Feature

Rise to the Occasion

C&MA worker Margaret Connor was a church planter in the pioneer spirit

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Woman of excellent spirit and able. Self-confident, yet simple and teachable. Has learned through suffering. Cheerful. Will make good missionary.”

The appraisal of Margaret Connor by instructors at Moody Bible Institute is short, almost terse. Yet in less than two dozen words, it manages to summarize one of the Canadian Christian and Missionary Alliance’s outstanding pioneers in church planting.

Almost everyone who talked or wrote about Connor spoke of how frail she was in body. But they equally spoke of how strong she was in faith and spirit. Could God—would God—use such a person in the extension of His Kingdom? He could and He did!

Frail but Called

Connor was born in Donegal, Ireland, in 1876. After her father’s death, the family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, where they attended Christian Workers Bathurst Street Tabernacle, pastored by A. W. Roffe.

Connor became a Christian at age 22, and at 35, she sensed God’s leading to missions and enrolled at the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.). However, because of her age and frailty, she didn’t meet the requirements to become an Alliance missionary.

She returned to Toronto to work as a practical nurse but still felt God calling her to missionary service. In 1916 she enrolled in Moody Bible Institute. Moody’s records show that her assessments in scholastic, practical Christian work and personal characteristics were consistently high. But despite the positive appraisal, the college considered Connor’s poor health a drawback to employment in Christian work.

A True Pioneer

In 1907 people from eastern Canada and the United States began moving to western Canada. New homes began to spring up across the stark prairie. In the spring of 1912, Harry Bower, a young man from Toronto Bible College, went to midwestern Saskatchewan to preach the gospel. He held the first service in a sod house. The congregation met in this little home until the fall when they relocated to the newly built Englewood School.

For a few years both Mr. and Mrs. Bower conducted services at several locations, but he realized the great needs and challenges of people in the prairie. He wrote a strong appeal for “workers who would be willing to give their lives to the preaching of the gospel in the West.”

After reading Bower’s letter, Connor offered herself to God and found herself at Englewood School in 1918, speaking from Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (KJV).

Connor was a “go-getter,” and she began services in many rural schoolhouses in surrounding districts. During the week she visited people in their homes, helping them with sewing and gardening, caring for them when they were sick and praying for and offering encouragement to all.

When the 1918 influenza epidemic swept through the region, Connor rose to the occasion and nursed unceasingly, relieving suffering and encouraging the worried. Through her service, many were won to the Lord. Connor became solely responsible for the work when Mr. and Mrs. Bower left the prairies in the fall of 1918.

Prairie Tabernacle

In September 1923 Connor met with A. W. Roffe, her former pastor and at this time the superintendent of the C&MA in Canada. She offered to unite under The Alliance the Saskatchewan churches she and Bower had planted. Roffe accepted her offer, and thus Connor became an Alliance worker.

A year later John Woodward, pastor of Beulah Alliance Tabernacle in Edmonton, Alberta, and head of the new Great West Bible Institute, offered Connor the position of superintendent of women. She accepted and taught part time. Connor also became the pastoral assistant at Beulah Tabernacle, where she often spoke on Sundays.

In the spring of 1926 she took a leave of absence to return to the East, but by the fall, she was back on the Saskatchewan prairies. Near the end of 1927, a revival broke out. The little schoolhouses held at-capacity crowds, and often people had to stand outside under the open windows to hear her speak from the Word. Soon people discussed the need for a suitable building where they could meet as one congregation.

The congregation made two important decisions. The church would be part of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, and it would be named the Prairie Gospel Tabernacle: “Prairie” because of its location, “Gospel” because of its purpose and “Tabernacle” as a reminder that although this life is temporary, the Christian has the promise of eternal life in Christ.

During the church’s construction people sacrificially gave their time and money. The beautiful but simple building stood on a hill with a panoramic view for many miles in all directions. The tall, lonesome tabernacle served as a visible marker in the Hearts Hill District from 1928 to 1978.

One of the many successful ministries of the church was Denzil Bible Camp. Children from the area gathered on a farmer’s pasture and camped in granaries. Vacation Bible school was held in the mornings, and in the evenings, adults from many miles away gathered for “camp meetings.” On some Sundays 700 to 800 attended. Countless people were saved, and many served in foreign or home missions. Ida McClean, an early camper, said, “We looked forward to it. Camp was our holiday; we made many good friends and had the time of our lives!”

Heading Home

In the fall of 1929 Connor returned East because of poor health. She again served as a pastor’s assistant at Beulah Tabernacle from 1933 until she retired in 1944. She then served as deaconess. A tribute to Connor written by J. D. Carlson, a later pastor of Beulah, states in part: “As we think of her work, the souls that have been saved, the people that God has allowed her to lead into a closer walk with Him, we say ‘Praise God for allowing her to come into our midst.’”

Connor’s final ministry was counselling, praying and encouraging her very wide constituency. At 72 Connor and a friend, Miss Jesse Horne from Edmonton, engaged in an itinerant visitation and prayer ministry to workers and residents scattered throughout the prairies. In the 1950s, Connor purchased a retirement home in Surrey, British Columbia. She died on May 8, 1962, at age 86. Only eternity will reveal the results of her life and work.

Cover artwork for June 2006 June 2006

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