J. McRee (“Mac”) Elrod was the last African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister to hold services at 823 Jackson Avenue. Mac Elrod (pictured second from right with his children from left to right Matthew, Christine, Cara, Lona and Laura) was an ordained AME minister (later becoming a Unitarian minister) as well as a prominent librarian and cataloguer who served as head of the cataloging department at the University of British Columbia (UBC) from 1967 to 1979.
Mac Elrod was born in Gainesville, Georgia, in 1932. He held graduate degrees in theology as well as information technology and library sciences. He was raised in the Methodist Church and was originally ordained as a Methodist minister. After living in Korea with his wife Norma Lee Cummins from 1955 to 1960, they returned to the United States and he transferred his ordination to the AME. While living in Ohio, Elrod volunteered to be the minister for several small AME churches there.
Elrod was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the United States as well as the anti-Vietnam war movement. He decided to emigrate to Vancouver in the summer of 1967 in part because of his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. While not subject to the draft himself, he was instrumental in assisting draft dodgers in Vancouver through his work with the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors.
The photo above, from the steps of 823 Jackson Avenue, is from a newspaper article in 1969 entitled: “Historic Negro Church Reopens Here” and notes that the building had suffered “long years of neglect.” Elrod recollects in an interview from 2002 (Rudder, University of Victoria, 2004), that the AME Bishop in Ohio upon learning that Elrod was moving to Vancouver, said: “Oh we have a building there … I will appoint you as minister, see if you can get the congregation started again.” When Elrod first arrived at 823 Jackson Avenue it was not being used to hold church services but as a shelter for the homeless.
Alas, Elrod did not succeed in restarting the AME congregation. He estimated that there were about only about 20 members left at the time. In the end the presiding AME Elder from Seattle, who had authority over the building, decided to sell the building to Annie Girard. We will have more to say about Mac Elrod and Annie Girard in future posts.