The Corliss Ministerial Team

Ellen White and the Australasian Ministers, 1893 to 1901:
An Analysis of the Documents
By Bert Haloviak
Women & the Word Seminar
Oct 21-22, 2005
La Sierra University

The Corliss Ministerial Team

While Ellen White frequently criticized ministers to Australasia who spend most of their effort in “sermonizing,” she frequently praised the methodology of J O Corliss. A major campmeeting and evangelistic focus was held in Middle Brighton, a suburb of Melbourne, January 5 to 15, 1894. Its results far exceeded expectations and leaders decided “that Elder Corliss, together with other helpers, should remain in Middle Brighton, where the camp-meeting was held, to follow up the interest created by the meetings already held.” 78

As he pursued his ministry around the Melbourne area, Corliss related to the counsel he
had received from Ellen White: “I quite agree with you that persons ought to be selected to give -31-personal labor, but I do not know where they are or who will provide them. I trust that the Lord will bring these matters all around in His own good time.” It is apparent that Ellen White urged that workers be “selected” for personal work. This appears to harmonize with what she would identify in her July 9, 1895 Review article as those who should \aborpublicly. Certainly those who \aboredprivately or did volunteer local church work would not be able to travel to the various locations where Corliss ministered.79

By July of 1894, Mrs White reported that “Elder Corliss said that he does not preach any more, he teaches.” Corliss emphasized the Bible reading plan developed by Stephen Haskell in the 1880s thus presenting scriptural topics to his new converts in question and answer form.

“Bro Corliss turned the meeting into a class meeting and called upon them one by one to be Christ’s witnesses,” praised Ellen White.80

In Tasmania, Corliss linked up with medical doctor M G Kellogg as the team emphasized the compassionate ministry of Jesus. After the series of meetings, Kellogg remained and continued the Australasian style of ministry. By November 1894, Dr M G Kellogg was ordained to the gospel ministry. 81 By December 1894, Corliss had a team of workers with him as he pursued Australasian ministry:

There is a growing interest in the tent-meetings at Ashfield, a suburb of Sydney. In addition to the labours of Elders Corliss and McCullagh, who are conducting the meetings, a number of workers are engaged, under their direction, in visiting and holding Bible-readings.”82

By February the work in Australasia had clearly outpaced the available finances and Union President W C White appealed for the Foreign Mission Board to redefine some of the Australasian Conferences to Mission status and thereby finance some of the work. White reported his discussion with his mother on this matter and when the proposal that some of the youthful conference ministers go into canvassing, Mrs White “has condemned, and has reproved us for it, and we have abandoned it.” W C White continued his report to the Foreign Mission Board:

When I was arguing the case with mother, I told her of our Conference indebtedness, and that we must curtail somewhere, and asked if she would consent to our sending away some of the older men to give the young men a chance. She said No. We cannot spare men of experience and ability. Again I pictured to her our financial condition, and the-32-horrors of debt. Then she said, If this is your situation, Why in the world does not your committee bestir itself, and place the facts, and an appeal before the General Conference.I told her it was not the custom of our people to use the funds of the General Conference in prosecuting the work in organized conferences. Mother then said, I do not know your rules, nor regulations, but I know from the light given me, that the cities of Australia ought to be worked, and that they ought to be worked now. This set me thinking on new lines. 83

Within a few days, W C White was informing the Foreign Mission Board of a proposed
restructuring of the work in Australasia. A few sections of his proposal are here given since it clearly presents the Australasian practice of ministry:

In your consideration of our plans for the division of Australia into two Conferences, and two Missions, you may wish to know what we could do in the distribution of laborers. I will roughly outline a division which I shall submit to the consideration of the Union Conf.

1. Queensland Let Geo Teasdale and wife, take the place of Eld Hickox and wife, so that Hickox could go to Western Australia. Thus your Queensland list of laborers would be, Geo B Starr and wife, Geo Teasdale and wife; Bro Bernoth (German) and Sr Walker, a young lady of real piety and ability, lately sent up to engage in Bible Work.

2. Western Australia Let Eld A S Hickox and wife and Jesse Pallant and wife, be set aparf4 for the work in W.A. and let Eld Corliss go with them to inaugurate the work, with the expectation of his working with them for four to six months.

3. New South Wales-Let Elders McCullagh, and Israel, and Bro John Collins be the laborers in this new Conference, if it can bear so many laborers, and if not, leave Israel in Victoria. Mother and I can help some, and this would no doubt be the Home Conf of Eld Corliss.

4. Fiji Let Dr M G Kellogg, and Eld J M Cole go to Fiji, and open up the work in that great field. Canvassers could be sent to join them, if there is found to be a field for them, and teachers, as soon as they are needed.

5. Central Australian Conference Elders A G Daniells; Robert W L H Baker; with some help from Eld W A Colcord, would make the working force of this big Conference. There are a number of promising Bible workers that could be called into the work, if there is support for them.85

When Corliss went to conduct meetings in New Zealand, he again wrote Mrs White something about his methodology. From his experience it becomes apparent what is meant by privately laboring in the gospel:

Among those who signed the covenant last Sabbath were five young ladies, or perhaps more properly, girls, all belonging to the same family. This family and their immediate connections number nineteen. This introduction of the truth is turning all of the family to investigating, and it is possible that all of them may receive it. We have learned this evening that the mother has also decided to obey, and as she visited with one of the workers, seemed to be much rejoiced in her decision. These who have already accepted the truth did not attend the meetings much at first, but were found and visited frequently by two of our girl workers, Alice Steed and Minnie Teasdale, who had never had an experience in this work before, and the results of their visiting have made me feel that more of our people could do something in this work if they were only trusted. I once felt like many others that only experienced laborers could be trusted with responsibilities in this work. I fear that much has been lost in the past by this policy, and as far as I am concerned am resolved to adopt a policy of confiding in all who are disposed to unselfishly labor in the Master’s vineyard. If permitted, God can do much through those whom we have been accustomed to consider weak instruments. I am more and more surprised at the wonderful things God is able to do when we trust him. 86

The interrelation between private and public laborers again becomes apparent when W C White reported to George B Starr on Corliss’ most recent evangelistic team methodology in New South Wales. W C White spoke of his July 26, 1895, meeting:

I had gone early in the morning to attend the Monday morning council, which is held regularly at the house of Eld Corliss, with his workers. At nine o’clock all the workers, and other brethren and sisters gather in a Bible study. There were sixteen present yesterday morning, and the study was very profitable, both for the workers and for the others. I am more and more impressed that this feature of Eld Corliss’s work is of great value, not only as an education and training for those associated with him in the work, but also as a means of instructing persons who may be bearing burdens in the church, or who may be called upon in later years to bear responsibilities. While in Auckland these studies were held every morning, the same as in Ashfield. But this was so taxing upon the teacher, who was also speaking frequently, and it took so much of the time of the workers, that I have urged that but three lessons a week be given during our present series of meetings. As far as I can observe, this plan is working well, and I recommend it to your consideration. I hope the time will come when such classes will be conducted in connection with every important series of meetings. I believe it will strengthen the -34-burden-bearers in the church most effectually. 87

White also recommended to Starr a method of duplicating Bible readings that would be held with families and making them available to those studying. White considered that “the result would fully compensate for the labor, providing that a considerable portion of the labor could be performed by Srs. Starr, Teasdale, and Walker, with some assistance from volunteers.” Again we have a combination of laborers who are laborers under the conference with those from local churches that are volunteers: laboring publicly and privately.™

W C White praised the Corliss approach to General Conference President O A Olsen. Again we see an illustration of the relationship between what would be defined as conference workers and local church workers:

I am more and more satisfied that the plans on which Elder Corliss is endeavoring to work, are in harmony with Apostolic methods. We have been very much encouraged by the growth in wisdom and in efficiency of the young men who are working with him, and we are much pleased with the results of their labors. There is now such a demand for Bible readings upon the part of the people to whom we have been distributing the printed sermons that we shall arrange to release Brn Semmens and Pallant from the work of distribution, that they may spend their entire energies in holding readings. They are now carrying six or eight readings each a week. The attendance varies from four to twenty, and the places where these readings are held are widely separated, and in many different suburbs. Hardly a week passes but there are four or five new Sabbath keepers, who have embraced the truth as the result of these readings, and their attendance on a few of the Sunday night meetings. The preaching and the house to house work go hand in hand; neither one would be complete without the other. Last Sunday morning Eld Prescott and I were present at the morning lesson. There were thirty four in attendance. Of this number, about one third were workers, and their families; one third more church officers and Sabbath keepers of some experience; and one third were new converts or persons investigating. I believe there is great power in these morning classes to strengthen the workers, the believers, and those investigating. 89

Among the last actions of J O Corliss in Australasia before returning to the United States was his ordination of the deaconess, Bertha Larwood, to her responsibilities in the local church at -35- Perth, Western Australia. 90

The method of fully integrating both conference workers and local church members seems to have been consistently practiced throughout the 1890s in Australasia. In early 1899 W C White wrote his brother Edson, who was working in the South in the United States:

At Ballarat we found that the camp-meeting had stirred the people of the city wonderfully. The attendance was nearly as good as at Newcastle….The meeting was appointed to continue ten days, but it was extended one week. During this last week about seventy-five of our people remained on the grounds. From these about forty-five were organized into three companies of workers-first the trained Bible workers and evangelists; second strong corps of canvassers to work under the direction of the general agent; third a large company of inexperienced workers who gave their service three weeks and were to receive instruction daily with the others. I tell you, my brother, this is the way to follow the interest aroused by a camp-meeting. 91


77 W C White, “Medical Missionary Work in Australasia,” RH, June 22, 1897.
78 Bible Echo, Jan 29, 1894, p 32.
79 J O Corliss to E G White, May 23, 1894. Corliss, J O 1894-95 WE.
80 Ellen White to James and Emma White, July 27, 1894. W85-94.
81 Bible Echo, Sept 10,1894, p 188; “Australian Conference Proceedings,” Bible Echo,
Novl2, 1894, p 351.
82 Bible Echo, Dec 3, 1894, p 376.
83 W C White to Foreign Mission Board, Feb 20, 1895. WCW Bk 7, p 191. Mrs White
would soon begin supporting several of the youthful ministers with her own funds.
84 Italics supplied. Whether Willie White had a deeper meaning to this expression can
only be guessed. A few months later, however, Ellen White would use that phrase and add
“laying on of hands” to be applied to women.
85 W C White to SDA Foreign Mission Board, Mar 11, 1895. WCW Bk 7, p 215.
86 J O Corliss to E G White, Mar 18, 1896, p 1-2. Corliss, J O 1894-95 WE.
87 W C White to George B Starr, July 30, 1895. WCW Bk 7, p 502
88 /6zW,p503.
89 W C White to O A Olsen, Aug 20, 1895. WCW Bk 8, pp 113-14.
90 W C White to Members of the Union Conference committee, July 15, 1896. WCW Bk
10, p 195.
91 W C White to J E White, Feb 7, 1899. WCW Bk 12, pp 440-41.


One Response to “The Corliss Ministerial Team”

  1. Herb Douglass Says:

    This was the clearest. most focused research on early Australia that I have read. The emergence of common-sense evangelistic methods that didn’t require great financial investment could and can be duplicated everywhere, even today. Not oratory primarily but a team of ordinary people acting together, men and women, produces what God has promised–something very much like apostolic church “evangelism.” Great research by a great researcher. Cheers, Herb

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