The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

Home / The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

written by Brian Schaffer

Return to The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries
The development of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

As the denomination began to grow there was a need for building bigger facilities. With an emphasis on compassionate ministries, Bresee was known to share his philosophy on buildings so as to keep everyone focused on ministry and not the facilities. In the denominational newsletter, “The Nazarene”, Volume 3, Number 6, July 3, 1899, there is a powerful article written by Bresee on his philosophy on buildings. Here is a portion that highlights this. “What must He think of His people today, spending their time and strength and the money which would feed the hungry and clothe the naked and send the gospel to the unsaved, in placing stone upon stone, building massive towers, carving forms of beauty, adding elaborate and expensive adornments, putting thousands of dollars into grand organs, and all tending necessarily to drive the poor from the portals of the so-called house of the Lord?”. In the same newsletter he stated “we want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest. We can get along without rich people, but not without preaching the gospel to the poor”. While the church was primarily interested in the salvation of the poor, it attracted people from all socio-economic levels, who were made welcome and were used as leaders in the church.

E.A. Girvin writes about a Nazarene mission that was started in Spokane during the year of 1904. The mission was located among the outcasts of society in the heart of the city. “But the Church of the Nazarene has a life-saving station in the darkest place in the city—in a block almost literally filled on its four sides with saloons and places of wickedness. Here a few heroic souls started a mission about five years ago, opposed by the church of which they were members, because it took them from the work of the central church, whose energy was spent largely in other directions than in getting people saved” (Girvin, 1916).

In a report to the General Assembly of 1905, Bresee insisted that the primary task of the Nazarenes was to “Christianize Christianity”. He urged people to give generously to support the work of planting Nazarene churches across America. Even though he was pushing for the ministry in America, he was also considering what could be done to reach the world. Through the organized efforts of the “home and foreign mission board” the assembly agreed and encouraged each congregation to begin giving a tithe of its total income for the work of foreign missions.

Just a year later, Bresee was meeting with the home and foreign mission board to discuss the opportunity to sponsor a mission home in Calcutta, India that would house orphans and widows. After discussing this with representatives from India the board agreed to raise $1,800 a year for general expenses and $25 for each widow or child housed in the mission. By 1907, the mission home entitled Hope School was supporting 60 widows and orphans. This was a success story that could be shared across the nation among their churches. This encouraged the local congregations, and birthed more mission projects in the future. This emphasis continued to grow until at last in 1915 there was enough funding to send out career missionaries. Today in the Church of the Nazarene there are over 770 missionaries serving in 150 countries. There are millions of dollars raised for foreign missions, and local churches are excited to be apart of the missionary movement.

In Smith’s book, “Called Unto Holiness”, he details the work the Nazarenes were doing among the Asian population in Los Angeles. The Japanese and Chinese communities were supported with missions that were staffed by volunteers from Nazarene churches. During this time period there was an anti-Oriental feeling on the West Coast, but it appears that this did not affect the Nazarenes. There were churches established out of these mission outposts, and Bresee developed many compassionate leaders.

In 1906 there was a large earthquake in the San Francisco area that sent many refugees into Los Angeles. Within a few days Bresee organized his churchto be used as a temporary shelter. The Sunday School classrooms were turned into sleeping rooms, and the remainder of the church was used to meet the needs of the refugees. There were meals served on a daily basis until it was time for the refugees to return.

In the same year of 1906, Bresee wrote that the rapid increase in the value of real estate around his church was driving his people out to the suburbs, where cheap lots and lower rent were available. This was a familiar story across the nation as property values increased in the downtown areas. With the move to the suburbs there were many churches following their members to the outer edges of the city. With the new construction of church facilities throughout the suburbs there it was apparent that the Church of the Nazarene was moving from the mission concept to more of a church based ministry. The ministry focus continued to minister among the poor, but there was a growing emphasis to expand ministry capacities to the general population that was found in the suburbs. The migration to the suburbs continued for several years.

In the minutes from the Northwest District, Tenth Annual, Assembly in 1914, there was a question brought up to address the concern of leaving the “heart of the city” for the suburbs, and neglecting the call to minister among the poor. “Are we getting so much machinery inside the church that we have no time for any of this kind of work…?”. These supporters of the ministry to the poor insisted that to fold one’s arms and sing, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,” was no substitute for reaching out in honest love to help lost men. There were many other endeavors in the development of a denomination that were taking precedent and squeezing out adequate time for the development of more rescue missions. Some were of the opinion that the denominational resources needed to be diversified across the board in the development of other ministries. There were districts to be developed, local churches to be governed, colleges to be planted, missionaries to send overseas, policy and procedure manuals to create, and a host of other items that needed attention.

Bresee went to be with the Lord the following year, and it appears that his desire to preach the gospel to the poor was beginning to fade away in the hearts of those he left behind. During this same time period there was a revival of personal holiness which downplayed the emphasis of being actively involved in social justice. It seemed as if the message was helping people justify in their own minds that it was okay to neglect the marginalized people, because they were in the “dumps” due to their own actions. The emphasis of evangelism was returned to the front burner, and the work of social reform was put on the back burner. In some areas of the nation the back burner was turned off. Rescue homes and missions slowly disappeared from district programs. Special ministry groups that focused on ministering to the poor were declining at a rapid rate. This was a heavy blow to the groups that had given their lives to establishing themselves in the heart of the cities.

There were several outstanding accomplishments that Bresee obtained during his ministry, and one of them involved his negotiations with the Pentecostal Mission. On February 15, 1915, the Pentecostal Mission became a part of the Church of the Nazarene. The painstaking work that led up to this union was quite a challenge to say the least. According to John Benson, “the two bodies were Holiness people and believed alike. Both bodies were intensely evangelistic and while it might be said with some logic that the Pentecostal Mission leaders under Brother J.O. McClurkan placed more emphasis on Foreign Missions, basically the Nazarenes had a love and a yearning to develop a strong Foreign Missionary Program of their own. Indeed, Foreign Missions was the leverage that brought about the union on February 15, 1915” (Benson, 1977).

Immediately upon the merging of these two holiness groups, the missionaries that had been assigned by the Pentecostal Mission were taken care of by the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. The largest church that the Pentecostal Mission owned was located in downtown Nashville. Within a few weeks this church changed its name to “The First Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene”, and no longer was referred to as the Pentecostal Mission. There was truly a merger that took place, and it was ultimately for the betterment of both organizations. The Pentecostal Mission had a history of being disorganized while the Nazarenes had a history of being very organized. Just this fact has brought about a big impact on the effectiveness that was realized out of the ministry of the Pentecostal Mission.

The social ministries that the Nazarenes were apart of in the early days were largely family enterprises, owned and operated by church members. Still, they were considered to be Nazarene in their basic identity. They were promoted within the denomination, their managers were given access to official platforms of the church, and they raised most of their financial support from the church. A few, such as the Nazarene Rescue Home in Bethany or the Peniel Orphanage in Texas, were owned for short periods by districts or by the general church. However, this was an exception and not the norm.

At the Fifth General Assembly in 1919, the General Board of Social Welfare and the General Orphanage Board were added. In 1923, however, the General Superintendents called for a consolidation of all church boards. In the reorganization that followed, the General Board of Social Welfare merged with the General Orphanage Board. According to the minutes, “the primary function of the Board of Social Welfare was to publicize the various independent and semi-independent enterprises, rather than coordinate or encourage a tight system of denominationally-owned social welfare institutions”.

Return to The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *