Village officials in Stratton, Ohio, worried about shady door-to-door salesmen preying on senior citizens, so they enacted an ordinance requiring all solicitors to obtain a free permit. Jehovah's Witnesses sued. As the ordinance pits freedom of speech against the right to privacy, it caught the attention of the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the suit by June. As the ordinance touches on evangelistic methodology, it also caught the attention of Christianity Today, which assembled an article on recent refinements of the old cold-call witnessing plan. Americans' increasing distrust of strangers, related to our relentless mobility, poses challenges for local Christian outreach.

William Taylor, a Methodist missionary born this week in 1821, faced a different problem when he attempted to minister in Gold Rush California. In that wild environment, he could scarcely find a door to knock on, let alone a church to invite people to. In California Life Illustrated (1858), he writes of his arrival on the West Coast:

"The first thing that arrested our attention after finding our moorings, by way of variety, after the frequent shouts of 'Sail ho!' or, 'A whale! a whale!' was the lassooing of a bullock on the north side of 'Telegraph Hill,' then a wild wood, now a populous part of the city of San Francisco. It was now too late for the passengers to go ashore that night, all being strangers in a strange land; but soon a Mr. M., a brother of one of our passengers, boarded our ship, and we all gathered around him to hear the news.

"He brought marvelous things to our ears. No war in the country, but peace and plenty, and fortunes for all who could work or gamble expertly: that clerks were getting in San Francisco two hundred dollars per month, cooks three hundred per month; the gamblers were the aristocracy of the land; gambling being the most profitable, hence the most respectable business a man could follow. I asked the gentleman whether or not there were any ministers of the Gospel or churches in the place?

"'Yes,' said he, 'we have one preacher, but preaching won't pay here, so he quit preaching and went to gambling. There is but one church in town, and that has been converted into a jail.'

"Some one told him that I was a minister, and had the frame of a church aboard. He advised by all means to sell the church, assuring me that I could make nothing out of it as a church, but I could sell it for ten thousand dollars. I told him my church was not for sale.

" I afterward found his assertions in regard to wages true; in regard to the gamblers nearly true; but his ecclesiastical history false, except that the 'school-house on the Plaza,' which had been used as a preaching place, was then used for a jail. With our evening repast of news from Mr. M. we retired to rest, hoping on the morrow to spy out the land ourselves. The next morning, Saturday, September 22, I went ashore in company with Captain Wilson and Robert Kellan.

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"When we reached the summit of the hill above Clark's Point, we stopped and took a view of the city of tents. Not a brick house in the place, and but few wooden ones, and not a wharf or pier in the harbor. But for a few old adobe houses, it would have been easy to imagine that the whole city was pitched the evening before for the accommodation of a vast caravan for the night; for the city now contained a population of about twenty thousand, and I felt oppressed with the fear that under the influence of the gold attraction of the mountains, those tents might all be struck some morning, and the city suddenly leave its moorings for parts unknown.

"But my business ashore was to see whether I could find any lovers of Jesus, and, especially, any bearing the name of Methodist, who could tell me how the land lay, and of the whereabouts of my fellow-missionary, Rev. Isaac Owen, who had started with his family 'over the plains' before I sailed from Baltimore, and whom I expected to find on my arrival. I was introduced to the business firms of Dewitt & Harrison, Bingham, Reynolds, & Co., and Finley & Co., and spoke to many other persons; and everywhere I went made diligent inquiry whether or not there were any Methodists in the city? but everywhere learned that no such creatures lived in the place, or if they did, they had neither seen nor heard of them."

After Seven Years' Street Preaching in San Francisco (described in his book by that title), Taylor took his message to Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Africa, then finished his career back in California. Despite the wide range of his work, though, he is perhaps best remembered in tiny Upland, Indiana, home of Taylor University.

Elesha Coffman is managing editor of Christian History magazine.

Related Elsewhere

More Christian History, including a list of events that occurred this week in the church's past, is available at Subscriptions to the quarterly print magazine are also available.

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"Heaven Can Wait," another story from California Life Illustrated, appeared in Christian History issue 66: How the West Was Really Won.

Christian History Corner appears every Friday at Previous editions include:

The Profligate Provocateur | In the twelfth century, an intellectual challenge to church authority proved much more dangerous than a sex scandal. (Apr. 19, 2002)
'Hier Stehe Ich!' | When Martin Luther stood up for his ideas at the Diet of Worms, did he really say, "Here I stand"? (April 12, 2002)
National Makeover | Washington's struggle to sell the American image overseas illustrates how sharply today's reality differs from seventeenth-century ideals. (Apr. 5, 2002)
Easter Eloquence | The holiday has inspired great words from some of history's greatest preachers. (March 28, 2002)
The Other Holy Day | In the rush toward Good Friday and Easter, don't forget Maundy Thursday. (March 22, 2002)
The Politics of Patrick | In the field of Irish history, every turn of phrase hints at the author's spin. (March 15, 2002)
Don't Touch That Dial | Could a bitter debate among religious broadcasters really cause a "full-scale split in evangelicalism"? (Mar. 8, 2002)
Translation Wars | Sharp as debate over the TNIV may be, the version's translators are getting off easy compared to John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. (March 1, 2002)
The Cremation Question | Firm belief in resurrection hasn't kept Christians from caring-and arguing-about what happens to the bodies of the dead. (Feb. 22, 2002)
Citius, Altius, Sanctus | The modern Olympics, though hardly Christian, hail from an era when athleticism was next to godliness. (Feb. 15, 2002)