Chapter 20

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 them."

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 seen."

Soon after that day, my father asked me: "Do you still want to join the church, Sister?"

"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.

Go to Chapter 21

Return to Table of Contents