This move to Southern California was in many respects a new beginning - or rather the beginning of new experiences.
The scenery pleased, the delightful semi tropical climate was a welcome change, the semi tropical vegetation - green trees and green lawns, fresh fruit and myriads of flowers - all were beyond expectation, while the picturesque mountains and hillslopes possessed peculiar charm and offered alluring challenge - and the great City of Los Angeles with its noise and its crowded thoroughfares seemed a contrast indeed to the countryside and the quiet uncrowded Quaker Lane of the boyhood days.
The Friends Meeting situated on Third Street and Fremont Avenue was not a new meeting nor was it a meeting free from some adverse history. Here however were some tried and true Quakers and many most loveable people who were loyal to the meeting and to the new Pastor. An approach from Pasadena Meeting for service with them in a larger and better financed meeting was refused because at that time the Los Angeles meeting presented a more needy field and the loyal friends in the great city deserved a loyal pastor.
The large meeting at Whittier was then fortunate to have as their minister Dr. Joseph John Mills for many years president of Earlham College at Richmond, Indiana. He was one of the strong men among American Quakers, though at this time growing somewhat aged for heavy service.
As the months slipped by a friend of the Los Angeles pastor who did not live in Los Angeles nor in Whittier said to the city minister, "when there is a vacancy in the Whittier Meeting you are going to be called there." "O, no, not I" - was the reply - "everything in Whittier has been already done and I prefer to serve in a needy field in which something more can be accomplished."
This personal friend made no pretense as a prophet but the time came when his prediction might come true.
On a midweek afternoon in the early springtime of 1910 a small committee of great Friends called at the humble home of the Los Angeles minister. This committee consisting of Thomas Armstrong one of the early ministers of the Whittier Meeting, Dr. Lindley M. Green, formerly a great physician in Wilmington, Ohio and now retired in Whittier, and Thomas Newlin, President of Whittier College. These men represented the larger committee known as The Pastoral Committee of the Meeting on Ministry and Oversight - and the Whittier Monthly Meeting of Friends. After a few moments of greeting and other moments of devotion this committee made known the object of their appointment and visit to the effect that the Whittier Meeting extended a call to Edwin McGrew to pastoral service in Whittier and that this committee had come to express the will of the meeting for consideration and as early a report as might be convenient.
When a week of consideration and prayer had passed over, Pilgrim Quaker made an afternoon call at the home of Thomas Armstrong to report that he would accept the proposition made by the Whittier Meeting at the time suggested - the first of the month of June 1910.
Of course this meant parting with some lovely people - not an easy matter, and it meant leaving a challenging situation. Again there must come the feeling of inefficiency for the new tasks and one's unworthiness in these holy enterprises.
In intervening time occurred the resignation and the closing up of the work in hand - the good bye events with kindly expressions of appreciation on the part of individual friends and on the part of the meeting. There were some hours now and then for a trip to Whittier where a convenient house was rented and prepared by cleaning and touches of paint until it was somewhat inviting. Moving was not a difficult item for a small van soon accomplished the transfer and the pastor and family with driving horse, surrey and rubber tired run about were all located on North Friends Avenue, Whittier, California. That "Friends Avenue" might well be called Quaker Avenue to conform with the subject of the sketch "The Pilgrim on the Quaker Highway" - or the title might be changed to "The New Friend on Friends Avenue."
Whatever may have been his previous estimate of the needs of this great meeting, this young preacher soon recognized he had undertaken a "man's task." In the will of the Lord who is the "Great Head of The Church" and the "Master of Assemblies" there were more than eight years of continued service here for this new pastor. The church membership was at that time about one thousand. Interest was good and tasks were endless - Bible School, two regular preaching services and a young peoples Society of Christian Endeavor - with Junior C.E. in the afternoon on the Sabbath Day, while through the week many organizations besides the midweek prayer meeting held their meetings. Many calls were expected, the sick to be visited and prayed for, the funerals to be conducted and many wedding ceremonies to be directed. In those days the little city of Whittier was a "Going to Meeting City" and all churches were well attended. While the Friends Meeting House was reasonably commodious it was usually filled on Sunday. More than once on regular meeting occasions the pastor would note the coming of some who when they recognized the house was practically filled, would turn and stroll away and for any special occasion the building was inadequate. As he became better acquainted with the situation he was forced to feel the membership had received blessings from the hand of the Lord far in excess of the values represented in Church building and equipment, so from time to time certain rather leading suggestions were made which in due time became effective. The usual deliberate process followed. Perhaps the old building could undergo some changes and repairs - maybe some unthought of addition. From time to time various activities felt the restraint of limited room and limited equipment. Especially was this true in the large and growing Bible School Department. With any and all reports of Committees appointed none were strong advocates of patching things up or expending money on additions until from one source and another came the suggestion that we get at it and build new and adequately.
The Pastor learned that a small house and the very desirable lot joining the church property on the north could be purchased reasonably and he advocated that the church buy the same. Of course there were many "whys." The only answer was, "It may be needed." Shortly a second house and lot could be attained. There was the same method of approach and the same results. The regret to this day is that at least one house and lot more had been added. Perhaps however "enough is enough of anything." Later pastors may have appreciated a parsonage some distance from the church, but that was never the thought of one, maybe "particular pastor."
It is enough to say relative to the construction of the new buildings that following the united expression of the Meeting, suitable committees were appointed and wise steps were taken toward adequate facilities for present service and with a view to the larger interests which were expected in the future. A genuine living faith seemed to lay hold of the membership and all the committees. The undertaking was a large one but the Meeting was a large Meeting and there were Christians of unusual stature. During the weeks and months of construction a holy harmony prevailed in the meeting, in the committees - especially the Building Committee - and this spirit seemed to possess the workmen themselves.
During these months the Sunday meetings were held in the Whittier College Chapel which had been so used during another period of emergency. So the work progressed with but few moments of delay during working hours. One occasion only called for delay - this was the program at the laying of the cornerstone. This occurred on the afternoon of February 1, 1917. Thoughtful preparation was made for this event and much publicity was given to it.
Much indeed might be written concerning the great building enterprise but there are historic records which may be referred to by those seeking the history and it need not all be reviewed in this story. Let it suffice to relate that the entire building project was completed to the general satisfaction of all concerned and was recognized that the Whittier Friends had constructed the largest, most substantial and best suited for its purposes, place for worship and plant for religious activities, ever built by the Society of Friends in all the history of Quakers - in all the world. It was an achievement, prompted by a present need and by a faith in future possibilities but, most of all by a loving devotion to the God over all, "that giver of every good and perfect gift", to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through whom we have redemptive grace and to the Holy Spirit who is yet "God with us."
Since its dedication which occurred the seventh of October, 1917, it has been a center of spiritual activity and may it always remain until supplanted by something better as the meeting place of Friends who indeed are Friends of God.
Many possibilities challenge the people of Southern California. They are in easy reach of so many attractive spots all along the many miles of coast line where there are ever changing scenes and the cooling atmosphere coming in from a thousand leagues of restless blue waters is sweet and refreshing. Then in the opposite direction rise the ever alluring mountains with deep scars from the bygone years, with their lofty defiant peaks so outstanding as to be worthy of great individual names, - yes, there they stand elevating here and there the graceful crestline against the clear blue of the midsummer sky while below on barren mountain slope, on stretches of grassy meadow or woodland with its deep and fragrant green is draped that mysterious curtain, so graceful, so delicate, so positively alluring - a purple glow thrown generously by some lovely unseen hand - a new and perfect fabric for each eventide. As out from the worshipping silence there comes a voice like music, as if from bald peak and rugged mountainside, from deep glen and gushing streamlet, from towering pine and spreading oak, from fragrant shrub and the soft grasses and the garden nook where myriads of wildflowers grow, and the voice like music seems to say, "When you weary of your tasks, of the round of daily living, of the great ocean itself with its realities and unrealities, when all else fails to soothe and rest and give delight, then come up hither for here is permanency as well as change, here is rest and here is delight, here where the atmosphere is light and soft and fragrant, come for God is near and His stars not far away. Yes, come ye to the mountains. So it is not strange that in these years at Whittier there were some days for relaxation and diversion.
One might write stories of "The Quaker as a Deep Sea Fisherman" for some of his experiences resulted in handsome catches, - or one might have for subject, "The Quaker on the Mountain Top" for in those days the scaling of Mt. Laine, and Mt. Wilson and Old "Baldy" (Mt. ) were possibilities which were achieved.
There was one adventure which perhaps deserves notice. It may have had its inspiration, its urge back in the boyhood days in the old home on Quaker Lane in Iowa. Tasks in those summer months seemed to be continuous or with brief intermissions. Sometimes a summer afternoon rainstorm changed the work program and there was a time of rest when he delighted to lounge his ungainly anatomy on "the front room" carpet. This was a privilege, for "the front room" - spacious, well lighted and well but plainly furnished, was seldom opened. The carpet, made from woven strips which the blessed Mother had "cut" into strips and sewed and then wound into balls to be convenient for the weaver who on his loom wove the carpet with heavy string called "carpet chain." This was a good "rag carpet", laid over nice clean straw which had been most carefully arranged on the floor for padding. All in all it was a good place on which to cast ones weary, growing form.
On such occasions there was likely to be a book in hand and a "stereoscope" and perhaps a dozen or more views - the entire store of educational and entertaining pictures.
The book was a beloved volume, "Beyond the Mississippi", published in 1869 and written by Albert D. Richardson. What a volume and with increasing age it has increased in appealing interest, for it tells of great western and coastal areas now familiar territory to the then youthful reader. The favorite stereoscope view was one taken at "Inspiration Point" overlooking the wonderful Yosemite Valley. What dreams that old stereoscopic view awakened. Was it possible such a scene could be - and would it ever be possible for this lad of the prairies who had never beheld a hill greater than "The Devil's Anville" just east of Le Grand, or a waterfall higher than the old mill dam at Hammonds mill to someday see real mountains and waterfalls of such proportions as those suggested by the old picture.
The old book "Beyond the Mississippi" had been proven true in the reporting of much of the primitive great west for the much travelled young Quaker had seen much of the vast domain - the plains of Nebraska, Dakota, and the historic Black Hills, Montana and Idaho with their plains and mountains, of Washington and Oregon with vast arid plains, with great mountains and rushing torrents and broad flowing streams and lakes and grazing lands and productive farm lands, and primeval forests of unmeasured extent and unknown value, not to mention the great states of Colorado, Nevada, Texas and New Mexico - and of great and diversified California itself. Perhaps the boyhood dreams which came in the rainy afternoons while he was stretched on the rag carpet on the front room floor might yet be realized.
It was early in the season, shortly after the first of June, when the McGrew's automobile in company with others passed the required inspection and was allowed at the proper time to follow the controlled highway leading downward toward the charming and historic Yosemite Valley. It was but a short distance to a post supporting a neatly painted signboard with the simple inscription "Inspiration Point." Here the car stopped and the driver walked quietly as if treading sacred ground to the very edge of the cliff - to view the perfect but unmeasured fulfillment of his boyhood dreams - "there it is, there it really is", - Bridal Veil Falls and Vernal and Yosemite Falls - Half Dome - and El Capitan and other points of interest walling in this favored portion of nature, while the crystal river swiftly but quietly finds its way through shadows cast by stately trees, past myriads of colorful blossoms and between the green, grass covered banks where pasture elk and deer and spotted fawn. These were sacred moments - a foretaste of worshipful hours and days and starlit nights until incompleted tasks called the little family home again. Yosemite has been visited since and the marvelous charm does not fade into the commonplace. Always it seems sacred, distinctive, personal, indescribable, as is ones feeling at Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, and Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, and that high and holy realm of wonder, Crater Lake.
So pass the years - years of service and responsibility, sometimes we think years of the monotony of toil, but what diversions life affords especially in a land like this and with modern facilities of going and coming.
At the time this Quaker minister assumed the service offered him by the Whittier Friends, there were more people living in Whittier whom he had known all his life than there were in the old Iowa town itself and with these and the choice people contributed to Whittier from scores of other Friends centers in America, it was a privilege to cast ones lot and to give his best service.
Now the building enterprise was completed and complete. No finer plant ever challenged a preacher and never could there be a finer group of people with which to work, but within a half year of the dedication of this great church building there came to the pastor from a wholly unexpected place, a call to a greater task in a field of greater need. This was a call to the presidency of his old Alma Mater, Penn College, at Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Life has its critical moments, its serious problems, and there are battles to be fought and decisions to be made within closed doors and within gray walls and all alone. Many dear friends would sometimes give freely their opinions and advice, of times mystifying rather than clarifying the situation. As is often the case much more is involved than anyone can possibly see or foretell.
It might seem hard to disregard the council of aged and experienced friends, to be unconvinced by the wishes of a great meeting and to decline a promise from the meeting's appointed committee of $500 per year additional salary, a new automobile in exchange for the old Royal and the promise of a new parsonage house as soon as suitable arrangements could be made, but by far the most difficult problem came near the close of pastoral service.
No other thought had ever come to any member of the family than that the three would make the journey by train to Iowa together. Tis true for years it had seemed best to board with a sisters family rather than try to operate a dining room at home, but all tried to believe the beloved wife and mother might be gaining a little and might yet be victorious over the trying malady. This was not to be. The decline rather than a gain was to be reckoned with and while the Pilgrim could not yield in his determination, and studied plans, her sister calmly said - "You cannot take her - first because you could not manage the trip safely with her - nor can you do your heavy work as head of a college, with all that it will require and care for her besides." Then this kindly sister agreed to take on the responsibility for the year at least for a stipulated and satisfactory recompense.
Thus it was, with all other difficult problems, there must be, at least a temporary breaking of home ties. It is well sometimes men cannot forecast the future - for the home was never re established.
The journey eastward was not as anticipated.