Named for the recently elected Indiana-born US President, Benjamin Harrison Cain (“Ben”) was born in Pulaski County, near San Pierre, Indiana. He had five brothers and four sisters. All were raised in a rural culture, where farming, livestock, and game hunting formed the foundation. The family moved repeatedly within Indiana during Cain’s childhood. This resulted from land speculation by his father, the search of sufficiently large holdings to make agriculture profitable, and a regular series of failings due to droughts, floods, etc. In 1913, the family settled on a small holding near Plymouth, IN. His parents remained there for the remainder of their lives.
Cain’s religious life began early
Remembering his parents as not particularly encouraging, Cain attended German-speaking evangelical country church as a boy. Irregular attendance in local churches continued as the family moved throughout his adolescence but affiliation was were never strong. Cain developed his own, personal evangelical calling while attending the Burr Oak United Brethern Church, where he was baptised in January 1910. This church always held a special place in his heart. It was through here that he committed to entering the ministry in 1913. He preached his first sermon in early 1914 at Plymouth United Brethren Church. Reflecting on his rural upbringing in his autobiography, Cain wrote,
What had I learned during these years in the great out-of-doors, the large fields, the golden grain, frosty mornings, the starry skies, the flying clouds, live stock, God’s marvellous color scheme of the four seasons and beautiful flowers? I had learned to meditate, to pray, the ways of Providence, patience and humility. This education – without it, I could not have become the Apostle to rural people as I did some years later.” (Cain 1970: 16)
Family finances certainly affected Cain’s education. Though he was the first in his family to complete an eighth grade education (1904), further study was abandoned for farm work and cash pay that contributed to the family income. Wanting to enter the ministry, Cain enrolled in the Indiana Central College, Indianapolis, in 1914 to earn his high school education, the first step in his ministerial training. He graduated in 1922. In his second year at the school, Cain served two parishes as student pastor, under the guidance of J.E. Grimes, Conference Superintendent. These were his first congregations. In September 1921, Cain was ordained as minister in the United Brethren in Christ Church. Cain entered Bonebrake Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH) in September 1924, earning his BD in May 1927. Throughout this period, Cain continued as pastor in many congregations. In June 1923, Cain married Lona B. Randall, whom he met in college.
Throughout his years in college and seminary, Cain’s pastoral assignments involved rebuilding depleted congregations and rundown facilities. He proved a successful manager of revivals and renewals, leaving most churches much better off than when he started. Cain spoke a good deal about “Christian responsibility,” in the sense of a shepherd guiding a flock. It wasn’t enough to create converts. One had to sustain the faith of worshippers and develop their understanding of devotion and service. To this end, Cain supplemented revivals with educational and service programs, what he called “constructive help”.
By inclination, Cain was an administrator
His last pastorate (Fort Wayne Calvary Church, 1929-1935) ended when he was elected Conference Superintendent. This role was managerial, over pastorals, congregations, finances, and properties. His superintendency coincided with a move towards supporting churches in small, rural communities. Cain helped develop programmes aimed at supporting … His 1941 book, The Church Ministering to Rural Life, served as a campaign plan. In 1947, he was elected secretary for the Department of Town and Country Church, serving until 1961. The program sought to keep rural pastors and congregations connected to a sense of larger mission. It ran training programs, …Out of this activity came the quarterly paper, Our Church in Town and Country, which Cain edited and published.
Cain developed this in an essay, “Organization and the Program of the Local Church”. This was written in 1928 for a seminary course and published in 1938.
Throughout his pastoral career, Cain served rural Indiana and Ohio. He became an expert of church administration in small towns and dispersed rural communities.
N. Main, a colleague since seminary, described Cain as someone who “went about his many tasks in a quiet way, never assuming an air of superiority.”
In June 1923, Cain married Lona B. Randall, a college friend. They had three children. The first died in infancy. Mrs. Cain was often in poor health and complications after she suffered a fall in 1961 precipitated Cain’s retirement from church administration. She died in 1964. Cain’s own health was low for several years. In 1966, Cain married his second wife, Edna P. LeClere, a widower also with long experience supporting a ministerial husband.
Cain retired in June 1961. He continued pastoral work until his death in January 1972.
In Plow to Pulpit (P2P), BHC says he wrote 5 books on rural church administration. In addition, he edited and wrote for the quarterly paper, Our Church in Town and Country. The List of Serials Published by Churches Related to the United Methodist Church lists vol 1-14, 1947-1961, succeeded by Advance: in Towns and Country also listed as Advance (Dayton, OH). Copies are located in Drew University.
1. Cain, Benjamin Harrison. 1938. Organization and the Program of the Local Church. S.l.: s.n.
P2P (page 58) says this was a course project while enrolled (non-resident) in Temple University in c1928. Published about the time BHC returns to study for doctoral degree. This book is available in Internet Archives: Organization and the Program of the Local Church.
2. Cain, Benjamin Harrison. 1941. The Church Ministering to Rural Life. Dayton, OH: Home Mission and Church Erection Society, The Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
In P2P, BHC says this is his ThD thesis, published in 1941. The degree was awarded in 1942. This book is available in Internet Archives: The Church Ministering to Rural Life.
3. Benjamin Harrison Cain. 1957. Strengthening the Program of The Town and Country Church. Dayton, OH: Otterbein Press for The Department of Home Missions and Church Extension, The Evangelical United Brethren Church. 56p.
This book is available in Internet Archives: Strengthening the Program of The Town and Country Church.
4. Benjamin Harrison Cain. 1960. The Town and Country Pulpit: Sermon Blueprints for Forty Special Days. Anderson, IN: Warner Press.
This book is available in Internet Archives: The Town and Country Pulpit.
5. Benjamin Harrison Cain. 1970. From Plow to Pulpit: Memoirs of Benjamin Harrison Cain; Fifty-five Years a Pastor, Conference Superintendent and a General Church Secretary. Warsaw, IN: self-published.
This book is available in Internet Archives: From Plow to Pulpit.