Friday, September 2, 2011

Canadian Hero ~ A. B. Simpson

Many Canadian young people seem to know more about American history and legends than about some of their own Canadian Heroes. A. B. Simpson is an unsung Canadian Hero who had a remarkable lasting impact on millions of families not only in Canada  but throughout the world.
Simpson was a man of vision. He once said that,
People must always dream dreams before they blaze new trails
and see visions before they are strong to do exploits.”

Albert Benjamin Simpson was born on Prince Edward Island on December 15th 1843 of Scottish Covenanter heritage. The Simpson family had emigrated from MorayShire, Scotland to Bayview, P.E.I. After his father's shipbuilding and  export business collapsed in the 1840's depression, his family moved to a farm
in western Ontario. Rev. John Geddi, on his way to the South Sea Islands as Canada's first missionary, baptized baby Albert and committed him to future missionary service.

Fresh out of seminary in 1865, Simpson had accepted the call to pastor Knox Church in Hamilton, a congregation with the second largest Presbyterian church building in Canada. Over the next eight years,  the congregation increased by over 750 new people.  Dr. William McMullen, another Presbyterian minister, said that “Simpson stood out at that time as one of the most brilliant young ministers of our church in Canada...”.

Out of the blue, Simpson was called to lead a Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The recently ended Civil War left bitterness and division between the various churches. As a neutral Canadian pastor, Simpson was used to bringing racial reconciliation and forgiveness among the churches. Simpson with  the pastors prayed for such a baptism of love as would sweep away differences.
From reconciliation among the clergy, came two months of continuous nightly gatherings across the denominations. As the pastors joined their hands together
in unity, over 10,000 local residents joined them in prayer meetings.

Simpson's success led him to being invited to lead 13th Street Presbyterian Church, a prestigious New York congregation. Simpson loved to reach to those who wouldn't normally feel comfortable in a traditional church setting. When 100 Italian immigrants responded to Simpson's message, he asked his church Board to admit them as new members. His Board “kindly but firmly refused”, for fear of being overwhelmed by immigrants and poor people. Out of rejection came Simpson's vision of a fellowship of Christians where everyone was welcome... regardless of race, income, denomination or social class.

Simpson decided to abandon his security and reputation, in order to start a community where all were welcome in Christianity. He began afresh with just seven other people, in a poorly heated dance hall. But Simpson had recently discovered an inner strength and resilience that kept him from slipping into discouragement. In the past, he had been such a workaholic that he had destroyed his health. Simpson's medical doctor had given him 3 months to live. But upon meeting an Episcopalian (Anglican) physician, Dr. Charles Cullis,
at Old Orchard Camp in Maine, he experienced a remarkable healing
of his heart. The next day, Simpson was able to climb a 3,000 foot mountain and successfully pray for his daughter Margaret's healing from diphtheria ~ the very disease which had earlier killed his son, Melville.

Word spread fast in 1881 of these healings. He was besieged by many with pleas for help. By others, he was vilified and ridiculed as another 'quack-miracle-worker'. Despite such criticism, Simpson received strong support from medical doctors like Dr. Jenny Trout, the first female doctor and surgeon in Canada, Dr. Robert Glover from Toronto and Dr. Lilian Yeomans, a Canadian-born surgeon
in Michigan. He also received much encouragement from well known Canadian Anglican priests like Dr. Henry Wilson and Dr. W. S. Rainford. Simpson started Friday afternoon healing and holiness meetings, which quickly became New York's largest spiritual weekday meeting with 500 to 1,000 attending.

Simpson had a real love for the whole Christian community, regardless of denomination or nationality. He said, “I want to enjoy the broadest fellowship possible myself, and I want my people to receive the benefit of the ministry of all God's gifted servants, regardless of whether they agree with me in everything or not.”

A. B. Simpson had a passion for interdenominational Christian Unity and Missions that is only now beginning to be appreciated by other churches.

Rev. Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon's Anglican Church in North Vancouver, British Columbia who wrote the foregoing (from which I have taken excerpts) stated,

I thank God for Canadian heroes like Albert Benjamin Simpson,
who have helped tear down the walls of misunderstanding,
bitterness and mistrust...among and within the churches.”

Every country in this world has “unsung heroes”; this man fron the 1800's has certainly enlightened my thinking. He was aware of indifferences among church-going people; rectifying the situation, he made it a “Better Place for All”!

Merle Baird-Kerr
written August 25. 2011

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