by Rev. John H. Farmer
Preach It Ma’m
The Northern Neck has had a number of women ministers. Barbara Filling was perhaps the first of our Baptist camp. Then followed Mary Dell Sigler, Leslie Park, Carolyn Williams and doctoral student Jackie Scialabba here in Irvington.
Several Episcopalian and United Methodist Churches likewise have opened hearts and pulpits, without regard to gender. I would trust that in our churches we are truly beginning to believe: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).
Once I was asked what American preachers have influenced my life? Every minister that I have heard, studied with and/or followed, has blessed both my life and ministry. I’ll share some on that list with you. They are varied from almost stuffy, to wildly evangelical: George Arthur Buttrick, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts. Rex Humbard, Oliver Green, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Baker and last, though certainly not least, Ms. Kathryn Kuhlman. I understand their calling to be unique to their ministry (not mine) and found much of what they taught helpful.
During a period, my secular job required travel. These and many other ministers had late night radio programs.
Biographer Stephen J. Pullum, in his book, Foul Demons, Come Out! The Rhetoric of Twentieth-Century American Faith Healing, (Praeger Publishers, 1999) wrote about one of my late night heroes, “The Red-Haired Preacher Lady,” Kathryn Johanna Kuhlman (1907-1976).
“There she often stood, backstage, alone with her thoughts, pacing back and forth, butterflies swarming in her stomach, praying with all of her might that God would be with her. To hear her tell it, the strain was almost unbearable. Before whisking onto the stage in her long, flowing gowns with billowy sleeves to greet thousands who had come, in part, to gaze upon this tall, red-haired evangelist, Kathryn Kuhlman would ‘die a thousand deaths,’ petrified, in her words, that the Holy Spirit might not have arrived to carry her through the service. She felt utterly helpless, completely dependent upon ‘the power of the Holy Spirit,’ and occasionally remarked that she walked onto the stage as fast as she could because she could not wait to get under the Spirit’s influence to rid herself of her pre-performance anxieties.”
For over five decades Kathryn Kuhlman packed large auditoriums and sanctuaries wherever she went, often filling up hours before the charismatic services began.
Those closest to her often called her “a handmaiden of God.” Time Magazine once referred to her as a “veritable one-woman shrine of Lourdes.” Christianity Today gave her much ink over the years. So rhetorically compelling was she to audiences that People once suggested, “One cannot look and listen without being fascinated by this woman.”
Kathryn was raised in a little Missouri Methodist church. Her father was a non-practicing Baptist with little use for religion, even less for preachers. He never heard his daughter preach.
Kathryn dropped out of school at the end of her 10-grade year. She left home to preach in the Pacific Northwest with her older sister Myrtle and her Moody Bible evangelist brother-in-law, Everett Parrott. In 1928, Kathryn decided to break away from them and begin her own ministry. A local preacher in Boise, Idaho, gave her and her pianist Helen Gulliford a chance to hold services in a mission that had been converted from a pool hall.
Billed as “God’s Girls,” for the next five years they held revivals in small towns across Idaho.
On August 27, 1933, Kathryn and Helen began a ministry in Denver in a vacant warehouse owned by Montgomery Ward. The congregation grew. On May 30, 1935, Kuhlman held the dedication service of her Denver Revival Tabernacle, a renovated horse barn and warehouse, replete with a neon sign over the top of it, announcing “Prayer Changes Things.” In time, the tabernacle would develop prison and retirement-home ministries as well as bus services to the assemblies. For the next five years, thousands of people flocked to that tabernacle.
Her ministry appeared to be thriving. But its success was to be short-lived. She and her ministry were blighted by her divorce. However, between 1944 and 1946 she held revivals across the South and Midwest before returning to Franklin, Pa., to settle down for a few years.
On July 4, 1948, Kuhlman held her first “miracle service” in Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh. In 1950, she settled her base of operations there for the next 25 years. Soon she held meetings in Akron and Youngstown, Ohio. Aside from holding services in Carnegie Hall from 1948 through 1967, she also used the First Presbyterian Church, offered her by Dr. Robert Lamont, pastor.
In 1965, she began holding monthly healing services at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
She was heard on more than 50 radio stations and seen on more than 60 television stations. She produced over 4,000 radio programs and 500 television shows.
We’ve all heard of yelling preachers; well, Kathryn often whispered so that your ears searched, ached for her every word. The longer she preached the softer her voice. I particularly remember this on long night-time drives with her tagging along via my car radio.
She had heart surgery and died at Hillcrest Medical Center, Tulsa, Okla., on February 20, 1976. She was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif. Radio and TV evangelist the late Oral Roberts praised her as “the greatest evangelist of the ministry of God’s miracle power in my lifetime.”