immediately. The nose came up and I was climbing at what seemed a dangerous speed. The first lesson drummed into a fledgling's head is not to climb too swiftly after takeoff. When the aircraft has only passed landing speed, raising the nose puts the plane in immediate danger of a stall and a certain crash.

I was gaining altitude at a frightening rate. The nose of the aircraft wanted to come up and I had to push forward hard on the stick. The plane still insisted on climbing. I shouted above the roar of the engine, "Think! You know what to do. Do it! Think!"

It broke on me: I had become airborne quickly because, without my instructor, the aircraft was three hundred pounds lighter. And there was a stiff wind, producing lift. The nose was rearing because my instructor hadn't reminded me to trim the aircraft to compensate for his weight. I reached down beside the seat, cranked the trim-handle, made a left-hand turn, made a circuit fighting the gusts, and bounced into a landing.

He came out to meet me. "I'm the dumb sonofabitch this time, " he said. "Go 'round again".

I logged thirty-four hours before I quit for lack of money. And it was beginning to be obvious that the day when everyone owned his own auto-plane was far off. I temporarily lost my faith in a hamlet in Michigan. It was no more than a cluster of houses and stores at a crossroads, yet it had three competing churches. There was little to do during the day, and it was impossible to establish a relationship with the pastor. He was a neurotically shy, shrivel-souled, skinny little man, a secret smoker who reeked of tobacco and whose fingers had a mahogany hue. When anyone spoke to him his face would flush and the acne he was cursed with would flame. But he had an extensive and eclectic library. It lined the walls of what he called his study butwas actually the dining room. I spent most of my days in it,  reading omnivorously.

I had read widely since childhood, but seldom any textbooks and always to my own taste. When a biography of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's astounding dictator (the only man to my knowledge who, having total power, voluntarily surrendered it) engrossed me, I went on a binge with the library's biographies. For a time, George Bernard Shaw fascinated me - especially the prefaces to his plays - and I read them all, skimming the plays themselves. Then it was everything I could find by or about Gandhi, who remains a major influence in my life.

I have always been subject to my enthusiasms.

In this dreary Michigan town, I picked up Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. In a few hours, nearly everything I knew or believed about the Christian religion was challenged and in large part demolished. My unsophisticated mind had no defences against the thrust of his logic or his devastating arguments. In the next ten days I read Francois Voltaire's The Bible Explained at Last, Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian, the speeches of great American atheist, Robert Ingersoll, including his The Mistakes of Moses, and dipped into David Hume and Thomas Huxley. I read through the days and into the early morning hours. Each night, I stumbled lamely through my sermon, drenched in perspiration, desolate of spirit.

By the end of the two weeks my course seemed obvious: my faith was disintegrating, I couldn't remain in the ministry, couldn't possibly continue to preach. I couldn't even pray. I cancelled the few meetings I had scheduled and returned to Toronto, utterly at a loss. There, I wandered in the wilderness of my mind for six weeks, fending off the questions of family and friends, trying to get some bearings. To earn some money, I sold four political cartoons to the editorial page of the Toronto Telegram. I was like a boxer who has been stunned and is out on his feet. Then, slowly, I began to emerge from the grey befuddlement. Only half believing, I tried again to pray. In hope, I turned again to the New Testament....

The way back was tortuous and slow. 

Now, a year later, there I was tearing down the "for rent" sign on a disused church. Connie and I were about to try to give it new life. The prospects were not encouraging. In subsequent months I would say many times: "We had a sanctuary but no members, pews but no people, aisles but no ushers, an organ but no organist, a choir loft but no choir and collection plates but no money. "But we did have an unquenchable optimism and a conviction that we had been called by God to revive this dead church.

My family and Connie and I and a few friends went to work. We swept and vacuumed the floors. We polished the pews. We washed the walls as far as ladders could reach. Mother made a curtain for the altar rail. I bought a dozen pie tins, painted them brown and glued green felt to the bottoms - they would be our collection plates. There was a pile of dog-eared song books in a corner of one of the Sunday School rooms; they would serve as our hymn books. For three weeks in advance of the opening Sunday we ran two-column advertisements in the church pages of the Telegram and Star:

COMING SOON!
Toronto's New
Centre of Evangelism

The advertisement was followed with others: "Two weeks to go!" "Next week!" "Tomorrow!" An organist, Fred Payne, telephoned to offer his services and a musician, Bill McCall, volunteered to direct the choir - when and if we had a choir, On the eve of the opening, a basket of flowers arrived anonymously. A nearby hardware merchant donated three dozen light bulbs. The lessee of the service station across the road offered his premises for free parking. We were as ready as we could be.

I had decided to hold the opening service on a Sunday night on the assumption that most churchgoers would attend their own services in the morning. At six-thirty, half an hour before the first service, our little band knelt at the front pew to ask God to bless this new venture and to-please! -- send someone through the doors.

One hundred and twelve came. In a sanctuary seating twelve hundred, they seemed a pitiful few. Strangers, ill at ease, not knowing what to expect, they sat in the back pews and left a great gulf between themselves and the pulpit. The congregational singing was ragged. Connie's songs and my preaching echoed sepulchrally. The offering was sixty-seven cents short of the week's rent. There was nothing for the preacher, but because we were living at my mother's house, I did not need anything. The following Sunday morning there were only twenty-seven present. I preached as though the world were on fire, knowing that if these few didn't return the venture would be dead in the water.

But they did return, and others with them. Within six months it was impossible to find a seat in the Sunday-night service unless you were on hand by 6:45. Each week people were turned away at the doors. Soon there were the beginnings of a Sunday school and Wednesday prayer meetings and a Saturday-night meeting for young people. Within months we had a white-robed choir and hymn books and proper collection plates; even a Board of Elders, some so young as to be almost beardless. There were two services each Sunday night: one at 7:00 and a Second, called Songfest, at 9:15. It was a happy, buoyant afterservice designed especially for young people, and they came from across the city to jam the sanctuary. I had set my salary at eighteen dollars a week. After six months, the church board raised it to forty dollars. 

Three years later, I proposed to the board that we enlarge the church by building a gallery on three sides of the sanctuary. We had bought the church with a down payment of $4,000 and a mortgage of $27,000, and there were faint hearts who drew back from the additional debt that would have to be assumed. I prodded. I pleaded, I cajoled, but found myself faced with a contretemps. Finally, I made it clear that, if they were prepared to rest at ease after so short a battle, I would not be their leader. The issue was resolved, an architect was hired and the work was begun. For the next seven weeks we would hold our services in the Masonic Temple at Yonge Street and Davenport.


It is the custom among evangelicals to pray for the sick. Jesus' three years of ministry were filled with healings, and when he commissioned the apostles he commanded them to heal. In the New Testament book of James there is this injunction: 

Is any Sick among you? Let him call for elders of the church and let them pray over him, annointing him with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.

I had, when requested, prayed for the sick many times, never effectually. I never preached on faith healing, seldom referred to it and was publicly critical of evangelists who majored in it. I regarded it as peripheral and, in the hands of charlatans, dangerous.

Nevertheless, one Sunday afternoon, I went to one of those  small boxlike frame houses common to Toronto's east end at the request of a woman who attended the church. Her infant daughter had been born deformed. The large muscle on the right side of the neck was attached to the left collar-bone, binding the baby's head to the left. As I understood it, there was some conjunction of the muscle and the jugular vein that made it impossible to correct  the problem surgically. Once a week the woman took the infant to the Hospital For Sick Children for muscular rehabilitation. The baby's head was repeatedly twisted to the right, to stretch the muscle so that, in later years, she would be able more or less to face the front. The mother was required to repeat the therapy for ten minutes each day despite the baby's screams. Finding it unendurable she importuned me to come and pray that the infant be healed. 

I went reluctantly, feeling like a mountebank. The baby was in the bedroom in its crib. I put some olive oil on my fingers, kneeled with the mother, put my hands on the infant and prayed. I had no   expectation that the child would be healed. With the glib words on my tongue, I was thinking about the woman - about her pain, and about how disheartened she would be when the baby was unchanged and months of agonizing therapy lay ahead.  At the close, we rose to our feet and returned to the living room. I was questing in my mind for sentiments with which to buoy up her courage and ease her disappointment. We sat for a few minutes, talking, I in a chair and she on the chesterfield opposite, I asked, "Wasn't the baby's head bound to the left?"  The baby was looking to the right and then turned to face me. The woman, and as she began to slide to the floor, I caught the baby and placed it on the chesterfield. When the woman revived, she was near hysterics. I told her to report what had happened to the hospital.

Four years later, New World, a Canadian imitation of Life magazine,  came to me looking for a story idea. They planned to do a feature in their Easter edition under the heading, "What My Faith Means To Me." I sent them to the woman and to the Sick Children's Hospital. They ran the story and a full-page picture of the mother and child, now a young girl and manifestly normal.

Not long afterwards, I encountered another instance of instantaneous healing. My aunt, Ada Poyntz, a graduate nurse and my mother's youngest sister, was terminally ill with what was described to me as stomach cancer. Exploratory surgery had discovered that the malignancy was inoperable. She suffered greatly from adhesions and was bedridden. There was little point in her remaining in hospital, and, in those days before medicare, the costs would have been prohibitive. She was sent home to live out the rest of her days with my mother.

Mother insisted that I come to the house and pray for Ada. I went again with reluctance and that sense of embarrassment I invariably felt when asked to pray for healing. I had investigated many claims of faith healing over the years and had never seen any instance that seemed to me authentic. I couldn't account for what had happened to the baby's neck but was by no means convinced that it was as a result of divine intervention.

I placed my hands on my aunt's body and began to pray. The moment was intensely emotional. My mother was praying and weeping. My aunt was gasping in an agony of hope, "Oh God! Please! Please God!" As I was praying, I felt something akin to an electrical charge flow through my arms and out my fingers. I remembered the incident in which the woman "suffering from an issue of blood" touched the hem of Jesus' garment and was healed. Jesus stopped and said, "Who touched me?" Peter remonstrated with him: "What do you mean, who touched you? There's a crowd pressing us, jostling us." "No," Jesus said, "somebody touched me; I felt power go out of me!" I wondered if what I was feeling was what Jesus had spoken of.

Afterwards, there was the usual mutual encouragement, the "trying to have faith." When I returned home, the telephone was ringing. It was my aunt, who had not been out of bed for weeks. "Chuck," she said, half laughing, half in tears but far from hysteria, "I've been healed. I really have." Mother came on the phone."  "It's absolutely incredible. She's been walking around. She's been up and down the stairs. Chuck, she's healed. There's no doubt about it."

There was no return of the malignancy. The adhesions ended. She outlived the rest of her brothers and died forty-two years later at the age of eighty-seven.

How do I account for these two instances of apparently instantaneous healing? I cannot. They certainly didn't happen because of my faith. Nor do I believe they resulted from divine intervention.  Having investigated faith healing over many years I have no doubt that, occasionally, men and women are healed of actual ill nesses. I am not speaking of those illnesses that are hysteric in nature, symptoms of an underlying psychological problem. Nor of those "healings" that are undoubtedly remissions; the temporary subsidence of symptoms or pain. Nor again, am I referring to the so-called healings seen on television when the ailing victim is anaesthetized by the intensity of the moment and becomes able, if only for a brief period, to bend a painful back or walk on a crippled limb.

I am opposed to the public healing services of contemporary evangelism. Occasionally, a form of cure may be effected, but the good done is minuscule compared to the harm. Television healing evangelism is a fraud. The "healers" are often simpletons or rogues or both, living off the avails of medical bunkum. They knowingly mislead, leaving behind them emotional wreckage and illnesses often worsened by neglect. Despite all this, I am convinced that what may loosely be called faith healing is an area of medicine with unrealized potential.

The contractor had been busy; only seven weeks had passed and the new gallery of the church was completed. On Saturday night, March 7,1944, some fifty people, most of them young, gathered with brooms and mops and dusting cloths to ready the refurbished sanctuary for the reopening service. It was an hour for elation. At 10:30 I climbed to the topmost seat in the gallery and sat for a few minutes contemplating the scene, seeing in my memory that afternoon not many months before when I had walked tentatively into the gloomy, dust-mantled auditorium. Below, I could see the workers, resting from their labour, clapping their hands and singing a Negro spiritual.

Everything was ready. We would rededicate the church the following evening with the mayor present and some sixteen hundred people in the pews. (In Truth, there were no pews in the gallery. We couldn't afford them and had temporarily substituted wooden kitchen chairs.) When the last of the volunteers had gone, I locked the doors and went warily but happily home. I called Connie, who was in Detroit on a singing engagement, arranged to  meet her at the airport the following afternoon, and went to bed.

I was awakened by the persistent ringing of the telephone. It was 3:15 a.m. A woman's voice shouted, "Mr. Templeton, you'd  better come. Your Church is on fire."

Nearing the crest of the hill on Avenue Road south of St. Clair, I saw the flames roaring into the night sky a hundred feet above the church, streamers of sparks racing even higher. As I pulled up by a welter of hoses and fire-fighting equipment, the roof of the main sanctuary collapsed in a roiling fury of flame. I had left a new suit, purchased for the opening service, in my office and ventured a dash to rescue it. Coming out, I was collared by a policeman who took me for a looter.

Now, in every section of the building, the roof was ablaze. Windows sagged and crumpled as the leaded glass melted. A slate shingle skimmed down and gashed a fireman's face. Water poured in torrents from the open doorways, cascading in a series of waterfalls down the stone steps. Mocking me was the sign at the front of the church: GREAT REPORTING SERVICE - Sunday 7 p.m.

When we bought the building, we had assumed a mortgage of $27,000. Fortunately, it had been protected with an insurance policy. But we still had to settle with the contractor who had built the gallery, and all that would be left would be the walls and a heap of smoking debris. We would have no place to worship, debts and no funds. Some members of the board arrived and, as dawn broke, we repaired to an apartment across the street. I drafted an advertisement on the spot and delivered it personally to both the Star and the Telegram, talking them into opening the church pages so that it could be included:

OUR BEAUTIFUL CHURCH IS BURNED
BUT!
"All Things work together for good
to them that love God."
Hear the story of the fire.
SUNDAY 7 P.M. - THE MASONIC TEMPLE

The temperature dropped overnight. When I returned to the church later that day to appraise the damage, the debris had frozen into a solid mass. Every part of the building had been destroyed or damaged. The basement was untouched by fire, but the ceiling was dripping everywhere. Hundreds of icicles suggested stalactites in a low, dark cave. The floor was inches deep in water; the surface covered with a skim of ice. A photographer from one of the newspapers took a picture of me standing in what remained of the pulpit, surrounded by a surreal tangle of charred beams and rafters, the snow falling around me inside the church....

Then, an astounding reversal of our fortunes. Hundreds were turned away from the Masonic Temple. In place of a sermon, I had and then described the disaster. I put before them our financial dilemma and our intention to persevere and asked for pledges.  Seventeen thousand dollars was committed.

J.V.McAree, the respected columnist for the Globe and Mail, wrote a column the Monday following the fire. 

THIS CHURCH MUST NOT DIE 

If we know anything about the spirit which forms the Avenue Road Church of the Nazarene, the devastating fire will be no more than a goad to stronger effort and a milestone on the way to still greater accomplishment. What has happened there in the last couple of years since the church was taken over by Charles B. Templeton might be regarded as a miracle.

The minister and his young wife, whom many might regard as no more than boy and girl, have built up a congregation which for earnestness and determination to live the Christian life is not surpassed anywhere, even by churches that can trace a continuous existence for more than a century. In fact, it has set an example that had amazed many much more fashionable and prosperous churches; and, as we have predicted, its recovery from the fire may amaze them still more.

An advertising agency owned by my uncle, Alford Poyntz, reprinted the Mcaree column in quarter-page display ads in the three Toronto papers. Included was a candid photograph of me watching the fire, dismay on my face, the top of my pyjamas peeking through my upturned overcoat collar. In response, contributions came in the mail from a number of cities. 

I had announced on the Sunday that, granted a thaw, we would begin the clean-up the following Friday night. Strangers came from all over the city, some with dump trucks, others with shovels and axes and wheelbarrows. There were almost too many to organize. We backed the trucks to the doors of the church and set the men to work in gangs. Some pried and ripped apart the debris. Others filled barrows and trundled them on a path of  planks to the trucks. The trucks rumbled off and returned. Soon we were black as coal miners. We up-ended the organ pipes and spilled out the ice that filled them. A great mound of icicles, each the exact shape of one of the pipes, was stacked in a bizarre heap.  But it was a vain task; all the pipe seams had split as water froze.

That evening, when the debris was gone, I went alone to the shell of the building and walked about, assessing the damage. The walls remained but the windows were gone. The girders that had borne the roof were twisted and bent. The internal structure of the gallery remained intact but the surfaces were burned and disfigured. The floors were scorched and scarred but still solid - although many of the boards would wrap. The pews beneath the gallery were salvagable, although we would have to repair and paint them. The organ appeared to be a write-off. (It would finally cost $102,000 to rebuild the church.) After my tour of inspection, I went into a corner and sat with my back to the wall. The enormity of the task before us finally broke on me, and my head went down.

The first five months of that summer we held all our services in the basement of the church. We opened up the area until we could seat about five hundred on rented kitchen-type chairs. There was one worrisome problem; there was no roof over our heads, only the ceiling. For weeks, the sanctuary above was open to the weather. When it rained the water poured through the ceiling and continued to drip long after the rain had ended.

We advertised our basement auditorium as "Toronto's Submarine Centre" and held two services each Sunday night one at 6:30 and a second at 8:00. There was a pervasive smell of mildew, and sometimes a background sound of water dripping. The choir put on their robes in what had been the kitchen, and walked precariously on planks laid on the floor to keep their feet dry. I stood on a platform so that I was visible to the congregation, my head a few inches from the ceiling. Fortunately, it was summer and there was no need for heat. But in the more than two months before the sanctuary received its new roof, it didn't rain on a weekend and we didn't miss a service. We read this as the goodness of God.

I was notified by the Fire Marshall's office that the church fire had been deliberately started. "Arson," was the verdict. "Someone stood at the top of the stairs and poured a quantity of a flammable substance, probably gasoline, down the stairs, lighted it and left.  Whoever did it knew the layout; the fire was started at the one place that would cause it to spread to both wings of the building." 


Some weeks later, as I returned from an out-of-town engagement I was given a message to call the police at the old Number 5 Division at Davenport Road at Belmont. A sergeant came to see me and told me a disturbing story. During the regular Saturday night young people's meeting in the basement auditorium of the church, one of our group, an eighteen-year-old I will call Eddie Miller, heard a sound from above and slipped out of the meeting to investigate. Moments later, the young people heard the sound of running feet, A crash and then silence. They found Eddie on the floor, unconscious, and called the police. The sergeant now told me that, when he arrived, Eddie was conscious but still stunned. Eddie told him that when he went up to the auditorium he saw a man. The intruder was tall, he said, wearing a topcoat and had his hat pulled low over his face. The man ran, and as he went, picked up a piece of scrap two-by-four and threw it, striking Eddie on the head. Nonetheless, he grappled with the man but was knocked unconscious by a blow to the solar plexus.

As the officer finished the story, I said, "You seem a little dubious."

"I'm not sure why," he said. "But there was something odd about the whole business."

"Are you saying that Eddie was lying?"

"No. He's got a lump on his head where he was hit by the two-by-four. It's just there's more to the story than he's telling. I keep wondering if it could be connected with the fire." 

I visited Eddie at his home. He was a good-looking boy with wide-set, clear blue eyes and blonde hair. He had joined the church some six months earlier. I'd heard that he had been part of a teen-age gang in the east end of the city but had quit when he was converted. Since then he'd been trying to live an exemplary life. He was an officer in the youth group and a member of the choir. 

He was wearing a Band-aid on his brow over an angry red abrasion. As he told me the story he'd told the policeman, one thing struck me as odd: he had been knocked unconscious, he said, not by the blow to the head but by a punch to the solar plexus. I knew that such a blow could knock a man down, even incapacitate him, but not knock him out. Why was he lying? Was it possible that he knew the intruder? Perhaps there was some connection to the fire.

"Eddie," I Said," did you know the man?"

"No, Mr. Templeton. I never saw him before."

"But how do you know? It was around 9.30. It was dark."

"Yes it was. But not that dark."

I was vaguely disquieted but put it out of my mind.

Three weeks later, early on a Sunday morning, I received a telephone call from a Constable Ross at the East York police station. Did I know a young man by the name of Eddie Miller? The constable then explained that, the previous night, Eddie had been beaten up by a gang of young hoodlums. He hadn't been seriously inured-mostly bumps and bruises - and had been driven home by the police. Constable Ross told me that Eddie was worried about attending church Sunday morning, bandaged, and had asked him to call me to explain what had happened.

Eddie arrived with a Band-aid on one cheek. His left arm was in a sling. He opened his shirt to show me broad strips of tape on his chest; two ribs had been cracked, he said. The bandages seemed awkwardly applied. The doctor had done them too tightly, he explained, and he had loosened them. He bore the pain well and drew a lot of sympathy from his friends.

The incident nagged at my mind. That afternoon it occurred to me that Eddie might be in more trouble than he was admitting to. Was it possible that he hadn't been able to break clear of the gang and that was why he had been beaten up? Could it be that, angered by his leaving and by his commitment to the church, they had set the fire? The questions wouldn't rest.

I called the East York police station. The duty officer didn't know of a Constable Ross; there was no one on staff by that name. Nor did he have a report about a young man being beaten up the previous evening. Nor had be heard of Eddie Miller.

I hung up, my mind racing. Eddie or a friend must have made the call to me, impersonating the officer. Eddie hadn't been beaten up. The bandages were loose because he had applied them him- self. But why? My mind went back to the incident at the young people's meeting and I remembered my doubts about his being knocked unconscious by a blow to the solar plexus. I called the sergeant who had investigated the incident.

"I thought I might be hearing from you again," he said.

A course of action was decided on. I called Eddie. "You and I need to have a talk. I don't want to disturb your family by coming to your house, so I'll drive by this afternoon at four and blow my horn."

He was immediately tentative. "I can't do that. I...."

"Eddie," I said, "don't make me come to your house; there'll be a policeman in the car with me. He wants to ask you some questions. You come out to the car."

There were, as it turned out, two policemen in the back seat of my car as I blew the horn. Eddie got in the front seat beside me. I drove slowly about the area.

"Eddie," I said, "I need some straight answers. You weren't beaten up last night. You weren't taken to the East York station. You've been lying to me."

He protested earnestly. "Mr. Templeton, I'm not lying. I was beaten up. I'm telling you the truth."

"You also lied to me about being knocked out at the church. Why, Eddie? Are you in trouble?"

One of the officers spoke sharply from the back seat. "Why did you burn down the church, Eddie?" 

"Burn down the church...!"

"Why'd you do it, Eddie?"

"Me burn down the church? Are you kidding?"

"I'll ask the questions - why'd you burn down the church?"

Eddie appealed to me. "Mr. Templeton, you know how much I love our church. Tell them."

"The officer cut me off. "We'll handle this. Now, Miller, let's have no more lying. I'll give you one more chance. Tell the truth or we'll take you down to the station and book you. Why'd you burn down the church?"

Eddie was silent, his head down. Then he slumped side ways on the seat and put his head in my lap, sobbing.*

That night, after the service, I drove home by way of Davenport Road and paused outside the station where Eddie was lodged in a cell. It had begun to rain and the night was dark.

The new church was beautiful: brightly lit, modern, the acoustics greatly improved. The choir-loft accommodated sixty. The seating capacity of the sanctuary was close to sixteen hundred. On the night of the reopening, we put the overflow in the Sunday school auditorium and turned away hundreds. During the next four years, winter and summer, it was necessary to arrive by 6.30 to be sure of a seat. Policemen were assigned each Sunday to direct traffic.


(*) Eddie at first pleaded guilty but then changed his mind. At the trial, he was found guilty and served time. But he never revealed his motive.

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