Rev. Adam Lowry Rankin accepted a call to become pastor of the Congregational Church in Tulare, Calif., in January, 1873, and under the partial sponsorship of the American Home Missionary Society, moved out to the eastern foothills of California's Great Valley to join the small and seemingly indifferent flock. In 1873, Tulare lacked the social coherence expected in a more settled community. A small, primarily agricultural community situated on the Union Pacific line between Bakersfield and Fresno, it was entering into a period of rapid growth and social disorganization as the Valley entered into a major phase of economic expansion as rail lines linked farm to market with increasing efficiency. Adam Lowry Rankin, the son of renowned abolitionist minister, John Rankin, thus appeared primed to continue in the family's benevolent tradition of working for the moral cause and of ministering to those most in need.
Rankin's first duties in Tulare included building a suitable house for himself and making improvements to the existing church and Sabbath school, tasks he and the townspeople took to with some enthusiasm. Within a year, though, Rankin had begun to alienate a portion of the population -- particularly those whom he refers to as "spiritualists," gamblers and rum sellers -- and he became a target for the seemingly inexhaustible supply of "malicious tongues" in town. Adding to his problems, Rankin faced open, unrestrained competition from rival ministers, and his low and sporadic pay from the Congregational Church Committee in San Francisco led him deeply into debt. The Methodists constituted Rankin's biggest bloc of sectarian foes and Rankin, at least, felt that the local Methodist preacher went out of his way to discredit and embarrass him. In turn, Rankin considered Methodism to be "worse than Japanese heathenism." Other opposition to Rankin took a variety of forms, including an unsuccessful move by spiritualists to prevent having a Christmas tree placed in the Sabbath school. Though Rankin claimed optimistically that the numbers of pupils in his Sabbath school remained high and constant throughout his tenure in Tulare, his ministry clearly suffered.
Discouraged and in debt, Rankin considered leaving Tulare at the end of his second year, but was persuaded to remain, providing certain conditions were met, the most important of which were a raise in pay (to $1,000 per annum) and the construction of a new church and parsonage. With the financial assistance of the Union Pacific Railroad, construction got under way, but soon became the focal point of complaint for Rankin's antagonists. Rival ministers, who Rankin said "care more for sect than for Christ," along with the "rum sellers" and all of his other opponents accused Rankin of "stealing a meeting house" and "stealing" a new house for himself. In 1878, these opponents attempted to set up a rival ministry in town, and although their attempt was unsuccessful, the damage to Rankin's ministry was irreparable. Rankin decided to leave Tulare and accept a new call at an indebted church in Soquel, Santa Cruz Co., claiming the he could no longer "stomach" Tulare.