New book tackles church history

Lillian
Lillian Simmons
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Burton K. Janes traces roots of the Pentecostal Assembly in N.L.

Burton K. Janes began work on his first book, "A Russian Adventure," after winning a trip to the Soviet Union back in 1978.

Then 21, he had heard about the contest via shortwave radio, one of his hobbies during his high school and university days.

"I entered the contest, sponsored by Radio Moscow, by writing an essay on a topic they assigned," he recalls.

The topic was: What do you know about the 1917 Socialist Revolution and what has it given the Soviet Union?

"Lo and betide, I won the prize - an all-expenses-paid trip to the Soviet Union!"

When Janes arrived in Moscow, he was appalled to discover that the people who had awarded the prize seemed to have never heard of him. Despite the confusion and further complications, he did get to tour the Soviet Union.

But he continued to run into difficulties, even when his prize-winning trip was supposed to be over.

"When I realized my time there was coming to an end, I began asking my hosts to get me on a plane back to Canada. They kept refusing ... day after day. When I tried to get out of Russia, I couldn't, as my visa had expired."

The brave and determined young man decided to take matters into his own hands and instituted a hunger strike.

"I told them, in my lingo, there would be egg on their faces, creating an international incident, if I died on my hunger strike while in their country. Long story short: eventually, they arranged for my trip back home."

It wasn't the end of his problems, though. When he was going through customs, it was pointed out that while his visa extension may have been granted, it wasn't printed on his documents.

"The gentleman on duty looked rather strangely at me, showed me my visa, and spoke rapidly in Russian. Oh no, I thought, he thinks I'm here illegally! I tried my utmost to explain that I was clear, and that the extension had previously been arranged. Miraculously - and this is the only word I can use - I was allowed through, and proceeded directly to my flight back to my country."

Janes lost 20 pounds in the little more than two weeks he spent in the Soviet Union.

But, in addition to garnering material for his first book, Janes, the son of a Pentecostal preacher, was able to answer his own questions concerning "religious freedom in Russia and the efficacy of the communist system."

The book, published in New York in 1981, presents a portrait of Moscow, Leningrad and Tallinn.

"Interesting times ..." he says in retrospect.

Faith and grace

Indeed, his "interesting times" in the late 1970s may well have been what led him to continue to write historical books, including his most recent, "A Journey of Faith and Grace: The History of Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle." That book, commissioned by the church in St. John's, was released last month to mark its 100th anniversary.

Generally, Janes says, all of the current churches that make up the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL) evolved from Bethesda Mission, founded by an American woman, Alice B. Garrigus (1858-1949), in 1911. Garrigus arrived in Newfoundland late in 1910, at the age of 52, "to preach the Gospel."

However, Janes says Elim was a different case, and his book tackles the controversial split that led to the creation of two Pentecostal churches in the capital city.

"(Elim) grew from a large part of the original congregation, Bethesda Mission, located on New Gower Street," he notes.

After deciding the original church on New Gower Street was too cramped, Bethesda obtained land on Casey Street and erected a new building, which opened Jan. 15, 1937.

But a few months later, a minority of the members withdrew and returned to the dilapidated building on New Gower Street, Janes writes.

"Henceforth, both congregations would track a separate course, following their own unique trajectory. Until both churches got established, there were strong feelings on both sides ... the issue got hot 'n' heavy for a while, involving resignations, lawyers and the threat of lawsuits."

The rift gradually mended and today the two churches remain: Bethesda, now at Escasoni Place, and Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle on Kenmount Road.

Chronicles of Elim

Janes chronicles the church's 100 years of history from its beginnings in the province and includes biographies, meetings and interesting anecdotes and photos.

He dedicates the book to the late Rex Collins, whom he describes as "Elim's foremost amateur historian." Collins was married to premier Joseph Smallwood's sister, Dorothy.

As premier, Janes says, Smallwood was a close friend of Elim, and of Pastor Graham Noble in particular.

"Joey's mother (Minnie) was a member of the original Bethesda Mission on New Gower Street. Joey, as a boy, worked as a waterboy with Garrigus when she was expanding her mission."

The church had a number of pastors who came from outside Newfoundland.

"This may not seem unusual, but it is, in the context of PAONL history," says Janes.

Harold Snelgrove, a Newfoundlander pastoring in the United States, was named Bethesda's pastor in 1934, when Garrigus was 76 years old and finding church activities and travelling difficult.

Then came Thomas Latto, who was Scottish, and Maybin Esler Sr., an Irishman.

"Imagine that ... an Irish Pentecostal! Interestingly, some years after leaving Elim, Esler joined the United Church of Canada, another rather unique bit of history," the author says.

Thomas Strong was also Irish, and William Oliver was born in the U.S.

In 1962, Graham Noble of Springdale became pastor, and all those who followed - Edwin King, Robert Mills, Gordon Young, Ronald Osmond, Paul Grimes, and the current pastor, Russell Bartlett - were Newfoundlanders.

Radio broadcast

Elim has been broadcasting "The Old, Old Story" weekly on VOCM Radio since Feb. 10, 1952, making it one of the longest-running, continuous radio programs in the province, Janes says. It airs Sundays at 10:05 a.m.

The only longer-running radio show is CBC Radio's "The Fisheries Broadcast," which preceded Elim's broadcast by less than a year.

Church roots

Janes was born in St. John's in 1957.

"As a PK (preacher's kid), I grew up in Clarke's Beach, Carmanville, Twillingate, Hampden, Port aux Basques and Shearstown."

A Pentecostal pastor himself for 15 years, he has lived in various other towns on the island and in Labrador. He was editor and archivist with the PAONL for 15 years.

Janes currently lives in Bay Roberts with his wife, Sherry. They have two children, Krista and Christopher.

He has written hundreds of articles for publications "far and near," edited more than 100 books, and has written a series of books on the history of various Pentecostal churches, along with other historical works.

He's currently working on Volume 7, about the Pentecostal church in Bishop's Falls, and has been contacted to write a book on a church in Alberta.

Lately he's been trying his hand at fiction and is considering a rewrite of "A Russian Adventure."

"After all, I was only in my 20s when I wrote the first edition," he says with a smile.

"Hopefully, my writing style has improved since then."

 

Organizations: Pentecostal Assemblies, Radio Moscow, United Church of Canada CBC Radio Pentecostal church

Geographic location: Soviet Union, Moscow, Russia Newfoundland and Labrador New Gower Street Canada New York Tallinn St. John's United States Casey Street Kenmount Road Clarke Carmanville Port aux Basques Bay Roberts Falls Alberta

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Burton Janes
    January 09, 2012 - 19:01

    Please feel free to contact me, Mr. Pelley.

  • David Pelley
    January 08, 2012 - 09:24

    Good day Burton: We do seem to have much in common when it comes to the "Garrigus" era of the PAON. In fact, at one time I believe I may have actually lived with Sister Garrigus in Clarke's Beach. I am certain my family did. Would you give me your email address please?

  • Connie Lane
    January 07, 2012 - 17:53

    Hi, Just read your article and I was intereseted in the upcoming work about the history of the Pentecostal Assemblies in Bishop's Fall as my late uncle Pastor Robert Simmons was pastor there. I have lots of great stories about my Uncle Bob