Where could a transplanted Scotsman and a young lady from Northern Ireland meet and fall in love? Why, in Los Angeles, of course!
As unlikely as this scenario seems, it was in L.A. that the Rev. Archie McNeill met Evangeline. Archie’s father was the pastor of the Church of the Open Door, a church attached to what was then known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now BIOLA). Evangeline, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, had immigrated to the United States from Northern Ireland as a child. The young McNeills embraced Christian ministry as a lifestyle and vocation, traveling evangelistically and also serving in churches.
When Archie McNeill pastored a Presbyterian church in Portland, Oregon, Evangeline and he often took congregational groups camping. Heather Goodenough, the McNeills’ daughter and former Cannon Beach director and former board chairman who still serves on the board of directors, recalls that her father believed it was necessary to get people away from their everyday lives “so that God could speak to them.”
In the 1940s, Evangeline and Archie both had a strong impression that God was leading them into conference ministry. They found the property which would eventually become Cannon Beach Conference Center while on a camping trip with members of their church’s youth group and congregation. In 1944, the McNeills purchased the “historic old 10 room Cannon Beach Hotel and property… with various other buildings” in what was then “the sleepy little resort town of Cannon Beach.” Twenty-five people attended the first week of conferences in 1945, with more to come throughout that first summer.
Heather Goodenough recalls that her family moved to Cannon Beach when she was seven years old. A baby sister was born when she was 10. Two years later, Archie McNeill tragically died in an automobile accident, leaving Evangeline with two young daughters and a growing conference ministry. Of necessity, Evangeline took over the daily operations of the conference center. She became a working single parent in an era when it was almost unheard of for a woman to do so. Despite the fact that the conference center was guided by a board of directors, and that men served on all planning committees, some pastors cancelled their speaking engagements at Cannon Beach in the early days of Mrs. McNeill’s tenure because a woman was the director. Even so, Cannon Beach had little trouble attracting such well-known and respected Bible teachers as J. Vernon McGee and Dr. Redpath, outstanding men of God.
Dr. Ron Allen, Dallas Seminary Professor and frequent Cannon Beach guest speaker, remembers Mrs. McNeill as one of his “heroes”. “Mother made everyone feel like they were her best friends. Sometimes it was hard to charge them – after all, they were her very best friends,” Heather Goodenough recalls with amusement. Continuing this tradition of warmth and welcome at CBCC, Heather, retired, often volunteers and spending time with guests, providing what director Jeff Carlsen calls “a sense of history and a personal touch.”
Archie McNeill’s original vision was for Cannon Beach to provide a “vacation with a purpose,” according to Heather Goodenough. “Daddy had grown up attending camp meetings, an experience which made him choose a more relaxed schedule at the conference center. He felt people needed relaxation with inspiration, and that the mind can only take in what the seat can endure.” This philosophy pervades Cannon Beach still. It was Evangeline McNeill’s vision that Cannon Beach provide motel-type units with private baths for guests, rather than the more primitive “camp-like” facilities then common. Unlike many conference grounds, Cannon Beach was geared toward families from the start.
Jeff Carlsen, executive director of Cannon Beach Conference Center, is quick to praise the traditions of CBCC. He firmly believes that God has honored the “heritage of faith and prayer” which has been the hallmark of the center since its earliest days.
Carlsen came to Cannon Beach as program director in 1983. A graduate of the University of Washington with a background in education, he had worked at Christian youth camps in Seattle and had become intrigued by the idea of family ministry, thus coming to Cannon Beach. In 1996, he was named executive director. His wife, Jean, is also an educator. The Carlsen’s have two adult children, Adam and Erin.
When asked if Cannon Beach is a place where one would feel isolated from the rest of the world, Carlsen answers no. “Because of our location, we are right in the resort community of Cannon Beach which is right on the ocean. It would be impossible to be isolated. We view our broader campus as the town of Cannon Beach, its shops, and its recreational opportunities. Hiking, golf, kite flying, shopping – all these and more are available to our people.” Indeed, partly to encourage interaction with the community, the conference center does not serve lunch and encourages guests to check out the local restaurants and cuisine. “Our guests receive round white buttons with their names on them,” remarks Jeff. “People in the community talk about the ‘button people.’ Local folks say we have the nicest guests.”
From its modest beginnings, Cannon Beach has grown to feature several dining facilities, family lodgings, dorms, a chapel, a gymnasium, and a deluxe ocean-front motel –14 buildings in all, built debt-free with extensive volunteer help. In keeping with Mrs. McNeill’s original vision for comfortable conferencing, “all our accommodations are motel-type units,” states Carlsen. “These are found in seven buildings, all self-contained. Guests are served meals in one of several dining areas.”
When the Ecola Bible School opened its doors on the CBCC grounds in 1972, Cannon Beach became a year-round facility. Ecola, although not affiliated with CBCC, brings 120 Bible school students to live on the grounds each year. In addition to the 20 spring and fall weekend adult, women’s and senior adult conferences and the 12 week-long summer family conferences directly sponsored by CBCC, the conference center also hosts about 150 church or other Christian groups annually, ministering to some 15,000 guests per year.
In 2003, the conference center expanded its ministry vision and capabilities by acquiring the Ecola Creek Lodge. Built in 1945, the Ecola Creek Lodge offers 22 non-smoking rooms, stained glass, spacious lawns, flower gardens, and a lily pond. The lodge offers a quiet, family oriented atmosphere and is situated within walking distance of both the beach and local shops and eateries. Unlike the conference center, Ecola Creek Lodge is available to the public for vacations, family reunions, and overnight stays. Initially operating as a for-profit motel, the lodge will also serve as overflow accommodations for the conference center.
A summer family conference at CBCC will typically run from Saturday afternoon to the following Saturday morning, nearly a full seven days. Cannon Beach is committed to offering spiritual enrichment and sound Bible teaching. Past speakers have included Luis Palau, Walter Kaiser, Neil Anderson, Bob Vernon, and Ronald Allen. Prices vary depending on the type of accommodations. According to Carlsen, a family of four or five can stay in CBCC’s moderate accommodations, with programming and two meals per day, for $1000 – $1500 per week this summer. Extended stay packages are available for weekends; some partial-week options are available.
Janet Kerns, a Yakima, Washington, native was at Cannon Beach from 1982 to 2011 and instrumental in developing the family and kids programs. “Cannon Beach has grown dramatically in these areas thanks to Janet,” comments Jeff. Ron Allen calls the children’s activities, “terrific.”
When asked about his vision for Cannon Beach, Jeff Carlsen comments thoughtfully, “With our society increasingly fragmenting and our lives becoming increasingly frantic, a place like Cannon Beach where people can get away as families to be relaxed, refreshed, spiritually challenged and renewed, will be of increasing value in our society.”
If you enjoy Christ-centered Bible teach, quality family and kids programming, Christian music concerts, sand sculpture contests, delicious meals, or strolling the beach, we hope you will consider planning your next retreat at Cannon Beach or attending one of our conferences.
Few investments you can make in your family have the potential of paying such eternal dividends as a week of Christian family camp. You will not regret choosing what Reverend Archie McNeill so aptly called, “a vacation with a purpose.”
Many thanks to Don Anderson Ministries for the use of the above article which appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of “The Grapevine”. To contact Don Anderson Ministries, call (903) 939-1201.