PHILLIPS, ALFRED MOORE, temperance leader, Methodist minister, and editor; b. 1847 in Hillier Township, Upper Canada, eldest son of John Smith Phillips and Sarah Bacon; m. first 21 June 1882 Margaret Jane Coyne in St Thomas, Ont., and they had one son; m. secondly Susan Hunt in St Marys, Ont., and they had one son and one daughter; d. 10 Dec. 1896 in Montreal.
Alfred Moore Phillips’s rural upbringing and early career were typical of many Protestant clergymen of the late 19th century. Raised in Murray Township, Northumberland County, Phillips left the homestead to teach at a neighbouring school when he was 16. The young man devoted his excess energies to pursuits that must have pleased his pious Methodist parents: he took courses in English and mathematics, became an accomplished Orangeman, and entered actively into local temperance work. At the age of 20, upon being converted at a revival held near Trenton, Phillips joined his parents’ Methodist class. Soon afterwards he began to feel the call to preach the Gospel, and, following six months as a temperance organizer, he became a Methodist preacher in 1870. Three years later, upon the completion of his probationary period, he entered Victoria College in Cobourg to study theology. He graduated with a bd in 1878, the same year in which he was ordained. Phillips spent the next 18 years in a succession of churches in southwestern Ontario, Toronto, and Montreal.
Phillips’s journey to the ministry may have been typical of the late 19th century, but he was by no means a typical clergyman. A man of intellect, energy, and organizational skills well beyond the ordinary, he had first made his mark in temperance work. In 1864 he was instrumental in organizing a division of the Sons of Temperance, whose affiliation he transferred to the British Order of Good Templars soon after because it was a Canadian and not an American organization. Phillips’s penchant for institution building and his preference for Canadian control would repeat themselves in the next two decades. Climbing the hierarchy of the British Templars rapidly, he was elected most worthy chief templar in 1872, and during his year-long term he introduced the order into Australia. As most worthy secretary from 1874 to 1878, he succeeded in uniting the British Templars in Canada, the United Order of Templars of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Australian Templars into the United Temperance Association, the Canadian national lodge of which was established in 1876. In 1884 he led the association into the larger Royal Templars of Temperance, after first negotiating for it self-government and an independent beneficiary fund. As an observer noted, Phillips was “the Father of Royal Templarism in Canada.”
Important though his contribution to the temperance movement was, his church work left a larger and more lasting impression. A theological liberal and social reformer, he helped to lead and influence a number of progressive movements within Methodism. At a time when the efficacy of ministerial education was questioned by many Methodists, his insistence on pursuing a degree despite the objections of some senior brethren was remembered as an act of courage by his peers. While at college he helped to establish the Jackson Society, a literary organization for theological students, and he founded the Theological Union, which would become an important forum of debate for Methodists and spread to other Methodist colleges and conferences. In conjunction with the union he established a Bible study course patterned on the well-known American Institute of Sacred Literature, and from 1889 to 1895 he served as an editor and the business manager of the union’s organ, the Canadian Methodist Quarterly, and its successor, the Canadian Methodist Review (Toronto). Through its pages Phillips sought “to enthuse a deeper interest in the great questions of the day; and to assist in keeping Methodists abreast of the living issues of our times.” To these ends he also championed the need for a well-trained and educated clergy, and, with the support of the family of Hart Almerrin Massey, he played a major role in the foundation in 1893 of the Methodist Deaconess Society, a pioneer organization in the training of women for evangelistic and social service work. And Phillips practised what he preached: acknowledged as “among the ablest pulpit teachers of his time,” he is said to have bested in debate both Edward King Dodds, a noted opponent of temperance, and Charles Watts, the famous secularist.
Although he did not live to see the turn of the century, Alfred Moore Phillips should be remembered as one of the architects of 20th-century Canadian Methodism. Profoundly influenced by one of Methodism’s oldest tenets, the conviction that God was directing one’s entire life, he nevertheless sought to move the church away from older absolutions, believing that the ultimate “of theological truth has not been reached, any more than that of scientific [truth].” To this intellectual liberality was tied an ethical concern that made Phillips an early exponent of applied Christianity, a term used to describe that ever-widening circle of programs the churches would sponsor as a means of uplifting society. Very much a “regenerator,” to use historian Ramsay Cook’s descriptive word, Phillips helped to lay the groundwork for the rise of a liberal theology that sought to reconcile Christianity and modern society.
A selection of excerpts from Alfred Moore Phillips’s sermons and speeches was prepared by his sister Nettie Phillips Walt and issued posthumously as My message: being extracts from the pulpit and platform addresses of the late Rev. A. M. Phillips (Toronto, 1897). A volume of clippings of his sermons from unidentified contemporary newspapers or journals (with an obituary of Phillips and several sermons by William Galbraith), pasted over the pages of a copy of William Cochrane, Future punishment: or does death end probation? . . . (Brantford, Ont., and Saint John, N.B., 1886), is preserved in the UCC-C.
UCC-C, Biog. files; Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), Deaconess Soc. papers, boxes 1–2. Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), Montreal Conference, Minutes (Toronto), 1897. Christian Guardian, 1885–96. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. Cook, Regenerators. The first fifty years, 1895–1945; the training and work of women employed in the service of the United Church of Canada ([Toronto?, 1945?]). J. D. Thomas, “Servants of the church: Canadian Methodist deaconess work, 1890–1926,” CHR, 65 (1984): 371–95.