Peter MacFarlane takes the helm of Union Gospel Mission, following superintendents Rev. E.R. MacKinney (1902-1906), B.R. Weimer (1907) and Rev. Joseph Harkness (1908-1909). MacFarlane becomes the longest-serving leader in Mission history and arguably one of its most revered.
Born in 1884 in Northcote, Minnesota into a family of 12 children, MacFarlane’s first job is as a telegraph operator for the railroad. Macalester College lures him to St. Paul in 1902, but involvement with the Mission quickly eclipses his studies. “When I definitely led the first man to Christ, a new world opened up for me,” he would later write.
MacFarlane becomes superintendent at age 25, not yet out of college and with only a few years of apprenticeship at the Mission. Nearly six feet tall and weighing 225 pounds, he is imposing in person and character. He is known to deliver dynamic and moving sermons, once splitting the pulpit with a crash of his fist. “Everlastingly at it” describes his intense involvement in every aspect of the Mission’s work. He moves easily between the downtrodden men at the Mission and St. Paul’s movers and shakers, peers to whom he appeals frequently to help support the Mission’s plans.
MacFarlane’s legacy is one of ambitious expansion. He helps to install the Mission in its long-time home on Wacouta and East 7th Street, soon enlarged to serve as a workingman’s hotel and club for youth. He expands the Mission far beyond the city’s downtown core through acquisitions that bring the Mission’s promise to new communities. He is a shining example of the commitment and vision required to make a mission successful.
Photos courtesy of the Union Gospel Mission and the MacFarlane family.