Alexander T. Rankin, Missionary to Kansas Territory & Denver

Alexander T. Rankin, Missionary to Kansas Territory & Denver

One trip from Denver for church planting involved taking the stage to both Central City and Missouri City because several Presbyterians were interested in having churches organized. During the trip other settlements were visited with services held. It was an efficient way to reach what were often settlements located at sites where gold could be panned from streams or obtained from veins in rock. Wherever gold was found, communities of prospectors arose quickly.

Alexander Taylor was born December 4, 1803 to Richard and Isabella (Steel) Rankin in Dandridge, Tennessee. His parents were originally from Augusta County, Virginia and had moved for better opportunities in east Tennessee. Alexander was next to the last child born in a household of eleven sons and one daughter. The Baltimore Sun reported that according to Alexander’s memories of his home life

His mother became a sort of arbiter in all church matters, which were at that time in a greatly agitated state. She was a great theologian, and not afraid to express her opinion, so her house was the center for ministers, elders and all those interested in Presbyterianism and the various questions which occupied the minds of thinking people of that day.

What was the greatly agitated state of the Presbyterian Church during Rankin’s early life? As the eighteenth century turned to the nineteenth, the eastern Tennessee-Kentucky region experienced religious revivals such as the season at Cane Ridge in August 1801. The Synod of Kentucky of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) was formed in 1802 with its constituent presbyteries Transylvania, West Lexington, and Washington having been transferred from the Synod of Virginia. Some members of the Synod believed the revivals represented a unique outpouring of the Holy Spirit showing the work of God, but others thought differently and instead attributed the apparent conversions to the machinations of man and a stirred-up emotional atmosphere. Within the new synod there was polarization as the supporters of revivalism called for reduced educational requirements for ministers and less adherence to the Westminster Standards, particularly its Calvinist soteriology, so that more passionate ministers could be trained more quickly. The desire for more ministers was well founded. In 1803 the General Assembly reported that the Synod of Kentucky had 37 ministers and 3 licentiates with no vacant churches, but the other six synods combined had 62 ministers without call. It would have been good if some of the ministers without call had made their way to the Synod of Kentucky and established churches committed to Scripture and the Westminster Standards in the wake of the Second Great Awakening, but this was unfortunately not the case. The General Assembly sent missionaries to the expanding frontier, but the supply could not keep up with the demand. In the end, the controversy was resolved by division. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was formed in 1810 with ministers that were either expelled or had withdrawn from the Synod of Kentucky. So, the greatly agitated state of the Presbyterian Church into which Alexander Rankin was born had long-term effects on Tennessee and Kentucky Presbyterianism.

He went on to graduate Washington College in Tennessee, 1826. Washington was founded by the first Presbyterian minister to settle in Tennessee, Samuel Doak. Rankin’s education for the ministry was likely provided by a minister at Washington College. Rankin left Tennessee to be ordained an evangelist by the Presbytery of Cincinnati and worked as such until 1837 when he was installed the minister of a church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Fort Wayne Presbyterians had struggled since their earliest days when John Ross first preached in their settlement, but as the city grew Pastor Rankin worked with the existing congregation to bring harmony and he oversaw the addition of new members until he resigned in September 1843. For the next ten years it appears that his ministry involved supplying pulpits and serving brief calls in New York state, possibly in both Old and New School churches. From 1852 to 1859 he pastored the Breckinridge Street Church in Buffalo, New York. When he attended the Old School General Assembly in May 1859, Moderator William L. Breckinridge appointed him to the Committee of Publications and when deliberations about establishing the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest (later McCormick) took place, he was nominated a candidate for two of the faculty chairs, neither of which he received. But most significant for Rankin was the Assembly’s Board of Domestic Missions appointment to be a missionary to the West. It was a difficult decision but after some consideration he accepted the call, left his family in Buffalo, and made his way to St. Louis to plan the journey to the Kansas Territory and then on to the rapidly growing city of Denver in the Utah Territory.

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