Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry- "The most noted Advent Christian Woman Preacher" (1/2)

Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry- "The most noted Advent Christian Woman Preacher" (1/2)

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Introduction

In my final semester at Gordon-Conwell, I had the opportunity to continue my research in the Adventual Library, particularly in the area of the history of women in the Advent Christian denomination. In my previous studies on Abigail Mussey (see part one and part two), prior to deciding on what to write about and who to write about, I came across the name of another woman in Advent Christian history, and I was immediately intrigued. Her name is Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry, and she was referred to as the “most noted Advent Christian woman preacher.” Building off of what I now knew of the roles of women in the early years of the Millerite movement, in my final semester I dove into the life of Mrs. Miriam McKinstry, whose voice was incredibly difficult to recover from the historical record. After many months of sifting through newspaper records, mentions in advertisements, and other documentation, I was able to piece together a brief narrative of this phenomenal woman. In addition to sketching her life’s story, I analyzed three aspects of her long and prominent career as a well-known traveling female lecturer: her illustrated charts, her ability to contextualize her lectures, and her own personal character and individuality. These various pieces of the puzzle placed together allow contemporary Advent Christians a glimpse into the life, skills, and talents of a woman who rose to notoriety amongst Advent Christian ranks. The popularity of Mrs. McKinstry was founded in her own life experience, her passion for education and teaching, the unique and interesting content of her lectures, her ability to incorporate relevant and contemporary topics into her lecture series, and her character and individuality as a woman. All of these factors lead one to discover that Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry, though her life and her story may have all but disappeared from the historical narrative, and I am convinced that her legacy remains in the Advent Christian denomination today. 

Biographical Information

Miriam Alexander was born on May 5, 1845, to Arby and Matilda Alexander in Granby, Quebec. Not much is known of her younger years, but it is said that she was a teacher in her “early girlhood.”[1] On June 17, 1865, Miriam, a “beautiful young Canadian girl,” married Rev. Levi C. McKinstry, who was eleven years her senior.[2] Mr. McKinstry was ordained in the Advent Christian denomination at the time, and it can be speculated that Mrs. McKinstry therefore married into the denomination. It seems that though she was not raised up in the denomination from childhood, Mrs. McKinstry wholeheartedly accepted the distinctive doctrinal beliefs of the Advent Christian denomination. This is significant considering the impact her work in the study of scripture had upon the denomination. It is recorded that she and Mr. McKinstry were partners in gospel work, traveling all over the United States and Canada together.[3] As early as the year 1874, Mr. and Mrs. McKinstry were known to travel together to preach in various locations.[4]A few years later in another notice of their preaching, Mr. McKinstry was quoted as saying, “Mrs. McKinstry will be with me to assist in the work.”[5]

Early Advent Christian historian Albert C. Johnson records the genesis of Mrs. McKinstry’s lectures. While the McKinstry’s were in a joint pastorate at the Advent Christian Church in Beebe Plain, Quebec, Mrs. McKinstry “deeply felt the need of some new form of teaching to arouse larger public interest, and to this end she outlined a course of lectures on prophecy and history.”[6]Johnson states that these lectures were so appreciated to the point that Mrs. McKinstry was invited to give them in various other places, which went on for two years. After two years of presenting her lectures, and much more study on her topics, Mrs. McKinstry wrote out the lectures in book form, and L. C. McKinstry published them for the first time in the year 1883 under the title, The World’s Great Empires.[7] This leads one to discern that Mrs. McKinstry began giving her series of lectures approximately in the year 1881. Johnson says that the book was later taken over by the Advent Christian Publication Society, and by the year of his own writing in 1918, Mrs. McKinstry’s book of lectures was stated to be on its fifteenth published edition.[8] This leads one to speculate that Mrs. Miriam McKinstry was constantly at work refining and perfecting her lectures, and that they were constantly evolving. At some point, Mrs. McKinstry developed large, 90 feet long illustrated charts to go along with her lecture series, to use as visual aids and support.[9] Johnson finally gives readers insight into what it must have been like to sit in on Mrs. McKinstry’s lectures: “The regular lectures are often followed with special sermons and evangelistic services, as they promote strong conviction of truth and show the need and the glory of Christ and His coming kingdom.”[10]

According to ordination records, Mrs. Miriam McKinstry was ordained in the Advent Christian denomination on the 11th of January in 1891 in North Troy, Vermont.[11] It was suggested by some that Mrs. McKinstry had “the honor of being the first woman preacher to be ordained to [the Advent Christian] ministry, in the East.”[12] However, this is proven false by the ordination records of the denomination. It is believed that the first woman on record to be ordained in the Advent Christian denomination was Anna E. Boyd Smith, on the 26th of April in 1866; the conference under which she was ordained is uncertain. The second woman to be ordained was Martha J. Janes, in June of 1868, to the Iowa Advent Christian conference. Ellen E. Mayhew Towslee was the third, and she was ordained in Springfield, Massachusetts, also in June of 1868. Mary Eakin Grove was ordained in Pennsylvania sometime in the year 1887, and Mary L. Tower is recorded as having been ordained in 1891; the exact dates of the ordination of these two women is unknown. Miriam McKinstry is recorded as having been ordained on the 11th of January 1891. She was the sixth woman to be ordained into the ministry under the Advent Christian denomination, and it appears that she was not the first woman to be ordained to the ministry in the East.[13] Nonetheless, for Mrs. McKinstry to achieve ordination and earn the title of “Reverend” is no small feat, certainly for women preachers in this time period. It should be said, of course, that the Advent Christian denomination was friendlier toward women preachers, given their direct connect to the Millerites. 

 L. C. McKinstry, the husband of Miriam McKinstry, died on September 2, 1897. His obituary indicates that his death was sudden, and was due to the illness of cholera morbus. His remains were taken to Groveland, MA, where he would be buried at the age of sixty-two. He was involved in ministry for forty years, over half of which he spent in partnership with his wife, Miriam McKinstry. Levi McKinstry left behind his widow, Mrs. McKinstry, and there are no records to indicate that he left behind any children with Mrs. McKinstry. His sudden death “was a terribly crushing blow to his dear companion, but she bears it with much Christian grace and resignation.” [14] The death of her husband served as the catalyst for the full-time lecturing ministry of Mrs. McKinstry. 

Just prior to Levi McKinstry’s untimely death, both husband and wife were co-pastors of the Advent Christian Church in Richford, Vermont. Both of their names are listed in the Advent Christian newspaper, World’s Crisis, as pastors of the Richford Advent Christian Church.[15] After Levi’s death in 1897, Mrs. McKinstry became the sole pastor of the Advent Christian Church in Richford in 1898. One year later, Mrs. McKinstry oversaw the construction of the L. C. McKinstry Memorial church, and it was built under her direction. The funds for the church were raised largely by the efforts of Mrs. McKinstry, and she would remain there as lead pastor for several more years.[16] However, while Rev. Mrs. McKinstry was the full-time pastor of the church in Richford, Vermont; her passion and love of traveling to give her series of illustrated lectures on “The World’s Great Empires” never waned. 

Albert Johnson, writing again in his Advent Christian History, indicates how earnestly McKinstry sought to present her lectures all over the country, and how high her goals were for this series of lectures she had spent several years creating. He writes that in 1898, one year after her husband’s sudden death, Mrs. McKinstry had plans “to rent a large hall in a city, advertise thoroughly, give her chart lectures, and follow up with doctrinal and evangelistic discourses and to continue the campaign until a permanent, self-supporting interest was established.”[17] However, in 1898, “neither the needful funds nor such success as to warrant its continuance were given to the undertaking. The plan, the worker, and the motive were worthy of a different outcome.”[18] As it would come to pass, Mrs. McKinstry would indeed enter the lecture field full-time several years later. In October of 1905, Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry closed her pastorate at the Richford Advent Christian Church in order to enter the lecture field full-time, and the pastor who replaced her in the pulpit was the Rev. O. W. Heyer, formerly of New Hampshire.[19]

From that point, it seems that Mrs. McKinstry regularly traveled and presented her illustrated lectures all over the country, while continuing to make her home in Richford.[20] Mrs. McKinstry traveled throughout the northeast United States lecturing quite often in the early 1900s. But, in the midst of her growing popularity as a lecturer, Mrs. McKinstry was called back to the Advent Christian Church in Richford. According to the newspaper announcement, Rev. O. W. Heyer resigned as pastor from the church in 1909, a mere four years after Mrs. McKinstry entered the lecture field as a full-time lecturer; it is certain that she returned for the summer months of the year 1909, but it is unclear how long she remained at the church.[21]

Mrs. McKinstry continued lecturing throughout the early 1900s, as evidenced by promotional pamphlets which were created and published by Mrs. McKinstry herself. She would lecture on Sunday morning and evening, every evening of the week except Saturday, and again on the next Sunday morning and evening. It is recorded that she delivered her lectures “in twenty-seven states and five Canadian provinces, in over two hundred cities and towns from Canada to the Southland and from Maine to California.”[22]These lectures were given not only in Advent Christian churches, but also in churches of other denominations. In her lectures, Mrs. McKinstry would trace the history of the nations from the days of King Nebuchadnezzar down to her contemporary times, showing how history moved and flowed throughout the scriptures and followed the course marked out in prophecies.[23]As she grew older in years, Mrs. McKinstry’s fervor and passion for lecturing, teaching, and education was never diminished. 

In 1930, just before she died, Mrs. McKinstry wrote an open letter “To the Churches of the Advent Christian Denomination.”[24] In the letter, she expressed her immense desire to continue giving her illustrated lectures, even in her old age. From the letter, readers are able to ascertain critical information about how Mrs. McKinstry was able to travel and deliver these lectures. According to Mrs. McKinstry, she had “never written to a church asking the privilege of coming to them with my lecture course; only when the desire has been expressed that I might sometime do thus, have I written proposing to effect such an arrangement.” At the time of her writing, she had no appointment scheduled to present her lectures, and she wrote the letter to be sent to the World’s Crisisin order to garner interest in her lectures yet again. She felt that “the themes which constitute my lectures are of greater significance than ever before, as we are near the final consummation of this world’s history.”[25] Interestingly, Mrs. McKinstry gives readers information on the financial side of her traveling lectureship. She writes, “If I had the means, I would not wait for an invitation from any church, but would secure halls suitable and give them in a way to reach the people regardless of expense.”[26] She then urges the churches in the denomination to invite her along to give her series of lectures regardless of financial situation, as she agrees to deliver her lectures at no cost: “If the lectures are desired you can have them, without financial embarrassment” due to lack of funds to hire her as a guest lecturer.[27] This “open letter” written by Mrs. McKinstry just before her death displays “her courage and consecration to the cause.”[28]

Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry died on February 22, 1930, at the age of eighty-five in Roxbury, Massachusetts, while visiting with a friend identified as Sister Chadsey. Her obituary states the cause of her death to be “a sudden shock” which led her to “lose consciousness while sitting quietly in her chair.”[29] According to the announcement of her death in the newspaper, her passion and zeal for teaching and lecturing was strong even until her death: “Right up to the very last she continues her public work.”[30] Just before her death she finished a week of presenting her course of lectures in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and was scheduled to preach a message the next Sunday morning at another church.[31] Linden James Carter writes that “in the death of Mrs. McKinstry our denomination has met with a great loss.”[32] Mrs. Miriam McKinstry was buried in Groveland, Massachusetts at the side of her late husband, Mr. Levi C. McKinstry. 

Following the death of Mrs. McKinstry, many churches and individuals wrote to the Advent Christian newspaper, World’s Crisis, expressing their deep sense of loss at her death. One church in Seattle wrote to the Crisis, saying: 

The death of Mrs. M. McKinstry came to us as a great shock. Somehow, we had come to feel that she would always be with us. Words cannot, at this time, express our feeling. As a Christian adviser, a patient and kind friend, we learned to love her dearly, and her demise will leave another vacant place in our heart. Mrs. McKinstry, s[everal] times, gave her course of prophetical lectures in the Seattle church and she was beloved of our people. ‘Death, indeed, loved a shining mark,’ when he laid his withering hand on Mrs. McKinstry. May her memory ever live in our hearts and lives.[33]

The loss of Mrs. McKinstry was great, felt by many who knew and loved her as a friend, and respected and admired her as both a pastor and a noted lecturer. The legacy Mrs. McKinstry left behind may find its substance primarily in her career as a traveling lecturer. 

The Lecturing Career of Rev. Mrs. Miriam McKinstry (2/2)

[1] C. O. Farnham,“Obituary,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 19, 1930. 
[2] World’s Crisis Offices,“Fallen Very Suddenly,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Sept. 15, 1897.
[3] Ibid. 
[4] “Notice,” Lake Village Times(Laconia, NH), Aug. 22, 1874. 
[5] L. C. McKinstry, “Notice,” World’s Crisis(Boston, MA), Feb. 7, 1877. 
[6] Albert C. Johnson, Advent Christian History (Live Oak, FL: Southern Advent Christian Publication Society, 1918), 353. 
[7]Ibid.
[8]Ibid. 
[9]Three of these charts have been preserved by the Jenks Memorial Collection of Adventual Materials; they are charts 31, 32, and 33 on this webpage: https://aurora.edu/academics/library/jenks-collection/photo-gallery.html#.WqMfEa3MzVo.[10]Ibid. 
[11]Ordination records provided by Duane Crabtree, “Ordinations” (Berkshire Christian College Adventual Library, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of Feb. 2018). Ordination records provided cover all known ordinations from the time of Joshua V. Himes, protégé and companion of William Miller himself, up to the year 1892. 
[12]C. O. Farnham,“Obituary,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 19, 1930.
[13]Duane Crabtree, “Ordinations” (Berkshire Christian College Adventual Library, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of Feb. 2018).
[14]World’s Crisis Offices,“Fallen Very Suddenly,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Sept. 15, 1897.[15]World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Sept. 9, 1897. 
[16]“Closes Richford Pastorate – The Rev. Mrs. M. McKinstry to Enter the Lecture Field,” St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, VT), Oct. 05, 1905. 
[17]Johnson, Advent Christian History, 461.
[18]Ibid. 
[19]“Closes Richford Pastorate – The Rev. Mrs. M. McKinstry to Enter the Lecture Field,” St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, VT), Oct. 05, 1905.
[20]Ibid. 
[21]“Richford– Advent Christian Church Extends Call to Rev. Mrs. M. McKinstry,” St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, VT), Apr. 19, 1909.
[22]Linden James Carter,“Miriam McKinstry,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 5, 1930.
[23]Ibid. 
[24]"An Open Letter." Miriam McKinstry to the Churches of the Advent Christian Denomination. February 1930. Lisbon, NH. This letter was published on the day she died in the World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Feb. 26, 1930. 
[25]Ibid. 
[26]Ibid. 
[27]Ibid. 
[28]C. O. Farnham,“Obituary,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 19, 1930.
[29]Ibid. 
[30]Ibid. 
[31]Linden James Carter,“Miriam McKinstry,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 5, 1930.
[32]Ibid. 
[33]World’s Crisis Offices, “News Nuggets from the Churches and Workers,” World’s Crisis (Boston, MA), Mar. 19, 1930. Brackets mine; this word in the printed newspaper was faded, with only the first letter remaining clear. 

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