How to Spot a Christian in the City of Brotherly Love

Marshall Winger, a twentieth-century Brethren in Christ evangelist, had a reputation for being an avid observer of the world -- as the story below suggests. (Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

The title of this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek. But it serves as a great intro to a story I read just this morning in E. Morris Sider’s book Canadian Portraits: Brethren in Christ Biographical Sketches. (Now that I’m living in the City of Brotherly Love, I’m a sucker for any story that includes a Philly reference!)

The tale concerns Marshall Winger, a twentieth-century Brethren in Christ evangelist from Canada. Sider tells it this way:

Marshall’s fearless, inquisitive mind led him to another questionable place . . . in Philadelphia — this time to a brothel. The story is told by Harold Engle, who was then a young man studying medicine in the city:

“Marshall said to me, ‘Harold, I’d like to go downtown to see the worst of Philadelphia. I’d like to go to the red-light district.’ I said, ‘Well I don’t know anything about it, but David Hoover and I together might be able to find it.’

“The three of us set out for the district. He had on his plain clothes and a big, broad-rimmed hat. We went to the red light district and entered a building. David and I leaned against the wall away from people’s attention, but Marshall stood more prominently in the until a barmaid said to him, ‘May I get you a drink?’ Marshall replied, ‘No, not just yet.’ He stood around watching. The barmaid came to him a second time, and again he said no. Finally the barmaid said, ‘Sir, I know you don’t belong here. You need to leave.’

“When we got outside, Marshall said, ‘See that? They can tell a Christian every time.’ He added, ‘Now I’ve seen the worst. I can go back to Canada and tell the story.'”

What Winger thought he would get from “telling the story” back in Canada remains to be seen (and speculated upon!), but the humor of the story remains.

For more of Winger’s (mis)adventures in the City of Brotherly Love, including a Depression-era run-in with the African-American spiritual leader Father Divine, see his biography in Sider’s Canadian Portraits: Brethren in Christ Biographical Sketches (Grantham, Pa.: Brethren in Christ Historical Society, 2001), pp. 320-342.

(And a shout-out to my wife Kate for spotting this story! Whenever she picks up Canadian Portraits for a quick read, she always finds something fascinating to share with me — and this time was no exception.)

About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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