III. Charles Gordon McPhee, The Early Years

Written on: July 28, 2022

Article by: Geoffrey Ellis

“Charles Gordon McPhee completes his NBS/DLC studies, and begins his preaching career.”

(1) Nashville: Gordon with a train ticket to Nashville, departing from Smithville, with nine dollars in his pocket. He went forth in faith. (McPhee patterned his life on that of James A. Harding, whose leadership at the Nashville and Potter schools literally operated by faith for their support. Near the end of his life he said: “The older I get, the more I believe He rules in the affairs of men. If it hadn’t been that my father died, I never would have gone into the homes of those Christian people from whom I learned a lot and became a Christian.)

At the border, he was subjected to a gruelling examination by officials (it was wartime). In a little room he was interrogated. “Where were you born?” “In Nine Mile River, Nova Scotia.” And one of them said, “Well, I came from Milford.” That is about seven miles from Nine Mile River, so McPhee ask him, “Do you know a man by the name of Norman Loggett?” (He was known all over the country as inspector of roads.) “Certainly.” McPhee named several others who were also known by this official. They then went before a larger committee where the man from Milford recommended that McPhee be allowed to enter the US!

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McPhee enrolled in Nashville Bible School and began to preach every Sunday. Typically, he was paid $3.00 for his services, until one Sunday when he was given $6! He mentions preaching at Thompson Station, and Spring Hill. However, his income was insufficient. After two or three months, he went to the president’s office, cf. H. Leo Boles, where he said, “I can’t stay here. I am not getting enough money for preaching. I’ll have to leave.” Boles said, “You are not leaving. You are staying here!” “They kept me here for two years. I will always be grateful to Brother Boles for keeping me there.” When he graduated, he signed a note—for between two and three hundred dollars.

He graduated with his Bachelor of Literature degree in 1917. (David Lipscomb, age 86, died November 11 in that year, and the Nashville school was renamed, David Lipscomb College. Thus, C. G. McPhee has the distinction of being the first foreign student to graduate from NBS once it became DLC.) (It should be noted that “a number of other Canadian students had enrolled in Nashville Bible School, from 1891-1917) On the day of graduation, he met Sister Foster, widow of Abraham Foster, who had founded and directed Carman Bible School, 1899-1902, “the first Bible school in Canada,” i.e. among Churches of Christ. (Foster had passed away in 1908, in Calgary.) McPhee recalled, “I had a place to go and preach, and that was in Carman, Manitoba. So, I left there (Nashville), after bidding farewell to my friends. I made a lot of them there. Well the school was closed, I was out of school, and out of money. The brethren at Carman had sent me a ticket to take me there to preach. I left Nashville with ninety cents in my pocket.”

“Junior Class at Nashville Bible School, 1915-1916, C. G. McPhee, back row, left.”

Graduation Invitation

(2) Western Canada.

Upon graduation from the NBS/DLC, Gordon McPhee moved immediately to Carman, Manitoba. There he began his life’s work of preaching the Gospel. That he chose to preach first in Western Canada shows his missionary spirit. It also confirms the influence of the Tallman brothers upon his life. The Tallmans had also headed west in their early years: to Carman, Manitoba, where they had helped plant the Winnipeg Church of Christ, in 1901. They, no doubt, had a hand in C. G.’s serving at Carman for two summers (1913, 1914), during his college years in Nova Scotia. And, that O. H. Tallman had devoted his service to evangelizing in Western Canada, during the last year of MBLC’s operation, 1914-1915, was surely noted by Charles Gordon. He was returning to familiar territory.

Arriving from Nashville, he was met in Carman by a brother Stewart, who said, “Did you know you are starting a meeting on Sunday?” The meeting lasted for three weeks. By the end of the meeting, eighteen people had been baptized.

Gordon preached for the next three years at Carman and in the western provinces. Gordon preached his first gospel meeting, at that time, in Hanna, Alberta. He also preached in nearby Calgary, and at Winnipeg. He held meetings at Bromhead, Saskatchewan. In January, 1919, C. G. was in Prince George, British Columbia (where he wrote to Donald McDougall, then editor of The Christian Monthly Review, Nova Scotia, to renew his subscription!) His report from Carman, published in the March, 1919, CMR: “The work at Carman is doing fine. The interests and crowds are both good. We are opening several mission points in the country around here, which we expect to be fruitful for the Master.”

McPhee reported forty baptisms during this period. He conducted his first wedding at Carman, in 1919: Franklin Russell and Luella Meeks, March 26, the first of literally hundreds of weddings that Gordon would perform during his ministry. Gordon reported that during his stay at Carman, he retired what was still owing to DLC on his tuition.

McPhee’s handwritten sermon, prepared and delivered first at Nine Mile River.”

Gordon’s practice, begun while a student in Nova Scotia, and maintained during his work in western Canada, was to write out his sermons in longhand. He used student study books, size 10 ½” X 7 ¾”. Mostly, one sermon averaging 17-20 pages was written in each book. Some few have two, even three sermons included. Most booklets have few details of the place and date of preaching, but a number do identify Carman, Manitoba. The mind and beliefs of C. G. McPhee are preserved in these workbooks! (Sixty-four workbooks with 79 sermons by C. G. McPhee are in the CCCHS files.)

One of 64 work book sermons on file

(3) Ontario.

The December 1920 issue of the Christian Monthly Review, reported that C. G. left the west for Ontario, early in the summer, working in southern Ontario, then arriving at Meaford later in the year. The CMR also reported, “Brother C. G. McPhee, who is locating in Meaford, Ontario, has been on a flying visit to his old home and friends in Nova Scotia, visiting and speaking at Mill Village, Nine Mile River, Upper Rawdon, and one evening was allowed to speak at West Gore.” McPhee began his work in Meaford, on the first day of 1921.

Upon his arrival in Ontario, earlier in 1920, however, McPhee was soon recruited to become “Ontario Preacher,” by a co-operation (similar to “Co-operations” common in 19th century) maintained by the Bathurst Church of Christ at the time and by the Toronto churches. His support was $25 per week. At the “June Meeting” in St. Catharines that year (1920), a special meeting was called to report on this activity. At one point, in the meeting, C. G. arose and declared, “I will not work under a couple of men, but I will work under a church.” There was “an arousing clap from the whole congregation,” and McPhee sat down. He later reported, “That ended it. I conducted meetings at St. Catharines, Jordan, Beamsville, Toronto, Meaford, and Newmarket, and in the Fall, I quit, and arranged to go to Meaford.”

Gordon, at the end of 1921 in Meaford, reported on his work: “Four added at Meaford, six at Cape Rich, and two at Griersville.” An American evangelist, C. R. Nichols, who had conducted a gospel meeting in Meaford in 1923, wrote: “Brother C. G. McPhee who is the minister-evangelist for the Meaford congregation is an untiring worker, and is loved by the congregation, and by the citizenship of Meaford for his intrinsic worth, as well as for his ability and consecration in the work for the Master.” McPhee served in Meaford until 1924. He later would remember his encouraging the Meaford congregation to show the same interest in the Sunday evening service as the morning. He also became well-known as the soft-ball playing preacher! Later, he would look back and declare: “Those were the best years of my life!” “Finest young peoples class ever.” “I baptized and buried a good number in Meaford.”

(4) Marriage.

On June 14, 1922, Gordon married Grace Tallman, in Hamilton. Grace was born, November 23, 1893, the third daughter of Peter Tallman (uncle of O. H. and O. E. Tallman) and Jennie (Tufford) Tallman, of Beamsville. (Grace was the third of four daughters: Goldie Lawson, Gertie McKenzie, Grace, and Cora Peckham.) (Peter Tallman passed away in 1909, when Grace was 15.) Grace, who had attended Beamsville Bible School, was living and working in Hamilton, as a milliner. Having impressed the brethren with his preaching at Jordan, C. G. had been invited to conduct a three-week meeting and assist in opening the new Sanford Ave. Church of Christ meeting house in Hamilton. “I didn’t baptize anyone. But it was one of the best meetings I ever had.” Here, the couple met, and the rest is history! “There was someone there that attracted my attention—the dark eyes, the beautiful face.” One thing that Gordon remembers about the church opening, “There were Tallmans everywhere!” There, Gordon was invited by Oliver Tallman, Grace’s uncle, to visit at the Tallman home, “Evergreen Hill farm,” in Smithville, where he stayed three weeks. Gordon proposed—he was 30 and Grace 29 when they married. “Dr. O. H. Tallman from Owen Sound, my first Bible school teacher, was invited to come and marry us.”

Their honeymoon was remarkable—centred on the Manitoulin Island, where Grace’s sister, and husband, Gertie and Donald McKenzie lived. The couple took the train to Sarnia, a boat to the Soo, and on to Little Current, on the Island. (C. G. may have subscribed to the notion that the Manitoulin Island resembled Nova Scotia!) They then took a cruise on a side-wheeler boat to Detroit. Here the couple was entertained by the daughter of Henry Ford. (Cf. The McKenzies managed the Ford’s family vacation property on the North Channel, and were well regarded by the Ford family.) They took the side-wheeler back to the Soo, a boat to Little Current, then on to Killarney for a couple of days. They then proceeded by boat to Owen Sound where they visited the O. H. Tallman family. O. H. was preaching and working in his new career, Chiropractic medicine. O. H., his wife, Hallie Richardson (from Richardsville, KY), and his family, eventually of five children, at the close of the college in Nova Scotia, 1915, had returned from his preaching at that time in Western Canada. They had settled in Owen Sound where O. H.’s sister, Charrie, her husband, William Ellis, wholesale grocery-man, and their family of five sons, were living. Will Ellis had led a house church in the city since arriving in 1908. O. H. was preaching for this group, while training for, and launching his career in Chiropractics. The married couple then returned to Meaford.

Gordon remembered the helpfulness of Grace. She was “a great help to me in many ways…” “could do a lot of things I could not do…” “good musician…” “Knew her Bible as well as I do…” “at home with the rich and poor…” “She was a wonderful woman. She helped me along the way. She stood by me when others were against me.”

At Meaford, Grace and Gordon received their first child: daughter, Ruth Avonelle McPhee, born June 27, 1923.

(5) Texas.

C. G.’s health failed and he was advised to seek a dryer climate—sinus problem.: “While in Meaford, Charlie (C. R.) Nicholl, one of the outstanding preachers from Texas, came and he saw the situation. The church in Waco, Texas (100 miles south of Dallas), through his influence, invited me to come down there. So, I left Meaford in February, 1924, for Waco, Texas…One of the best cities in which I have ever lived. I met many people, was kept busy all the time with funerals, meetings, weddings.” He served the congregation in that city for almost four years. C. G. recalls that when he first arrived, the elders sent him by train to Abilene, to attend the Abilene Christian College Bible lectures. From Fort Worth, he rode to Abilene with the noted preacher of the day, C. G. Brewer. (The A.C.C. campus was still downtown, shortly to move the “Hill.”)

While in Texas, the McPhee’s received their second child, Ralph Charles McPhee, born in Waco, April 30, 1928.

“Ralph Charles McPhee”

C. G. had a successful ministry in Waco. He pioneered a Saturday youth meeting, and helped build a new building (cost $50,000, seating 400). Years later, in 1975, when McPhee was back at the A.C.U. Bible lectures, at a large gathering, the chairman, A. Overton Faubus (teacher of Business at the college), shared: “There is a man sitting back there in the audience. He baptized me 47 years ago in Waco, Texas…he was my ideal preacher then…I guess he still is!’

C. G. then preached briefly at Denison, Texas (75 miles north of Dallas).

Grace, with her two children, Ruth, and Ralph.

In September, 1928, C. G returned to Ontario to hold a gospel meeting. There he heard the complaint: Canadian preachers are working in Texas, but no full-time preachers are serving in Ontario! (Brethren Cox and Keffer were preaching part-time at that time.) O. E. Tallman had stated, “He is a splendid speaker, a gentleman, and a Christian. We’d gladly see him in our work in Canada again.” Gordon’s wife, Grace, said, “You are going home to see the people of Ontario.” Gordon: “I saw this, and decided to come home.”

(6) Ontario again.

The McPhees returned to Ontario in 1928, settling at first in Hamilton, at 102 Wentworth St. N. He conducted a gospel meeting at Beamsville, for two weeks, concluding, Aug. 26 (where he baptized ten, including my uncles, Billy and Gerald Ellis). He then held a meeting at Jordan, baptizing 20. At the end of 1928, he became the full-time evangelist where he served the Beamsville “Brick House” congregation until 1930, but declared, “No progress.” (His income had dropped from $45/$55 week, to $25.)

The McPhees received their third child, Rosalie, in Beamsville, October 28, 1929.”

Rosalie and parents