“I found one!” I shouted to Duane.
A letter my grandmother, May Telford, wrote, dated November 9, 1934, fell out of the soft as velvet manila envelope Uncle Paul had sent me.
I was eager to find May’s letters. Pastor Archie McGilvary, my grandfather’s biographer, introduced me to them in his pages on Andy’s colorful life.
“Among the young people in the Bible church at Bronte, was an attractive girl by the name of May Clifford. All during the years of service in WWI Andy wrote to her faithfully. When he was at Moody Bible Institute they continued to exchange letters. When he went to South America the mail routes were kept busy with their letters.” (May, white blouse with thin black bow, seated at Andy’s right in the center of the picture ‘leaving for South America, 1922.’)
Archie continued: “May’s oldest daughter in Philadelphia, Marian, has those letters. They would make interesting reading and could be the basis for another book!”
Marian died two years ago, and my mother Ruth four years ago, so I’d been harassing her younger brothers, Tommy and Paul, “Where are they?!!” No one could find them. This letter was not one of those, penned between 1917-1924, the year Andy and May married. The letter Paul sent was written during their second pastorate in Ottawa, Canada, to their friends at their first church in Three Rivers, Michigan. I was elated to receive it, like an orphan discovering her biological mother.
I held the yellowing pages in my hands, the same pages that May had held in her hands 85 years ago, and began reading, stopping on page 8:
“…Mrs. Gintzler will be lonesome after living so long in Three Rivers – I know how it goes. But in our work one soon becomes engrossed in the new work and people.”
In our work. Andy and May. (in their first pastorate, Three Rivers)
Archie’s book, “A Twentieth Century Caleb,” describing Andy Telford’s conversion and ministry, doesn’t contain many paragraphs about May.
“Mrs. May Telford was the ideal preacher’s wife. No matter the occasion or circumstances, she was never perturbed or upset. She had a sweet, calm, placid disposition that always steadied the family.
The home was a bee hive of activity with no end of visitors and guests, some of whom arrived unexpectedly and unannounced. It was a regular thing on a Sunday morning after service for Andy to invite people over for dinner, even though Mrs. Telford knew nothing of the plans.”
A few paragraphs aren’t enough for one of God’s warriors, Erie May Telford. 2 Samuel 23 lists the names and specific accomplishments of the thirty ‘mighty men’ who fought alongside David. The chapter reminds us that God ‘delights in every detail’ of his faithful follower’s lives. (Psalm 37:23) The heart of Andy’s ministry was May.
I began investigating May’s story. Her name, itself, was a surprise: legally, ‘Erie May.’
Erie May Clifford and her fraternal twin, Sadie, were born in Oakville, Canada, March 25, 1900 to Patrick and Erie Elizabeth Clifford. May’s grandfather had died in Lake Erie in 1899 which would explain her unusual name. I never heard anyone call her “Erie May” in my life.
Andy and May married on July 31, 1924, in Bronte, Canada. Andy planned to take May back to South America with him for mission work after the wedding. (Groom Andy and bride May seated in front of the large wedding gathering.)
Her friends gave her this little card, as a parting gift, showing the ship they would sail across the ocean.
Inside a poem read:
“Come join us as we pray. On the day we say, For we now must send A dear mutual friend Very far away- ‘Our Andy’s Own May…”
However, May didn’t pass the mission’s physical. They had to cancel their plans. Andy took a pastorate in Three Rivers, Michigan. May became a pastor’s wife. Marian and Ruth were born there, in 1926 and 1929, American citizens.
In 1932 Andy, May and family moved back to Canada, to Ottawa to build, literally and spiritually, the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Bank Street. Paul was born in 1934 and Tommy in 1936. They were Canadian citizens, like their parents.
In addition to pastoring, Andy traveled to speak at Bible Conferences around Canada and the northeast United States. May accompanied him on these trips to Maranatha, Gull Lake, Sandy Cove, Pinebrook, and so many others.
This introduced Andy and May to friendships with other Christian pastors and leaders. Andy was invited to become the pastor of Berachah Church in Philadelphia.
May wrote on the back of this picture: “Dad – with new Buick Church gave him on our arrival in Philadelphia – Sept. ’43”
May’s life centered on home and family. Most evenings of the week, Andy was out teaching. On Mondays he taught at Washington Bible College, in D.C. He rode the train, arriving home at midnight. Tuesday and Wednesday he taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible. Friday nights he led a popular Bible class at church. Andy graced the pulpits at youth rallies on Saturdays. Sundays: church. Andy spent mornings, from 8 til noon, in his study. After lunch, he did yard and garden work. He and May both loved flowers and gardens.
May was independent, a trait cultivated during seven years of separation and letter writing in their courtship. May was intelligent. As a pastor’s wife, May taught a ladies’ Bible class each Sunday morning and was on the board of Regions Beyond Missions Union. Her letter from Ottawa shows a confident spiritual maturity:
“I am going to the ladies’ prayer meeting this afternoon. We have it every Wednesday. We are always sorry to hear things are not going so well at the Bible Church (in Bronte). Pat (her brother) thought things were pretty bad. He doesn’t say much about where the blame lies. Andy has his opinion of course. But I think all are to blame. Mr. G. may have his faults, who hasn’t. But I don’t think the people are doing their part either. We are all so fond of our own way.”
Andy and May were a team, but not mirror images of each other. Andy had grown up a farmer. May was a lady.
At Camp Manor, an annual summer Bible conference outside Philadelphia, May drew the line. Conference guests stayed in cream colored canvas tents in the woods in Lancaster. The first time May arrived at Camp Manor, she stayed for the morning and afternoon meetings, then told Andy he needed to take her the bus so she could go home. May was no camper.
Every week Andy wrote a letter to May’s twin sister’s husband, Roy, also a pastor. A July 1959 letter, illustrates more differences:
Here I am in Ocean City (N.J.) sitting at the door of our apartment just two blocks from the Ocean. I preached at Berachah in the morning – then in the afternoon May and I drove down here. We had supper here and I preached last night. I am here all week.
May bought a new bathing suit – so she is all set for the “Water Pool.” And the price of that Modern Bathing Suit. I remember when we could have bought a cow for what she paid for it. We could have bred the cow – she would have had a calf and then milked her for 7 months and made a little profit. This high-priced bathing suit, I am afraid will go down in price and finally be a total loss – These women sure can spend. I haven’t bought a pocket handkerchief for over a year.”
Andy and May shared the unique challenges of parents in ministry. In the first part of the century, God came first and the family second. He and May took God seriously, and believed Andy’s packed schedule of Bible teaching honored God. I’m trying to find a nice way to explain why their children, especially Paul and Tommy, were not Sunday School poster children. May was on the front lines, often alone.
Andy’s Mother’s Day sermon notes of 1949 are really a tribute to May’s parenting. “Proverbs 31:28. Theme: “Your Mother.” Of all the lives that endear themselves to the hearts of boys and girls, none stand above the one who gave them birth – their mother. Before I am through I will show you how a child with a Christ loving mother is part way on the road to heaven when he starts the journey of life. In true Motherhood we see:
“She never raised her voice or yelled at us,” I heard Uncle Paul remark, with a shade of awe. My Dad often said the same thing, adding, “She was a saint.” He had lived in the Telford home and witnessed Paul and Tommy’s shenanigans, legal and illegal. Like the time… no. I won’t go there.
Even Marian, very social, and Ruth, worried them. At age 18, my mother met and fell in love with my Dad. Allan Mitchell, five years older, just released from the British Marines, wasn’t interested in spiritual things. They had met when Allan and his parents had moved into the Telford home’s third floor apartment. Allan’s father Ralph was a pastor friend of Andy’s. They needed a place to stay while he began a ministry in America.
Looking back, knowing my parent’s great marriage, I can’t imagine what the problem was. To Andy and May, it was like a wolf stealing from the cradle.
Ruth and her parents leave their home on December 16, 1950, for the wedding!
Andy and May’s family grew. They doted on their nine grandchildren: Andy, and Stephen (in the bow ties), Wendy, me, Jennifer (in the candy cane dresses), David (tie) and Susan (on May’s knee), and Brenda (leaning against May) and Tommy (in Aunt Nancy’s arms). Pam, grandchild #10, arrived two years after May died. I’m the one leaning on my grandfather’s knee. I’m still leaning on my grandfather.
We called May, “MomMom.” I regret not being able to remember her voice. I was only nine when she died. Also, she didn’t talk a lot. Andy, aside from the pulpit, was fairly quiet, too. But I can still hear his confident, “Our Father,” as he leaned over the dining room table to give the blessing over Sunday dinners. How MomMom taught a ladies’ Bible class that morning, attended the service, then laid out a full roast beef meal for us and whichever missionary friends happened to be in town, is a miracle of time management. And pressure cookers, which she used with skill. After dinner we cousins were ‘excused’ from the table to play in their basement, which had a linoleum tile shuffleboard court floor. We also liked to put on shows for them.
May died of a heart attack, August 11, 1964. She and Andy were at Fair Haven Bible Conference, where Andy was the speaker. A friend, Margaret, later wrote a letter to the Telfords about her afternoon at May’s bedside:
“…I thought the family would like to know what their mother said to me as I sat with her in her cabin:
“When Andy comes back from dinner I think he better get the doctor,” May closed her eyes for a few moments, then she wanted to tell me all about her family. I can hear her talking about Tommy, Paul, and their cars, Ruth and her nice home, new drapes and carpet, also Marian and her children, and how she liked to be with Andy, as she called you, at the conference. When I’m at home, I’m alone.”
The Sunday after May died, two verses and a poem, “Unto Myself,” were printed on the back of the church bulletin.
Erie May Telford was not well known, never earned a paycheck or even drove a car. Uncle Tommy told me she had once attempted to steer Andy’s maroon Buick into the garage, but scratched the whole side of it. That was the end of that. Driving, money, or fame weren’t things that meant anything to her anyway.
Her interest was Andy. His weekly letters to Roy always mention her:
“Just a line while May is getting breakfast for the ‘gang’ here at home, and also while she is getting dinner ready for 21. The Propst family (all 9 of them) will join us…’
“May and I have just returned from my Bible class in Ephrata…”
“May and I attended a banquet last night…”
“May and I have just returned from ‘Old Mills Bible Conference…”
“…May went with me…”
The poem May cherished, “Unto Myself” states, “…The end is sweet, tho’ bitter be the way…” At the time of her death, age 64, daughter Marian was in a difficult marriage. Things looked rosier in my family; Dad was now the Sunday School Superintendent and Mother taught a College Age Bible class. Paul and Tommy, married, with kids, were struggling to find their vocations. Paul, who loved cars, went to vocational school, then Bible college and eventually Dallas Seminary. He worked a day job and taught Bible classes at his church, but it was a long road. Tommy drove a bus for the city of Philadelphia. It wasn’t until after his mother died that he became a full time missions teacher and author, with United World Missions.
“If anyone ever needed anything, they would talk to Mother,” Tommy said. “The Christian life is all about relationships, and she was a master at it.”
I keep picking up May’s letter, addressed to “Dear Friends in Michigan.” It’s mine now.
“… Well I didn’t get very far with my letter. I don’t have much time for writing … Two ladies came in after prayer meeting, one to see Paul (the new baby), the other to tell me her love life …
Pat (her brother) was here yesterday. I think he was undecided whether or not to go back to Michigan. I think he has a wonderful work there, some conversions of middle aged people. Two men have gone to Bible school. But Pat is worried about money. He gets enough to live on but not to think of getting married. I guess it looks hopeless … I tell him the Lord can undertake for him, it would be wrong for him to leave the work.
Andy is as busy as ever, every minute seems to be occupied. He is teaching Ecclesiastes at Bible Study Friday night. It is very good. We have wonderful crowds…”
Erie May Telford, one of God’s Mighty Women.
“The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” I Samuel 30:24