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‘A good and faithful servant’

For The Madera Tribune

Borden’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church, shown here circa 1900, stood right beside Rev. W.B. McElwee in his protestations against Madera’s Grand Fiesta of 1901. It issued a denunciation of its own.


The Rev. William B. McElwee was an ecclesiastical workhorse. He and his wife, Emily, came to Madera in 1891 to pastor the local Presbyterian Church. He had been born in Missouri in 1838 and ordained into the Christian ministry when he was 35. Although the Rev. McElwee was 53 years old when he assumed the Presbyterian pastorate in Madera, he still had plenty of fire in his belly. Not only did he pastor the Madera Presbyterian Church for 14 years, he fought Madera’s battle for morality on every front imaginable.

He preached against booze, prostitution, gambling, and even baseball on Sundays. The apex of Madera’s transgressions, however, was the Grand Fiesta that came to Madera in September 1901. He fought that community celebration from the pulpit with everything he had. On the Sunday before the opening day, he took to his pulpit with all of the fire and brimstone he could muster. He knew there would be gambling, horse races, pony rides, music, street dances and lots of booze for his parishioners. But the worst of it all was the bull fight. There was going to be a real, honest-to-goodness corrida, complete with Mexican matadors right here in Madera. In his Sunday sermon before the fiesta he sarcastically denounced the proposed event.

“The fiesta, Yes, by all means, let us have it,” he thundered. “Never mind the fact that we have a large reserve of cynical skeptics, skillful in making religion ludicrous and odious; never mind that twenty dens of vice are running day and night and seven days in the week; never mind that a prize ring catering to the lower tastes of humanity has been constructed; never mind that Sunday is a synonym for baseball games, bicycling and horse racing.”



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