Disciple Prosperity and A Little Bullheadedness

Purdy Flint

September 2, 2011

While James Wilbur is setting Methodist roots in Yakama soil, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciples) are setting their roots throughout Washington Territory.  The briskness of Disciple growth attracts the evangelistic efforts of the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) and by 1887, two years before Washington statehood, ACMS begins supporting “ministers in Tacoma, Seattle and Davenport.”

Not unlike that of Wilbur and the Methodist Church late 1800 Disciple theology has a conversion base.  Though carrying a heavy dose of Campbell unity, the westward expansion of the Disciple movement has a fair focus on growth through converting nonbelievers.  An adopted resolution of the 1902 Disciple convention in Omaha is an example of Disciples conversion-unity theology and vision.

We do hereby express of cordial approval of the effort…to give truer expression to the degree of unity that already exists, as the best means of promoting that complete unity for which our Lord prayed, and we pledge our hearty co-operation with this and every other movement that has for its object the unification of believers, to the end that the world may be converted and the kingdom of righteousness established in the earth.

As the nineteenth century closes out, Northwest Disciples focus on converting the burgeoning numbers of White settlers in Washington.  The pace of conversion is so rapid during the last decades; it seemed that “[s]o long as there was an open frontier…Disciples [growth] outran the general population increase.”

Thanks to military removal of American Indians and governmental structuring of land ownership to benefit northwest White settlers, Washington Disciples experience prosperity both congregationally and regionally.  One example is Purdy J. Flint.  Flint, originally from Wisconsin, settled in the Yakima valley in the 1860’s.  With the previous residents of the valley confined to the reservation, Flint took advantage of buying land, running cattle on open land, and developing orchards.  Flint prospered in the cattle and fruit business and

With his family and others he organized the [Yakima] church [on] October 16, 1880.  There were twelve members.  The entire town was solicited for funds for the erection of a building…contributions [came] from sixty-two residents, including the leading saloonkeeper…the church was dedicated on January 1, 1882.  It was the first and only church in Yakima City.

Original Yakima City Christain Church

Isaac Alvinza Flint, Purdy Flint’s father, became the first minister of the Christian Church.  Isaac arrived in Yakima County in 1869 and settled in Parker Bottom, a few miles south of Yakima City (now Union Gap).  During the next ten years, Isaac preached throughout the valley.  An account of Isaac’s success is given by Preston Underwood who traveled to Yakima from Fifteen Mile (now Dufur), Oregon and visited with Isaac and Lucy Ann (Purdy’s wife) in 1879.  Underwood attended and preached at the Sunday service and later wrote,

At five o’clock the Disciples met to break bread for the first time in that valley. At the conclusion of that impressive and solemn act, I addressed the congregation for an hour, seeking to build them up in their faith and to fortify them against the trying time of their warfare.

Bro. I. A. Flint has been preaching publicly and from house to house all over Yakima county for the last ten years, and has so labored that he thinks the time for a good ingathering is at hand. Owing to high water in the Natchey river which prevented many from attending, we did not organize.

It is one of the best openings that I have seen, and I hope to be able to make a cheering report from there before the season closes, for I expect to visit the valley again in a few weeks, and remain several days, endeavoring to so water what Bro. F. has planted, that a precious crop shall grow up unto the Lord.

Isaac Flint achieves his ultimate ingathering with the construction of the Yakima City Christian Church in 1882.  However, it seems Isaac had a tendency towards self-centeredness.  Orval Peterson, a Disciple historian, writes that Isaac

lived in the little community of Donald, a few miles down the valley from the location of his church at Yakima, which is now Union Gap.  If those who were to take him to church were late, he would not wait but would go afoot.  He said, “I wait for no one.”  When he would arrive at the Yakima River, he would transport himself across by canoe and journey on to keep his preaching appointment.

Isaac Flint

Isaac’s bullheadedness became apparent in 1885.  When the Northern Pacific Railroad came through valley, the railroad decided to place the rail yards and depot four miles north of Yakima City.  The Northern Pacific offered to move the entire town of Yakima City (renamed Union Gap after the move) to the depot site (named North Yakima).  Though the members of the church felt the move best for the congregation and agreed to have the railroad move their church building to North Yakima, Isaac would have nothing to do with it and ended his ministry with the church.  It took three weeks to move the church building from Yakima City to North Yakima and it might be out of this move from which the congregation took on the motto, “The Church on the Move.”  Purdy took over the leadership of the church for roughly a year, which at that time “Jacob Eshelman of Goldendale was selected as the new minister.”

Purdy Flint died in 1929 and Lucy a year later.  Having no children, they left $20,000 to the Yakima First Christian Church they had help begin.  They also left $20,000 (the Flint Endowment) to the Eugene, Oregon Bible University, now known as Northwest Christian University.

Due to efforts like the Flint’s, Disciple membership grew quickly throughout Washington.  With the help of the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS), Disciple congregations flourish as the century ends and the structure of what is now known as Northwest Regional Christian Church is solidly in place.  As the new century arrives, the power of Northwest Disciples, the Yakima First Christian Church, and ACMS become a formable voice in the treatment of the Yakama people.

© David B. Bell 2011


  1. David, your account illustrates one of he factors that led to growth of the Disciples during this period–the entrepreneurial enterprise of solo operators. In this regard, there are similarities with the founders of mega churches today. They, too, tend to be people who seize opportunities irrespective of ecclesial procedures. The place for organizations, such as the ACMS, was to assist in the process of consolidation and regularization once the founding enterprise began to run down. In this regard, First Christian in Yakima is an unusually clear example of what must have happened in communities all across the country during the period of rapid expansion of the Disciples movement. Thanks for this series. Keith


    1. Keith, I did not think of the folks as solo operators. When I do, though, it calls me to wonder,,are the events and structure which bring the Flint’s and their start-up church into Disciples all that different from Disciples current expansionary process of bringing existing congregations into the denomination?


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