Mae Eleanor Frey was an early American Pentecostal Matriarch and contemporary of the controversial, but famous Aimee Semple McPherson.1 Frey’s amazing life and ministry inspired me as a young woman to follow God’s call, no matter the challenges or cost. Her story shares a few similarities to mine and has marked my own life for several years. In 2019, I happily researched her story, learned from it and gained remarkable details of a life well lived.
In This Article:
Mae Eleanor Frey (née Mae Edick) was born on August 5, 1865, to a bricklaying, banjo playing, bar hopping father. Her mother was an aspiring playwright and suffragette who firmly believed in God but remained inactive in church. As a result, her mother thrust little Mae Edick into her first theatrical role at the tender age of 5.1
Mae Eleanor fearlessly took command of the stage with an innate ability to tell an attention-grabbing story. She possessed a gift for storytelling and a fearlessness unlike others. These characteristics marked her life. She studied for the stage in her teenage years, but ultimately gravitated toward writing and sharing stories of everyday people around her. Secretly, she wrote a newsworthy story and sent it to the newspaper for consideration.1 To her surprise, they offered her a job as a cub reporter where she quickly became a “rising star.”
Obedience to God
While covering a story of a revival, she met her future husband, Peter Isaiah (P. I.) Frey. He stood up and shared the story about how he was delivered from alcohol after experiencing salvation in Christ. For Mae, when she heard him speak, it was “love at first sight.” The next night, she herself experienced an encounter with God while she was writing notes for her story. Calling it an “old fashioned conversion,” she sensed an urgency to make a decision for Christ. She ran to the front in obedience to God, surrendered her life to Christ and never turned back.
In the beginning, she doubted the validity of women preachers because she never experienced seeing one, but people kept asking for her to “take a night” of the campaign. Even through her self-doubt, others saw her gifts, talents and abilities. Those around her took notice and nudged her onward to lead. A group of local pastors within the Baptist denomination of the Northern states (now American Baptist) urged her to become fully ordained. They met for about two and a half hours to interview her and unanimously told her they wanted to ordain her as pastor. With much humility, she accepted and was conferred as the first ordained woman in the Northern Baptist Convention in 1905.1
She was first exposed to Pentecostalism through a friend who called in someone to pray over her while she was dying from tuberculosis. Before the pastor finished praying, she scared her nurses and everyone around her by getting up and walking around. She reported that she was completely and miraculously healed. Though she was ordained pastor in the American Baptist denomination, a second Pentecostal experience at the age of 54, led her to seek ordination with the Assemblies of God.1
Mae Eleanor Frey led a remarkable life because she kept her hand to the plow and served selflessly. In the years following, she pastored, was a chaplain-nurse, traveled overseas for mission work, was a world-famous evangelist and became an accomplished writer. At the age of 74, she had her first book publication which was a fictional novel titled, “The Minister.” During the same year her second book, “Altars of Brick,” was published, she wrote a letter to the Assemblies of God General secretary J. Roswell Flower stating, “Life begins for me at 78.”2 Her schedule was “full up” with preaching, radio broadcasting, campaigns and writing. Although she conceded to retirement at age 89, she continued to preach as opportunities presented themselves. On December 4 of 1954, she “retired from this life” peacefully at her son’s home in Stamford, Connecticut.2
Teachings From Mae
Mae Eleanor Frey’s amazing ministry had an impact on my life and continues to inspire me in different ways. Here are a few lessons I learned from her story.
Isaiah 12:2 says, “God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid…” Mae Eleanor Frey lived a fearless life knowing and trusting God despite many difficult circumstances. Frey’s grit never let challenges get in her way. At 79, she sent another letter to the General secretary of the Assemblies of God, refusing to be placed on the retiree list. She wrote, “Wait til I’m dead, but not while I’m alive!”1 The next year, she donated to the retirement fund instead of receiving from it.
Obedience to God
Obedience to God remained central to her life. Mae Eleanor Frey exemplified the biblical truth in Deuteronomy 28:1, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.” Although she died without pomp and circumstance, her obedience laid the foundations for many people to hear the gospel. She left a tremendous legacy for others to follow.
Christ-like humility is a fundamental leadership quality. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and deary loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (Colossians 3:12). Mae Eleanor Frey never tried to make herself anything more than she was. Her humility was valued and she remained faithful to the task in front of her, no matter her position. People saw her gifts and she was promoted into leadership as a result.
1 Corinthians 10:24 states, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” Frey exemplified this throughout her life as she shared the gospel wherever she could selflessly, without expecting anything in return. May we follow her example and do the same.
1 Mae Eleanor Frey Collection. Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, MO.
2 Hartung, C. (2020). Claiming Notability for Women Activists in Religion Women in Religion. Atla Open Press Chicago. Volume 1.
Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on June 21, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.