Los Angeles Street had been known as the "jungle" of the city and that was
partially how the "soul" of the jungle had been tamed. Papa himself referred to
his ministry as the "Gospel of the Open Air," or more often, "Ministry of
the Unchurched." It was an active ministry indeed.
William, and usually Calvin, left for Los Angeles early Sunday mornings to conduct the
"bootblack" Sunday School at eleven, and serve a noon-time meal for these poor
boys of the street.
On holidays, there was turkey, but the boys usually would ask afterwards when would
they be having weenies again.
However, on school days, Papa went to Los Angeles by Pacific Electric train and
preached every afternoon for two and sometimes three hours in the open air, as well as to
deliver a short noon-day combined hot meal and sermon for working men. Then in the evening
he would conduct a Bible Class for any who wished to attend the little Mission on Los
Angeles Street. It was a rigorous ministry, but he was indefatigable.
Our religious training had been varied. Father tried to instill within us the
importance of believing with our hearts and accepting the Bible as the Word of God. But he
did not seem to hold any church preference. Rather, he preached tolerance for all
Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic.
In time, I realized Calvin was having a good time at the Presbyterian Church, so when I
was old enough, I joined, too. The principal of the high school was also the Sunday School
Superintendent, and he invited me to play the organ for the primary department. Later I
also became their teacher. Finally father was convinced I was sincerely interested in
belonging to the Presbyterian church and gave me some encouragement.
The pastor of the church, Dr Hugh K. Walker, whose daughter was my closest friend,
asked me if I would invite my father to address the prayer meeting. The subject was to be,
"What Does The Youth of Today Need?"
Dr Walker pointed out in introducing Father, "Mr. Mullen had been invited because
he has had wide experiences with the boys of the street, in Chicago, San Francisco, and in
Los Angeles, and his work already has covered more than a quarter of a century educating
I remember that Wednesday evening as though it were yesterday. When Father started to
talk, his voice was not one that boomed to the ends of the block, nor did it have the
fiery tones of accusation charged with vehemence upon the wealthy employer who took
advantage of the impoverished worker, or the misguided laborer who looked to direct action
to force improvement by revolution instead of working for constructive evolution. He
spoke, rather, in Gaelic minor tones, for his heart was in this children's work.
If those attending expected to hear prophetic warnings as to the future of America in
the hands of the street toughs, they were surprised, but not disappointed, when he said,
"You have asked me what is our greatest need in education today, especially what the
poor boys of the street need to make them good citizens. I tell you the needs of the boy
of the street, the little dirty-faced boy, clothed in a suit many sizes too big for him,
shod in man's cast-off shoes, with his homemade bootblack box thrown over his careworn
shoulder is the same as the needs of the boy in your home, or in my home, or in any other
home. Love--that is all--love."
He went on telling of the heroism of these lads, the love they often poured out on a
widowed mother, the happiness they felt when others were interested in them. He told of
their Sunday meetings at eleven o'clock, how they attended the little Mission after their
morning work was over, a hundred boys--Russians, Armenians, Mexicans--how they heard a
Bible story in their own vernacular, the story of Joseph or David or Daniel to inspire any
one in trouble needing God's help to make him brave and honest and true. He spoke of the
way they disciplined each other, and when the lesson was over how a major or a captain or
sergeant handled the crowd so effectively that one could almost hear a pin drop.
"They are not forbidden to smoke or drink, but none of them seem to want to,"
he said, "and they are trying hard to be true and clean and honest; and it works on
the poor boy in the same way it works on the rich lad."
It ended as it had begun, in the soft, quiet tones of this man whose flock was the
people of the street, the anarchists, the I.W.W.'s, the unemployed or their children, the
bootblacks, the newsboys, the street vendors, the children in rags, in tattered clothes,
the barefoot, the hungry children who go to Sunday School because it means a Sunday
dinner. Love, the power of love is the answer to what the nation's poorest children need.
"How can ye love God whom ye have not seen, if ye love not man whom ye have
Soon after that day, my father asked me: "Do you still want to join the church,
"Yes," I said.
"And Calvin, too?"
"Then I will talk to your mother. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church when
I met her. I have given some study to this and I think we might just as well make joining
church a family project."
That was how my father, who had been a minister for twenty-five years, finally
affiliated with a denomination, and it so happened it was a Presbyterian Church, not
Catholic, Baptist, Methodist or Lutheran.
"A church is where those gathered together in the name of the Lord are," was
the way he explained it.
I was not surprised when a little later the minister of this Church asked if he could
submit William's name for ordination before the Los Angeles County Presbytery.
Father looked forward to being ordained when he was a young minister, but had met with
so much frustration on every hand in his early ministry that it was a thorn in his flesh
that he had not been able to attend college or a seminary. He gave it no more thought,
when the anguish of these bitter memories had subsided. Now he had become so wrapped up in
his flock that it was of no importance to him, nor to his congregation. His scholarliness
had been valued for what it was.
The Los Angeles Presbytery gave the examination with over two hundred ministers pouring
out questions at him, only to be amazed at his unhesitating flow of accurate replies from
the Bible, quoting the answer with Bible verses, giving the actual verse and chapter
located in the Bible.
He came home that night, knowing he had passed with flying colors. "I gave one
answer I thought would not be accepted, but it was," he told us.
I knew if he believed it true he would have given the same answer, even if it meant
failure. "What was it?" I asked.
"They asked me to name the sacraments and instead of giving the two, Baptism and
Communion, used symbolically in the Presbyterian Church, I added a third, Marriage, which
is a sacrament in the Catholic Church.
When I attended Occidental College, my Bible teacher told me that he had never seen
such a remarkable demonstration of biblical knowledge. "Why I believe it impossible
to have asked him for a verse that he could not have given verbatim."
"That's right," I told him. "He knows it all by heart."
He had been called "Reverend" for many years now. Just as no one would have
thought of calling him "Reverend" instead of Sky Pilot" or "Cowboy
Preacher" in his first years of evangelism, no one would not have called him
"Reverend" in his later years. But now that he had earned the title, he could
use it if he had wished to so do.
No one could keep him out of a pulpit now for breaking wild horses nearby. Only there
were no more horses to be tamed! There weren't even many wild men left on the street.
America was now knee-deep in the war effort.
The flag was flying high at the little Mission. The bootblack boys had always begun
their services by saluting the flag as well as singing "America" so they only
had to sing it louder for a war going on.
There was less and less money for the Mission expenses, try as hard as William did to
earn it, so the Presbyterian Church offered him the use of one of their chapels, which
saved the Mission rent. It had a good kitchen, too, in the basement, for preparing the
Sunday School meals. And it could be used as well in the afternoon for feeding hungry men
who had organized a "Brokefellows Club." This group was comprised mostly of
older men who now could not find work. When they joined the "club," they were
given a card that read: "If needy, you can get soap to clean you up, soup to fill you
up, salvation to keep you up, at Brokefellows Hall, No. 229, South Hill Street."
At four o'clock every Sunday, these men were fed and work secured for all able men who
wanted to work. Service men were also "invited" and did drop in to eat, too. In
the evening there was the usual service on the street.
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