Press-Republican

Columns

April 22, 2013

The life and times of John McCandlish Phillips

The word on the Brooklyn streets in 1959 was that a crazy preacher from Pennsylvania was helping addicts find the power to kick heroin and gang members to trade their weapons for Bibles.

Reporter John McCandlish Phillips heard the talk in local churches and took the tip to his metro editors at The New York Times. This was more than a religion story, he argued. This was something truly new in urban ministry in a rough corner of the city.

The editors just didn't get it.

"The New York Times could not see ... validity of this approach to any issue as serious as addiction. Editors said, 'You can't put a few religious ideas up against something as real as addiction and expect any results,'" said Phillips, in a 2000 interview in Riverside Park.

The young preacher was David Wilkerson, whose story would eventually be told in the bestseller "The Cross and the Switchblade." Phillips kept bringing his editors detailed reports about Teen Challenge's work, which would eventually expand worldwide.

Again, Phillips stressed this was not a story full of mumbo-jumbo. As a veteran reporter, he knew he needed a foundation of hard facts about subjects -- drug addiction and gang warfare -- that were clearly newsworthy. After a decade, his editors surrendered and let him write the story.

"The results were there," he said. "Lives were being changed. ... It was news. We miss too many stories like that and that's a shame."

Phillips died on April 9 at the age of 85. His brilliant two-decade Times career ended when he left the newsroom in 1973, at the peak of his journalistic powers, to become a Pentecostal preacher on Manhattan's upper West Side. His flock was small, but included some Christians in major newsrooms who considered him a discreet and invaluable mentor.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Columns
  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

    Should more pastors ask this blunt question: "Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?" wonders religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • little_mug.jpg There's no saw like an old saw Kaye and I laughed ourselves silly the other day as we tried to top each other with our own sayings from childhood, columnist Gordie Little writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Denenberg_Stu1.jpg Privacy concerns make a comeback

    There's a growing concern amongst the millennials, columnist Stu Denenberg writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • paul_grasso.jpg Several options exist for downtown

    Pedestrian mall just one idea that could be good for city's economic future, according to columnist Paul Grasso.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Government can't create success on its own

    It takes a grass-roots community effort of people working together to assure future accomplishment, according to columnist Colin Read.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hagar_mug1.jpg Farmers strive for sustainability

    Conserving the land and assuring long-term profitability are two of the key goals for farmers these days, according to columnist Peter Hagar.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Big shift in Quebec vote

    Being a man of science, Philippe Couillard, premier-designate of Quebec, chose to use a geological term (though his field is actually medicine) to describe what happened in Monday's election, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg A monastery in the Hebrides, after 1,000 years

    Before Father Seraphim Aldea can build a monastery on Scotland's Mull Island, he needs to have a working septic system, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tobias_Sue_012914.jpg Old movies offer more than entertaining TV

    Columnist Susan Tobias and her husband, Toby, are reminded of simple childhood memories while watching an old black-and-white movie.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

Peter Black: Canadian Dispatch

Lois Clermont, Editor

Cornell Cooperative Extension
Richard Gast: Cornell Ag Extension

Bob Grady

Guest Columns
Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

Health Advice

Ray Johnson: Climate Science
Gordie Little: Small Talk

Terry Mattingly: On Religion

Steve Ouellette: You Had To Ask

Colin Read: Everybody's Business

Pinch of Time