Founding of the
The Pilgrim Holiness Church contributed roughly half of the people to what we now call The Wesleyan Church in 1968 when Pilgrims merged with the
Seth Cook Rees
Seth Rees was a Quaker
Martin Wells Knapp
Knapp was a Napoleonic sized
(5’4”) Methodist pastor in
Seth Cook Rees and Martin
Wells Knapp met in September, 1897 in Knapp’s front room in
As Rees and Knapp organized
their union all kinds of other unions and leagues were being organized, many of which later became a part of The Pilgrim
Holiness Church so that we could honestly select any one of them as the origin,
though Pilgrims have preferred the story of Rees and Knapp. By the end of the
1800’s the “Holiness movement” was congealing into organizations and leagues in
The holiness people who were organizing the unions paid no attention. They were not interesting in preserving the past so much as saving the future. They wanted to get drunkards and wife-beaters saved. They wanted to lead prostitutes and sailors to Christ and then on to “full salvation” of holy living. Banned from holding “holiness meetings” in their own churches they rented public halls, refurbished barns and put up tents to spread their message and rescue sinners. They contrasted themselves from the “formal churches” who seemed more interested in their church disciplines denominational committees and church manuals than lost people. They gathered at independent camp meetings and attended holiness conventions even when their Methodist pastors frowned scornfully when they admitted it. These are the kind of laity who joined The International Holiness Union and Prayer League founded by Seth Cook Rees and Martin Wells Knapp in 1897. The organization would later become The Pilgrim Holiness Church. They were an unruly mob if you were a Methodist Bishop trying to regulate or were concerned with structure, denominational loyalty or the church’s Discipline or Manual. But if you were concerned with fiery preaching, the conversion of the lost, the sanctification of marginal believers and the rescuing of drunkards, prostitutes, prisoners and sailors these were exactly the kind of people you wanted to join with. Thousands did.
I think that the Pilgrims were deeply influenced by their heritage and founders. For a long time Pilgrims didn’t give a hoot for structure or any kind of denominationalism. They were a para-church organization at first and when someone tried to herd them they got loose and did their own thing. They were more of a rag-tag mob than an orderly denomination. They were passionate about powerful preaching, winning the lost, leading people into holiness, rescuing the perishing, offering healing to the poor and they wanted to get it all done soon because they believed the pre-millennial return of Christ was at hand. The Pilgrims had problems and I’ll mention those in later, but I kind of admire their passion at their founding. That’s what I think.
So what do you think?
During the first few weeks, click here to comment or read comments
To think about….
 I am indebted for this series to several writers who have gone before. The first is the work of father and son Thomas’—Paul William Thomas and son Paul Westphal Thomas. Few Pilgrims cared much about history—they were more interested in making history than preserving it. The Thomas team did work hard at preserving Pilgrim written and oral history. I knew the father as a youngster but I got the opportunity to work closely with the son for more than a dozen years and my writing above reflects many conversations with the son along with the written record. Since I was in high school I also knew Melvin Dieter who edited their work and who is a supreme historian among Wesleyans, Lee Haines also edited the Thomas and Thomas work as an “outsider” to the Pilgrim history and I worked with Lee for many years and had many conversations comparing the Wesleyan Methodist History with that of the Pilgrims. I am indebted to those many relationships for my views in the history of the PHC. However some of my views are my own and these excellent historians should not be blamed for them. It is my opinion that history is not merely the collection of facts telling what happened back then like a video of the events. Historians choose certain stories and marginalize others. All history-telling involves this selection and de-selection process thus it tells us more about ourselves then the events of the past. So, I admit that my re-telling of the Pilgrim story might tell you more about me and my views than it does about the events of the past. I will be faithful to the facts, but in selecting the facts and applying them I suspect I will reveal more about today than the past.
 Though Nazarenes sometimes enjoy pointing out there is no evidence of Rees’ ordination (the reason for this will be apparent with a later story) but we probably ought to remember that technically Quakers didn’t “ordain” ministers, believing that “only God Ordains—we just record His ordination.” Rees preached his first time by climbing up on a dirt pile near a newly dug well at the Westfield “Quarterly Meeting” More than 8000 attended, but probably only a fe hundred who were lined up to get a drink heard his first sermon. (Rees himself didn’t remember what he said, and though he had no text). However after preaching his “Meeting” (capitalized—meaning the group who “recorded” ministers) did record him as a minister. Here is how he tells it in the biography published by his son: “Finally I felt clear and, pressing my way past people, I climbed on the pile of dirt, and began. I can't tell what I said. I do not recall that I had a text. It was my first attempt to preach. When I was through and got down off the dirt-pile, another preacher climbed into a spring wagon and continued the service. Almost before I had considered what my calling was, the Meeting of which I was a member had acknowledged my gift and 'recorded' me a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
 I toured the room in the early 1970’s and it can be seen today on the campus of God’s Bible College in Cincinnati.
 In this era of non-denominationalism Daniel Warner founded another holiness church, the Church of God (Anderson) 1880’s which even went so far as to have no church membership at all, believing such a thing was divisive and exclusive. The COGA continues today to have no formal membership and emphasizes Christian unity as a pillar of their non-denomination.
 We have already cited A.
B. Simpson and the C&MA along with Warner and the