Sports cartoonist gets religion, buys a church, packs in 5,000 happy people and jams an ice palace with Youth for Christ
BY 6.30 on a Sunday evening it is usually impossible to get a seat in Avenue Road Church of the Nazarene in Toronto, Rev. Charles Bradley Templeton, minister.
By seven, when the service begins, worshippers are sitting on the steps in the gallery, and two or three hundred, sometimes more, are gathered in the church basement to hear the service over loudspeakers. At nine a second service, a song fest, is held and this, together with the morning service and the Bible class which precedes it, brings the attendance close to 5,000 at Mr. Templeton’s church each Sabbath.
The man so many want to hear is a tall dark and handsome evangelist, 31-years old, who 10 years ago was a sports cartoonist. This young man, who has been called the bobby soxers’ Billy Sunday, go! religion late one night 10 years ago as he knelt by his bed to pray. He left his job as an artist and for more than two years travelled ceaselessly through the United States, driven by a burning evangelical urgency, bearing his gospel message to thousands. Even though he now has his own church, where he has been a Sunday sensation in a restrained religious way, he still travels, still eager to urge new thousands to find peace and meaning in God as he has done.
On Sunday afternoons he conducts a radio gospel service for halt an hour. About 50,000 listen to this each week.
And on Saturday evenings, from the beginning of September through .June, Mr. Templeton presides over a Youth for Christ rally at Massey Hall in Toronto. Crowds line up half an hour before the doors open at seven, and the hall is usually packed to its capacity of 2,782. Youth for Christ rallies in Maple Leaf Gardens have drawn 17,000.
Young people, with whom he is a great favorite
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Chuck, the name with which he signed his drawings in the old Toronto Globe.
In those days Mr. Templeton was a shy young man, friendly when you got to know him, so interested in his drawing that he hesitated to play rugby (he was a promising halfback with Balmy Beach) for fear he would permanently damage his hands. Today he is a smooth confident preacher with a fissionable personality and sincerity that break down, without loss of power and warmth, into a religious message, as personal as a handclasp, for each person who hears him.
Mr. Templeton was born in Toronto’s west end, in the Parkdale district. He attended Parkdale Collegiate, and later took two months’ commercial art— the only formal instruction he ever received— at Western Tech. He had talent and ambition. He took both of them to Mike Rodden, sports editor of the Globe, in August, 1934, and told him about an idea he had for a daily sports drawing.
It was the eve of the world’s championship professional sculling race at the Canadian National Exhibition, and Mike wanted a picture of Bobby Pearce winning the race.
“What if he doesn’t win?” asked the young artist, who could see his career being blighted if Pearce failed to win.
“He’ll win,” said Mike.
The next day Pearce got first prize, and Mr. Templeton got a job at $15 a week. By syndicating his drawings to 18 newspapers across Canada he soon built his income up to $85 a week. He was 18.
Cartoonist Sees the Light
IN SPITE of the fact that he was making approximately four times as much as most of his colleagues on the impoverished and tottering Globe, and in spite of the fact that he was doing what he had always wanted to do, life was not good. There was an emptiness in him that was not satisfied by a dashing drawing of Charlie Conacher in full flight, or by sitting around with the boys in the smoky back room of the Globe sports department.
He talked to his mother about his unrest. She had long been going to the Parkdale Church of the Nazarene and urged him to join the church. He had gone to Sunday school as a child and had occasionally gone to church with his mother and sister. But he felt no strong pull to the church. He continued to look elsewhere for the answer.
One Saturday night in the fall of 1936 he suddenly left a party and his newspaper friends and came home. He was depressed, restless, and more conscious than ever before of the emptiness in him. He sat in his bedroom on the edge of his bed for a long time. His mother lay asleep in the next room. When she began to snore he tiptoed into her room and gently moved her to stop the snoring.
She awoke and they began to talk. She asked him once more to look to the church for the answer to his problem. They talked until three in the morning and he went back to his room and knelt by his bed and prayed. And there in his room, in the middle of the night, he had a religious experience that was deep and powerful. He recalls clearly the night of his conversion.
He didn’t go to church the next morning with his mother because he had a drawing to do for Mike Rodden. He finished it in the late afternoon and took it down to the Globe.
One of the sports writers who was on the paper at the time remembers that day.
“I’ve got it,” the sports writer recalls the artist saying to him with wonder in his voice.
“That’s too bad,” said the sports writer.
“I’ve got religion and it’s wonderful,” the artist said.
The sports writer didn’t think anything was wonderful because it was Sunday night and he was working. He laughed coarsely.
Mr. Templeton left him and his mocking laughter and went out to find a church where he could dedicate himself to the Lord’s work. There wasn’t time to get to his mother’s church for the evening
service. He went into Continued on page 54
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a downtown church and there gave public testimony of his conversion.
His mother is now president of the women’s missionary society at Chuck’s Avenue Road Church. His sister and brother are also members.
Mr. Templeton stayed with the Clolw for another two years, taking part in evangelical services as an artist, drawing swift charcoal sketches to illustrate the message of the speaker of the evening. But he was anxious to become a preacher himself. He worked ban! at it, observing the technique of the evangelists at the Parkdale church and then practicing before a mirror.
His first, call to preach came in the winter of 1938 from a small town in northern New York State. He reached the border with 70 cents in his pocket and the immigration officer explained the U.S. was full of people with only 70 cents in their pockets and wouldn’t i let him through. Mr. Templeton I pleaded with him and into his plea he put much of the material from his carefully rehearsed sermon. The officer was sufficiently moved to let him through.
“All the way from Buffalo my excitement mounted,” Mr. Templeton recalls. “This was to be my first church. 1 had visions of a fine building - perhaps even a Gothic cathedral. I ur-
rived at my destination shortly after the worst blizzard in 22 years. The minister met me with his car and as we labored through the snow I asked him, as we approached fine-looking churches, if we were there yet. When he stopped the car we were beside a church that looked more like a clapboard shack as it leaned into the wind. This was my first church.”
The next morning the two of them crawled out a window of the manse, because the storm had barricaded the door, and shovelled a path into the church. The only advertising was done when the minister took down the receiver of his telephone and announced over the rural party line there would be a meeting that night.
Seven came. But as the storm abated the congregation grew and by the end of the week the young minister was preaching to a crowded church.
That was the beginning of a two-anda-half-year swing along the sawdust trail blazed through the U.S. by Billy Sunday and other great evangelists. In churches, halls, tents and in the open air Mr. Templeton spoke to revival meetings, bringing them the message that came to him one night in Toronto.
In those two years he spoke in 44 states. In only one city was the auditorium large enough to hold the crowds that came to hear him.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., where he was filling a two-week engagement in 1939, Mr. Templeton was on the same
platform as a pretty singer, Constance Oroczy, who had turned down a chance for a movie career to become an evangelist. She was born in Pasadena of Mexican parents. On the last night of the revival he proposed to her and two months later they were married.
They lived a nomadic life travelling by car from one series of meetings to another. Mr. Templeton learned to fly, taking lessons when they were near a flying field, with the idea of buying his own aircraft and becoming a flying evangelist. The war made it impossible to get civilian aircraft and the plan never materialized.
In 1941 they came to Toronto and started their present church.
Mr. Templeton and his wife saw a sign reading “For Sale or Rent” on the fine grey stone church at Avenue Road and Roxborough. For many years it had been St. Paul’s Avenue Road Presbyterian Church but the congregation had been split by church union and the church was heavily in debt.
“I parked my car and we went in,” Mr. Templeton recalls. “It was Sunday morning and there were seven people in the church conducting a service. Most of the pews had been roped off to encourage the few who came to sit near the front. The church w'as in disrepair. It seemed incongruous and sad to see a ‘For Sale’ sign on a church. We went back to the car and talked about it.”
As a result of their talk Mr. Templeton and his wife paid six months’ rent in advance out of their savings to a rental agent representing a trust company and he had his first church. The Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical fundamentalist church, with 200 congregations and 200,000 members in Canada, U.S. and Great Britain, gave permission from its Kansas City headquarters to start a congregation. After four months the mortgage company received an offer for the church and the fledgling group had to make a decision. They exercised their option to buy, scraped together $4,000 for a cash payment and took on a mortgage for $25,000.
Hanging Out the SRO Sign
The first service on Oct. 5, 1941, attracted 126 worshippers, but the church grew with Mr. Templeton’s
reputation as an evangelist. In 1944 the congregation decided to build a gallery to take care of the large crowds which were making two evening services necessary. For seven Sundays services were held in a nearby Masonic Temple. On Saturday night, March 19, 1944, the members of the church conducted a cleaning bee to tidy the church for a big reopening to which the mayor was coming as a guest speaker. After they left that night fire broke out and destroyed the church.
The congregation went back to the Masonic Temple for almost a year, and when the church was finally reopened they had paid the $102,000 the newbuilding had cost. Today they are still carrying the original $25,000 mortgage.
Mr. Templeton’s ministry is based on the belief that the religion of Jesus Christ is a joyful natural thing. His church services are filled with music from a streamlined hymnal that includes such old favorites as “Lead Kindly Light” and newer bounder gospel tunes that keep the church pulsant with praise of the Lord.
The church itself is finished in ivory with dark brown trim on the pews. Behind the pulpit in a softly lighted recess in the wall is a sheaf of flowers. In addition to the organ there is a piano below and to the right o/ the pulpit.
The service begins when Mr. Templeton walks briskly to the platform, flanked by soloists, a visiting cornet duo and an octette consisting, surprisingly, of not eight but nine young women. He kneels in prayer briefly at his chair and then the service opens with the singing of the National Anthem.
Tonight Mr. Templeton wears a dark single-breasted business suit, white shirt, a dark (not black) tie and pink carnation in his lapel. The male ushers wear carnations, too.
At the conclusion of the anthem Mr. Templeton looks searchingly around the church as if to make sure everyone is there. Ilis smile is friendly. It says: “Aren’t you glad you came to
church tonight? Aren’t you glad you are here in the Lord’s house praising Him?”
Later Mr. Templeton repeats these questions more explicitly in words. He asks the members of the congregation to turn and smile at the person next to
them. There is a shuffling of feet and even a self-conscious titter or two but the emotional temperature of the service seems to rise after this friendly exercise is completed.
Preacher Leads the Choir
Regular attendants smile with what seems to be indulgent affection for their young minister and the familiar pleasure of being back in their church. All over the church people are smiling. The mildest witticism from the pulpit sends the congregation into spasms of laughter as though it had been waiting for an opportunity to express its good humor.
The service floats on a stream of happy gospel music provided by the white-robed mixed choir, the nine-girl octette, thecornetistsand the congregation itself. Mr. ’Templeton leads the choir himself from the pulpit. He has had no formal musical training but the church lacks a choir leader at the moment.
The octette groups itself around the pulpit in a semicircle for its songs, and the congregational singing is led by a vigorous young man, GusAmbrose,who bears a resemblance to Mickey Rooney.
The sermon is as simple as a story told to a child. Mr. Templeton tells stories well. Tonight it Is one of his own experiences as a student pilot on his first solo. He got a little rattled and would have crashed if he hadn’t talked to himself. He told his listeners it wasn’t necessarily a sign of mental weakness to talk to oneself because words are powerful weapons in crises.
He urged the congregation to talk to God when things went badly. His final theme was that prayers are answered. God does accomplish modern miracles in the lives and souls of men.
“Only minister who could keep me awake,’’ said one man after the service.
Tonight most of the congregation seems to be made up of middle-aged to elderly people. Mr. Templeton says 75% of the people who come to his church regularly are under 35.
The morning service has less singing, more devotional exercises. At the midweek prayer meeting worshippers are asked to give public testimony that they will devote their lives to the Lord.
Mr. Templeton’s Sunday began today with a visit to the Church Bible class at 9.50. This was followed by the morning service, and then he and his wife went to a Toronto radio station where they conduct a half-hour program as directors of the Radio Gospel League at 1.30 each Sunday. Today they did not leave the radio station until 4.30. There were rehearsals and arrangements for the coming services. Then he had a sandwich and some coffee, his first food since breakfast, before going back to church for the two evening services.
Following the last service he took the train for Chicago, arrived in Minneapolis Monday, and on Tuesday spoke 16 times to a convention of 1,000 Minnesota fundamentalist ministers. He flew to New York to address a Youth for Christ rally Wednesday and returned to Minneapolis to spend Thursday with his fellow fundamentalists. On Friday he boarded a plane for California and Saturday evening spoke to 12,000 at another Youth for Christ rally in Los Angeles Civic Auditorium.
When he is in Toronto, which is most of the time now that he has curtailed his out-of-town speaking engagements to conserve his energy, he works 12 hours a day—10 in the morning until 10 at night—seven days a week. He had his last real holiday five years ago when the church burned down.
In his office at the church Mr. 'Templeton has a deep easy chair but
he spends little time in it. On weekdays he often wears a light grey chalk stripe suit and a bright tie with a yellow pattern. Much of his work is done in his shirt sleeves as he whips back and forth between the Youth for Christ office, which is in the church, and the church office. He has two secretaries in each office handling the many details of his varied evangelical projects.
Listeners to the gospel league program who write in get a “personally inscribed” certificate, suitable for framing. They also get a pin to wear. Mr. Templeton hopes to build his present local radio audience up to a million across Canada. The broadcast is heard over stations in Vancouver, Regina, Windsor, Chatham, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax and Charlottetown.
That Happy Rhythm
Mr. Templeton’s voice is highly radioactive. It fits the medium as though it had been poured into the microphone. His presentations'move fast, there is no dead air, and the happy rhythm of the meeting is kept brisk.
Mr. Templeton’s church salary gives him a net, after taxes, of $59 a week. He also receives his house, a small apartment, and a $10-a-week car allowance. His wife runs the apartment without help and fits in her household duties between her church work. They have no children.
He receives no salary from Youth for Christ but the international youth movement pays his expenses on his speaking engagements out of town.
Mr. Templeton has never studied at a theological college. He took a correspondence course offered by the
Church of the Nazarene to its young ministers and in 1944 he was ordained, was authorized to perform marriage ceremonies and other rites.
After the church burned Mr. Templeton went to the U.S. for a month’s rest. In Chicago he was given an invitation to attend a Youth for Christ rally at the Chicago Stadium. He had never seen anything like it before. Here was a religious appeal to youth that was as new as the top tune on the hit parade, as bright and gay as a good show and essentially religious in its flavor and message.
He left the rally and sent a wire to his secretary asking her to book Massey Hall every Saturday evening for the next six months. Then he went backstage and met Torrey M. Johnston, the international president. The next time Mr. Templeton visited Chicago it was to address a Youth for Christ rally of 12,000 in the same stadium.
A recent Toronto rally was typical of Youth for Christ meetings. Mr. Templeton presided in the hall which is the venerable (built 1894) venue of symphonies, prize fights and boogiepiano recitals. The rally opened with the National Anthem and swung into a fast-paced musical program.
A teen-aged boys’ quartet sang of what black sinners they were before they were saved; Ken Welsh, London, Ont., director of the movement, told of the work in that city and the girl octette sang. The audience sang, shook hands with their neighbors, and out-oftown visitors shouted the names of their home towns to Templeton while the audience applauded.
“This Saturday night meeting is not church,” Mr. Templeton explained. “It is meant to inspire interest rather than reverence. If it does nothing else
it. takes the kids off the streets on Saturday nights.”
The Toronto rally Is the biggest, of the thousand held Saturday nights on the continent. Over a million attend these each week. As the result of a tour by Mr. Templeton, Johnston and two other members of the international organization, the movement is reported to be gaining many friends in England and on the Continent, particularly in Holland where it has been necessary for the police to handle the crowds.
Choir, Bands, Spotlights
The annual rally is the high point of the Youth for Christ year. The one held at the Gardens in Toronto last November involved such elements as 2,000-voice choir, a five-piano team, trumpeters, a band, a stage surmounted by seven huge crosses and spotlight beams slashing the whole scene.
This display has been criticized by some of the same people who look with distrust and disapproval on Mr. Templeton’s fondness for yellow bow ties, flashy sports jackets and a happy religion. But he sticks to his thesis that you don’t have to be gloomy to be devout.
The movement’s motto is “Geared to the Times — Anchored to the Rock.”
More serious criticism has been directed at Youth for Christ by politicians and churchmen who see something reactionary and even Fascist in its appeal. Much of this, Mr. Templeton thinks, is due to the eagerness of people like the America Firster, Gerald K. Smith, to get on the gospel band wagon of the movement. He started his own youth group and called it. American Youth for Christ.
A year ago Bishop Oldham, of the Episcopalian Church in New York, made what Mr. Templeton regards as a natural, although unfortunate, mistake and got the two groups confused. Youth for Christ believes they have straightened out the difference between the two groups in the bishop’s mind but the attacks continue from other sources. Left -wing groups have charged that Youth for Christ is anti-Negro and anti-Semitic.
Mr. Templeton denies all these charges and says: “We are doing
exactly what we appear to be doing. We have no political motives. We keep no lists of those who attend our rallies; we don’t even know who belongs to Youth for Christ.”
William Randolph Hearst, the U. S. publisher, has lavished ink on the movement. He has indicated that he would like to take an active part in the organization. The directors feel his attention has done them no good and they have been telling Mr. Hearst, out of the comers of their mouths, to go away and stop following them.
Mr. Templeton’s activities as director of Youth for Christ, he says, are entirely separate from his big job— minister of Avenue Road Church.
Chuck is too busy to visit his old friends, the sports writers, these days, although some of them have come to hear him preach. At least one has become a regular attendant at the Church of the Nazarene.
Another, who sees the minister once in a while, confesses he is always slightly ill at ease when they meet. He’s afraid his old friend Chuck will try to convert him or start praying. He Is always relieved when the conversation follows such familiar channels as sport.
The last time they met. he greeted the minister breezily with: “How’s
the racket, Chuck?” Chuck said it was fine and smiled tolerantly at his friend’s salutation. And there was just a trace of pity in his smile. ★