Pentecostal Pioneers: Walter S. Gunn

Pentecostal Pioneers: Walter S. Gunn
By Jane Guinn McClain
Walter S. Guinn was a man who wore many hats in his lifetime. He was a pastor, an evangelist, a Bible teacher, a husband, a butcher, and my daddy!

In a small farmhouse in Lincoln County, Missouri, on December 5, 1904, a *ail, sickly baby was born. He was named Walter Sampson Guinn. His mother was a godly woman who shouted down the aisles of the Christian Church and walked in all the light she had. She was afraid she would not live to raise her son due to her weakened condition. So as she lay in her bed holding her new baby, she asked God to take care of them. Suddenly a man appeared in the window. He told her he had brought her a message from the Lord. He said that God had His hand on her baby and that He was going to take care of both of them. Grandma Guinn felt surely she had seen an angel from the Lord. When Walter was still a young child, the family moved to St. Louis. He gave his heart to the Lord when he was a child about the age of twelve. As a teenager he drifted away from the church, but my grandma held on to that promise she had received when he was born.

By eighteen Walter had become a butcher and was managing a meat market. One day a young girl came into the market to buy meat, and she caught his eye. She kept coming back, as it seemed she was receiving more meat per pound than others did. Stella Frazier ha just moved to St. Louis from the mountains of Kentucky and knew nothing of Pentecost. But God had a plan.

On September 25, 1923, Stella became Mrs. Walter Guinn. Right away my grandmother started telling Stella about the Lord, and she took her to church with her. On Christmas Day, 1924, my mother was baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost at Benjamin Harrison Hite’s church. On the same night my sister, Margie (Mrs. Robert McFarland), was dedicated to the Lord at the age of one month. Now my grandmother had someone to help her pray for her son.

After becoming so miserable (prayer works that way), Walter Guinn finally came to church. With the Spirit of the Lord drawing him, he headed for the altar. As he wrestled with the Lord, his body was bounced around like a rubber ball. Someone who was there told me that my daddy’s body raised about three feet off the floor. Finally the words “anytime, any place, anywhere” flowed from his mouth. He completely surrendered, God filled him with the Holy Ghost, and he had his calling.

My dad preached his first sermon the very next night in a storefront mission on Broadway in St. Louis. Often God will call someone to preach and send him elsewhere, but in the case of Walter Guinn, he started in north St. Louis and finished in north St. Louis. But his life touched the lives of thousands of people all over the country.

When my folks started to work for God, all they had or needed was the Bible, a tambourine, and the Spirit of the Lord. God took it from there!

My dad always said he was a pole and line fisherman for Jesus. He said when you fished this way, you catch one fish at a time and you know what you have. He did not go in for “big campaign” preaching. He called this net fishing. You get a net full, but you never know exactly what you have. So one by one my dad built his congregation.

The first church building we worshiped in was on Sullivan Avenue. Here hoodlums threw brickbats through the windows. Persecution, however, gave the old saints the foundation that they needed to stand later. I guess my daddy was best known in the St. Louis area for his tent meeting every summer on the corner of Fourteeth and Branch streets. There are people today who come by the church and say they heard him preach in the tent. For years many people who belonged to no particular church called for Daddy to preach funerals and perform weddings because they remembered the tent meetings.

Of course preacher’s kids look at things from a different slant than most people. My memories of the tent meetings are somewhat different. I remember being awakened in the middle of the night and rushed out in a thunderstorm to head for the tent. The ropes that held the tent had to be loosened and then tightened during the rain to keep the tent from blowing away, and all hands were needed.

My dad had kept his job at the meat market, as times were hard and he needed his salary to help pay church expenses. He would buy day-old bread for two cents a loaf and other bakery goods, and pile up the baked goods on the back seat at the church on Tuesday night Bible study. After church all the saints would take as much as they needed for their families. Daddy would laugh and say that was one way to get folks out to Bible study.

As the church grew so did the need for Daddy to be there full time. But he just could not give up the security of his job. One day my sister, Margie, took very sick. The doctor said he thought she would die. Daddy told the Lord if He would heal Margie that he would give up his job and trust the Lord for every need. Immediately Margie was healed. From that day until the day he died, I never did know my dad or my mother ever to use a credit card. They trusted the Lord, and if they did not have cash for something, they did not buy it.

Although Daddy ended his career as a butcher we always assured him that it would come in handy later because we will need a butcher to kill the fatted calf at the marriage supper in heaven.

One summer while we were in the tent meeting, our church building was sold. We wondered if we would have to stay in the tent all winter, but the Lord provided a building for us. The building stood at the corner of Blair and Warren streets and was located in a shopping district called The White Way. So we called our church The White Way Tabernacle. It seemed to fit us.

It was at this church that the plans were worked out for the merger between two large Pentecostal organizations, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and The Pentecostal Church, Incorporated. Daddy was the last pastor who invited the board of the P.A. of J.C. to use our church
and our home. It was an historical occasion.
Now, here again is that “preacher’s kid” version of this historical event. My mother was called away from home due to the death of her father. I was fifteen years old, and now I was the lady of the house. I was in charge of entertaining all of those preachers as well as some of their wives.

For the first few days I really had a problem. I would make coffee for some and then hurry and hide the pot and make tea for others. I had to get Coca-Cola for some, then arrange for grape or orange soda for those of a different persuasion. Finally I told my daddy we had to do something. I did not want to offend anyone, but enough was enough. As always, the wisdom of Solomon came from my daddy. We decided to put everything on the table, pray over it, and let everyone’s conscience be his guide.

In his early ministry my dad had gone back to his birthplace in Lincoln County to preach. Later he went to Troy, Missouri, and started a church. Now it is a growing church. My brother, Eddie Guinn, pastored this church for years until he came to St. Louis to help Daddy in the church. Some of the original saints had come from near Vichy, Missouri. They encouraged Daddy to start a church for their family back home. So with the help of the saints at our church, a new work was established at Vichy, Missouri. It is still an active church today.

Times changed and many of our people moved farther out to the suburbs. The church followed them and located at the corner of Grand and Carter. Since we had left the old White Way shopping district behind. we changed the name of the church to Northside Pentecostal Church.

About this time Dad put on the hat of a teacher. He was asked to teach a class at the Gateway College of Evangelism. Oh, how he enjoyed this! God had given him so much knowledge of the Scriptures that his greatest joy was giving it back to young people in his classes.

He taught in many Bible conferences, and he always kept his charts handy when anyone would call. Of course, the caller always got two for one, for my mother was always ready to go with him. She never let an opportunity pass when she could tell everyone about the Ladies Auxiliary work for the state of Missouri, of which she was the leader. One of the highlights of their year was going to Bogalousa, Louisiana, for the Bible conference.

In 1969-70 Dad and my brother, Eddie, built a new church in north St. Louis County on Shepley Drive, where they served as co-pastors. Dad’s health had begun to fail and the load was just too heavy for him to carry alone.

In the last year of his life Bible teaching became very important to him. As a youth project at the church, the youth taped his last Bible studies. He didn’t have the strength to stand to teach, but he sat in a chair and made it all the way from Creation to Revelation. Sometimes his voice got a little weak, but with those tapes he has continued to preach the truth to us even though he has been gone for many years.

In the last few weeks of his life he suffered several strokes. The doctors did not want us to keep him at home because they thought he would be in too much pain. But he wanted to be at home, so that is where he was. Every day I would ask him if he was in pain, and every day the answer would be the same, “No, that is my miracle.”

On December 31, 1979, at the age of seventy-five Daddy left us. A leader to the end, he was the first of our family to cross to the other side. But he left happy memories and a desire for the rest of us to follow. For over fifty years he had pastored one church and one congregation in one town, and I never heard a man say anything bad about him. What more could a daughter ask!