Lela G. McConnell (1884-1970) Lela Grace McConnell was born June 1, 1884, in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania. She attended Keystone Normal School, a teachers’ college, and finished in 1909. After teaching for four years in Atlantic City, New Jersey, McConnell enrolled at the Chicago Evangelical Institute. After graduation from CEI, McConnell helped to establish a Bible school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She then spent two years as a pastor’s assistant and three years as an evangelist in the Philadelphia area before enrolling at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky.
At Asbury, McConnell joined the Mountain Missionary Society, a student group that worked to take the Gospel to the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky. As chaplain of the senior class, she often called her fellow students to pray that God would send some of them as missionaries to Eastern Kentucky. Soon she realized God was calling her, and she began to have visions of churches and schools in the remote areas of the mountains. In 1924, on her 40th birthday, McConnell graduated from Asbury College, and college president Dr. Henry Clay Morrison commissioned her as “the general of the Kentucky mountains.” That day she left to establish a pioneer mission ministry in Breathitt County, Kentucky, an area most known for moonshine and feuding.
McConnell went on to establish the Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association. The KMHA includes the ministries of Mount Carmel Elementary and High Schools, Kentucky Mountain Bible College, WMTC radio station, a farm, Mount Carmel Holiness Campmeeting, and churches scattered throughout the mountains. McConnell became the fifth woman to ever be licensed to preach by the Methodist Church and the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Asbury College.
From the beginning of her work, McConnell felt that the Lord did not want her to ask for money, and that became the policy for the ministries she began. McConnell would write, “I would a million times rather be where God wants me in a hard field with no pay, than to be where God doesn’t want me with good pay. To be supremely happy, satisfied, and contented – to have enough to eat, enough to wear, and a comfortable place to sleep – is life in abundance.”
Lela McConnell passed away on April 7, 1970. At her funeral, Asbury College president Dr. Dennis Kinlaw stated, “Asbury College has had many distinguished alumni. But there has never been anyone better known, more highly respected, and more dearly loved by the Asbury College family than Dr. Lela G. McConnell. She quickly won her way into the hearts of the young people. There was no generation gap with her. The reasons for this were evident. She brought to them firsthand the joy of a clean heart and the privilege to have a clean heart. This was the uppermost. She demonstrated the joy of a venturesome faith. She had the joy of a great love for people and the joy of an eternal hope.”
Listen to an audio clip of Dr. Lela G. McConnell.
Books by Lela G. McConnell Available at Kinlaw Library and/or Asbury University Archives:
Bio written by Matt Kinnell