3 White, Alma

White, Alma

( 1862-1946 )
   Holiness leader and first female bishop in modern times
   Alma Birdwell White was born on June 16, 1862, in Louis County, Kentucky. At the age of 16, she had a conversion experience and accepted Christ during a Methodist revival meeting.
   At the time of her conversion, White also professed a call to the ministry, which Methodist ministers refused to accept. She turned instead to teaching, but eventually married a Methodist ministerial student in Montana. She used her husband's status to begin holding unofficial revival meetings in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains. Her success, however, soon brought condemnation from Methodist authorities on her husband and herself.
   In 1901, the couple left the Methodist Episcopal Church (now an integral part of the United Methodist Church) and founded a new Holiness denomination, the Methodist Pentecostal Union, later renamed the Pillar of Fire. Alma became its bishop and Arthur her assistant. She received the donation of a tract of land in Zarephath, New Jersey, which became the church's headquarters and the location of their college. It also became the base of their radio ministry in the 1920s.
   White supported a number of unpopular causes, not the least being the rights of women, on whose behalf she founded a periodical, Women's Chains. She also became a vegetarian. Less to her credit, she was anti-Catholic, a position that led her to support the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
   During her four decades of leadership White built the Pillar of Fire into a national denomination. Following her death on June 26, 1946, she was succeeded by her two sons. Now known as the Pillar of Fire, International, the church has affiliated congregations in England, India, Malawi, Liberia,Nigeria, and Costa Rica.
   Further reading:
   ■ Susie Cunningham Stanley, Feminist Pillar of Fire: The Life of Alma White (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1993)
   ■ Alma White, Looking Back from Beulah (Denver, Colo.: Pentecostal Union, 1902; reprint, Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1951)
   ■ ----, Radio Sermons and Lectures (Denver, Colo.: Pillar of Fire, 1936); , The Story of My Life and the Pillar of Fire, 6 vols. (Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1919-34); , Women's Ministry (London: Pillar of Fire, n.d.).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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