PHC #1: Founding of the Pilgrim Holiness Church

I've been reflecting on the founding of The Pilgrim Holiness Church... this is what I think.

So, what do YOU think?

Keith Drury


The Circuit Rider said...

Sometimes the politics of "denominationalism" can be a stumbling block when we forget our vision for the lost.

Ken said...

keith, i really appreciate the overview/review.

my grandfather - rev. mel depeal - came through the pilgrim holiness line, and i am honored to follow in his footsteps as a minister today.

i suppose i've got a little pilgrim in me, as i sometimes become exasperated with denominational structures and policies that feel like they're getting in the way of the primary goal of the church.

however, i'm anxious to read your "pilgrim downside" article, since it might be insightful for me and the others who read your column. at age 40, i'm mellowing - just a bit - and though i'll always lean toward toward the pragmatic side of reaching those far from GOD, i'm trying to work within systems - or at least politely change them if and when possible.

Nate Bargo said...


We are missing the passion the pilgrims had. As I read this, and I saw how the founders were involved in reaching the sinner and even locating their publishing company where they did because of the potential of reaching people. One thought has come to mind, these founders of the Pilgrim Holiness Church seem very "emergent" for their time.

vanilla said...

Let's talk about our "nutty aunt." Prior to 1968, there was foot-dragging with regard to the merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church by both parties to the proposal. Some of the reluctance, based on denominational pride, no doubt, was based on the fear of "loss of identity." It takes a visionary to see beyond the accomplishments of the past. Clearly, then, the name of the new body was an issue, and for some of those same people, who nevertheless came along, the adoption of the Wesleyan name seemed in their minds to obliterate the past accomplishments and even the very existence of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. One might say that both bodies ceased to exist at merger, which they did, except as historical entities. But again these same people had, I think, a somewhat justifiable feeling that through the name, the Wesleyans preserved their identity and thus we Pilgrims gave up and joined the Wesleyans. And unfortunately, there are some within the church today who, in fact, consider the Pilgrims to have been the nutty aunt you referenced. For shame.

As I wish merely to make a brief response to your post and to your question, I hope not to write a "post" of my own on your blog. While it is true, as you point out, that the roots of the Pilgrim Holiness Church lay in loose-knit gospel leagues, and you correctly list several of these in your footnotes, it is also the case that within a quarter-century of the founding of most of these leagues the church was well-organized. Witness "Manual Pilgrim Holiness Church," 1926. This document, 147 pages in length, contains fully 75 pages devoted to polity and governance. Clearly someone was into organization. Do we extrapolate from this fact that the "fire had gone out" and that there was more interest in development of a human built entity than there was in the original desire to see souls saved? I think not. I just observe that the form or format of evangelism developed to include "new" techniques in order to more effectively preach the gospel to more lost people.

I was a teenager during the forties, and it was at that point that I began to take an interest in church polity. As a lay person, observer only not delegate, I have attended many district and general conferences. Rules and regulations will neither save nor condemn a soul, either in the obedience to or in the breach of those rules. But clearly Wesleyans believe to this day that some regulations are required if an orderly body of believers is to function in its role of touching and healing the lost, through God's mercy.

I have had the privilege of hearing and being in the presence of many of the great evangelists of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. In fact, as Dad was a pastor and it fell to Mom's lot to "host" the evangelist in our home during revivals, I have, as the saying goes, broken bread with many of them. Springing to mind now, R.G. Flexon, H.S. Bennett, P.W. Thomas, D.W. Lacy, B.F Durham, P.O. Carpenter to name a few of the many.
Most of the older members who came from the Wesleyan Methodist tradition can recite similar lists of outstanding preachers in their connection. This is history, and not only interesting but important. But all who are members of the Wesleyan Church, indeed all who are members of the Body of Christ should ever respect and honor all who are part of the connection.

I do enjoy and appreciate your blog. --David

Keith Drury said...


KEN. You will read the "downside" eventually..I plan to work through the entire history era by era this year.

NATE. Insightful. You can make the case that the emergent apporoach to a needy world is squarely in our tradition--I would.

VANILLA. When I get the the 1930's I will surely have lots to say about this consolidation and centralization into a "real" denomination. The founders probably never knew what they founded. Knapp for sure--he died just 4 years after the founding, and Rees died in 1933. As for the longer response, your thoughtful responses are always very welcoem here--I suspected in this series the responses might have more to contribute than the opriginal posts.

Ken and Marilyn Blake said...

Thanks for sharing this side of our history. I am also from the Pilgrim Holiness side.

Jim Schenck said...

My family (both branches) are from the Pilgrim side. My father used to joke that to get the new denominational name, they took "Wesleyan" from "Wesleyan Methodist" and "The" from "The Pilgrim Holiness Church" to name it "The Wesleyan Church"! At least he wasn't bitter about it or anything...

Schuyler Avenue Wesleyan said...

My wife was raised in a Pilgrim Holiness Church in Jackson Michigan. They were (and still are) one of the hold-outs from the merger.

They now still put a huge emphasis on lifestyle and dress and are still very ultra conservative.

I find the history though to be quite the opposite. From personal research (for various papers - joy of being a Wesleyan and a student) I found Seth C. Rees to be quite progressive and steeped in a missional mindset.

It is interested if one could find out when the change of "mission" seemed to happen

John Mark said...

In the 1980's I heard Paul Rees preach several times at a place called Camp Sychar. I consider him one of the greatest preachers I ever heard in my life. I vividly remember his first time up to the pulpit, the prayer he prayed, the text he used, and a good bit of what he said.
Was he a son of Seth Rees?

Revival Believer said...

I am interested in the fact that premillienial teaching was important to the early Pilgrim Holiness people. Did the premillenial teaching of the holiness movement contribute to revival or hinder revival?

I ask this in light of the article I have written on my blog: http://revivalbeliever.blogspot.com/2009/08/sanctification-and-hope-for-revival.

Keith Drury said...

JOHN-MARK. Yes, Paul Rees was the son of Seth Rees.

REVIVAL-BELIEVER. It would be an interesting study to discover the extent to which eschatology is correlated with evangelism or church growth. Someone needs to do that. Of course many Wesleyan Methodists were posties while Pilgrims were pre-Mill... at merger in 1968 the church became pro-choice, allowing each member to decide for themselves on pre, post, a, or whatever approach to the end times...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article on the beginnings of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. As you mentioned, we sometimes downplay this side of our history, because of the exciting beginnings (Orange Scott, Adam Crooks, Freedom Hill) of the Wesleyan Methodists. It is good to hear of the passion for lost souls that was in beginnings of the Pilgrim church. A friend of mine commented on my blog about the importance of telling the story and the importance of telling both sides of The Wesleyan Church story. She also commented that we need to renew the passion of Rees and Knapp to reach our generation. I agree with that. Looking forward to further articles

Revival Believer said...

I believe that the over emphasis on the soon return of the Lord to the extent that we truly believe that we only have a few years left at most is very detrimental. Tomorrow I turn 65, but I as a boy I didn't expect to become an adult. Those around me had me convinced that Jesus would come before than. It had a very bad effect on me. I believe that to live with no expectation of a future on earth is unhealthy and unproductive.

I am mot postmil because I believe Jesus could come at any time. But I strongly believe that Jesus intends for us to conquer the world in this age and that gives me a very different (optimistic) grasp on the gospel message and a powerful sense of purpose. I believe this was the optimism that drove the early Methodists to accomplish what they did. I think they believed when they prayed "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven."

Dr. V said...

The Wesleyan Methodists were even more suspicious of centralized denominational authority than the Pilgrim Holiness people. An indication of that was the official name of the denomination at its founding: the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. They viewed themselves as a connection of local churches gathered into quarterly and annual conferences. For many years the quadrennial general conferences transacted minimal denominational business.

The first elected denominational body was called the Book Committee, and was given oversight of the rapidly expanding publications promoting social issues and the doctrine of holiness. As the decades went by, and issues had to be dealt with and decisions made, the Book Committee became the de facto administrative body of the Wesleyan Methodists. Interestingly, the name was not changed to Board of Administration until the General Conference of 1947, a century after the founding of the denomination. That General Conference also elected the first full-time General Conference President. Until then this denominational officer was basically the presiding officer over the General Conference.

This suspicion, even fear, of centralized authority was typical of many holiness people in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these people had come out of the Methodist Episcopal Church with its hierarchical government where reform and revival were often thwarted by the bishops.