Oct 2, 2017

David Mainse put Canadian take on his television ministry, avoiding scandals that felled U.S. televangelists

David Mainse
The gift of Mainse, who died Monday at 81, was his ability to present deeply religious programming that did not come across as fire-and-brimstone preaching
Graeme Hamilton
National Post
September 26, 2017

David Mainse was a Pentecostal pastor in the Ottawa Valley in the early 1960s when he noticed TV aerials popping up on people’s roofs. He approached the owner of the TV station in Pembroke, Ont., about a weekly show, a way of entering the homes of people who weren’t filling the pews Sunday morning.

The owner was not a Christian, but he was intrigued by the promise of musical performances by Mainse’s wife, Norma-Jean, and her brothers, a popular local act. In 1962 he gave Mainse a 15-minute slot Saturday nights between the news and the late-night movie, laying down one rule: no preaching.

From those unlikely circumstances a television ministry — which in 1977 would become 100 Huntley Street — was born. The show would span decades and become a fixture on the dial for Canadians, whether they were seeking out the good word or simply flipping channels.

The gift of Mainse, who died from leukemia Monday at the age of 81, was his ability to present deeply religious programming that did not come across as the fire-and-brimstone preaching dreaded by the Pembroke station owner.

“Dad always said it’s amazing how much of the gospel you can pack into the introduction to a song,” his son, Ron, said in an interview Tuesday.

“It was a kind of a music and interview variety show, and not a preaching show.” His style was not “to beat people over the head with a Bible” but to “speak the truth in love,” Ron Mainse said.

While some American televangelists were purporting to heal the lame and appealing for donations that they would use to pad their bank accounts, 100 Huntley Street offered a decidedly Canadian take on religious programming.

Mainse was born in 1936 in Campbell’s Bay, Que., and was raised outside Ottawa by his missionary parents. When his mother died when he was just 12, he turned away from church, but at age 16 he experienced a religious conversion. He studied theology and was ordained, serving as a pastor in the Ontario communities of Brighton, Deep River, Sudbury and Hamilton.

But it was on television that Mainse shone. “He had an amazing kind of magic with the lens,” said George McEachern, who worked alongside Mainse on 100 Huntley Street for 25 years. “He was a tremendous communicator.”

Lorna Dueck, who was a co-host with Mainse on 100 Huntley Street and is now CEO of the not-for-profit parent corporation Crossroads Christian Communications Inc., said he had an ability to connect with viewers. “When he looked into the camera, hundreds of people phoned in for prayer,” she said. The show’s 24-hour prayer line receives 1,200 calls a day from people seeking spiritual help, she said.

When scandal felled American televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s, the image of the whole business suffered. Crossroads saw a steep drop in the donations that paid to keep 100 Huntley Street on the air.

In 1992, as Mainse dealt with a financial crisis that forced him to lay off more than a quarter of Crossroads employees, he told the Ottawa Citizen the U.S. scandals had made people suspicious. He said he began carrying around his T4 income tax slip showing his annual income of $48,000 to prove he was not in the business for the money.

“I don’t need to make more. The Lord promised to supply our needs, not our greeds,” he said at the time.

“The televangelist scandal of the ’80s deeply affected David,” Dueck said, noting that he was called in to help set the PTL Club back on course after host Jim Bakker was charged with fraud. “He knew the players who had fallen, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker,” she said. “He knew them personally, and it deeply troubled and grieved David.”

She said his integrity was apparent, and it allowed him to weather the storm. In 2008 the Christian Council of Canadian Charities honoured Mainse and Billy Graham for their “lifetimes of integrity.”

Mainse waded into political debates, most recently coming out against the legalization of gay marriage. In 2003, as he announced his plan to retire as host of 100 Huntley Street, he said he wanted to devote more time to preserving the traditional definition of marriage “as meaning a man and a woman.”

Dueck said he told her that he felt like the champion of losing social causes, having unsuccessfully opposed euthanasia, abortion, and gay marriage. But she said he felt the primary cause of his life was a winner: “Get right with Jesus and love people.”

Despite having created Canada’s longest running daily TV show, which producers say reaches 1.3 million viewers a week, Mainse never aspired to be a celebrity. And the country’s elite did not see him as one. Dueck said his name was put forward several times for the Order of Canada but he was never selected.

“I don’t think the official power structures knew what to do with David Mainse,” she said. “We don’t understand why in some people’s minds he remains a minor player. To the millions of people who know his broadcast work, he remains a hero of love of the highest degree.”

Mainse leaves behind his wife of 59 years, Norma-Jean, daughters Elaine and Ellen and sons Reynold and Ron.

• Email: ghamilton@nationalpost.com | Twitter: grayhamilton


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