Fundamentalist Pillar

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"Political parties yell themselves hoarse when the name of a nominee is mentioned. Why not shout in ecstasy when the name of the Lord is called? If you are happy, let the whole world know it. Do not keep your joy bottled up."

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Fundamentalist ecstasy and hallelujah-shouting were a vital part of masterful, deep-voiced Alma White's faith. On it she built a sect called Pillar of Fire—with 4,000 followers, 61 churches, seven schools, ten periodicals and two broadcasting stations. Last week, as it must even to "the only woman bishop in the world," Death came to the Pillar of Fire's 84-year-old founder.

No Catalepsy. Little Alma Bridwell was thought so dull by her Kentucky parents that they gave her ten brothers & sisters a priority on schooling. When an aunt invited one of the seven girls in the family to visit the wild Montana Territory, Alma was her last choice—but each of the others was afraid to venture into the country of cowboys & Indians. Nineteen-year-old Alma took the chance and stayed to teach, first in public school, later in Salt Lake City's Methodist seminary. When she wanted to preach as well, shocked Methodists told her to marry a preacher. At 25 she did.

After marrying Methodist Minister Kent White, she occasionally took over his pulpit. But ecclesiastical authorities failed to share her congregation's enthusiasm for Mrs. White's preaching, and in 1901 she organized her own sect. Eventually Preacher White's followers took the name "Pillar of Fire" from the title of a bulletin she published.

Though she believed in enthusiastic unbottling of religious emotions, Matriarch White was always stern with pentecostal excesses. "Sometimes our people get happy and skip around a bit," she said, "but . . . we don't have any catalepsy or epilepsy." When some of her southern followers once essayed a bit of holy rolling, Bishop White merely said, "You get right up or I'll stick a pin in you." It worked.

No Female Bareleggedness.Her energy was prodigious. She wrote 35 religious tracts and some 200 hymns, wrote and produced two morality plays exposing the evils of drink. At 70 she took up painting, turned out 300-odd canvases, and had three New York exhibitions of her landscapes. During her last years she still fought her good fight against cardplaying and female bareleggedness (because of the "spinelessness" of men).

Last week, at Pillar of Fire's thousand-acre colony in New Jersey (named Zarephath after the place where the "widow woman" sustained Elijah), Alma White's son carried on. Handsome, scholarly Arthur K. White, also a bishop, said that this summer he might propose a candidate for Pillar of Fire's No. 2 bishopric.

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