“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” ― George Bernard Shaw, from his novel Immaturity
Rev. Clinton L. Goodwin was one of Altadena Baptist Church’s senior members when I came to be Pastor in 1972. He had been one of the church’s founders in 1934, and he had been part of the leadership since then, serving as a Deacon and Sunday School Superintendent. I felt secure in his wisdom and years of experience.
He was retired by then, after having served for more than twenty years as the lead administrator of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, the largest inner-city rescue program in the USA. He became one of the most respected religious figures in Southern California. He was even celebrated on the TV show This Is Your Life, with Ralph Edwards, in a November 1960 episode. (I have watched this episode but can’t find it online; any help would be appreciated.) I still honor his memory by giving a prominent place on my office bookshelves to the forty-seven-volume classic Pulpit Commentary on the Bible, which he gave to me. He was a wonderful role model in Christian ministry.
However, Clinton Goodwin had a skeleton in his closet: he was an ex-convict. (Read his testimony here.) He had been brought up in the Christian faith by his mother, and at the age of 14, he accepted the Lord under the guidance of his Sunday School teacher. He really tried to live the life, developing a pattern of personal prayer and Bible reading. The family lived in Chicago at the time, and he even took some courses at Moody Bible Institute.
But when he was in his late teens, his parents relocated, and he decided to go out on his own. He tried to see the country by riding the rails, but this was not as romantic as he thought it would be, and he was reduced to panhandling in Denver, sleeping on the streets at night. Meanwhile, he drifted away, entirely, from the church and Christian fellowship.
After several months of this life, a young street companion offered him the opportunity to make some “easy money.” For the next two years, the two of them supported themselves by a string of armed robberies at gas stations and grocery stores, all the way from Denver to Los Angeles. In one incident, their victim drew a gun and fired at them. Both of them emptied their revolvers as the man escaped in his car; miraculously, their shots all missed.
Clinton’s charmed life of crime came to an abrupt end during a botched robbery at a store on South Flower Street in Los Angeles. He was arrested and hand-cuffed by a burly cop who beat him up and took him to L.A. County Jail. He was twenty-two years old.
At his trial, he was sentenced to ten years and sent to San Quentin State Prison. A few weeks into his term, the prison chaplain saw something in him that prompted him to challenge him about his spiritual condition. Clinton broke down and recommitted himself to Christ. During the next four years at San Quentin, he grew in his faith and Christian fellowship. When he was released on parole, he traveled to Pasadena because of an offer of help from two church women who had visited him when he was in County Jail years earlier. He found a job with Crane Paper Company, and he was continually employed by them for the next twenty-one years.
Meanwhile, he developed a personal ministry of visiting people in jails and helping recent parolees get a new start in life. He pursued personal Bible study and regularly preached in rescue missions all around the area. In 1935 (a year after he helped start ABC), he was ordained to the ministry. Finally, in 1942, he became part of the leadership at Union Rescue Mission, where he served for another two decades.
Clinton Goodwin acknowledged there was a skeleton in his background, and he didn’t try to hide it. By God’s grace, he was able to make it dance in a life of rescuing people who, like him, had made bad choices early in life. Boy, did he make that skeleton dance!
Do you think God can make your skeleton dance?
— Pastor George Van Alstine