The Beginnings of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

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written by Brian Schaffer

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The transition from the Methodist Episcopal Church to the Peniel Mission

In 1891, Bresee was appointed as presiding elder of the Los Angeles District for the Methodist Episcopal Church. A presiding elder would be equivalent to a district superintendent within the Nazarene denomination, and carries with it authority as well as influence. Up to this time he had been the pastor of the largest Methodist church in California. He promoted camp meetings and preached powerful messages that brought about a holiness revival. Within a two year period a new bishop was appointed that moved Bresee to a struggling church. During his time in this church he revisited an old dream for an inner-city mission to poor people.

One of the main reasons Bresee gave for withdrawing from the Methodist Church was his desire to make the gospel available to the poor of the city. Bresee is quoted as saying “it has been my long cherished desire to have a place in the heart of the city, which could be made a center of holy fire, and where the gospel could be preached to the poor” (Girvin, 1916). Bresee’s emphasis on ministering to the poor was very evident in his pastoral ministry at a Methodist Church in Pasadena. He organized and supervised a mission for the neglected Chinese people. He also began a tradition each Christmas of collecting money for the poor and making sure it was distributed properly.

Bresee had always desired to do mission work among the poor. Here is an excerpt from his life regarding the Peniel Mission. “Persons into whose hands had come as a trust, an amount of money sufficient to open a work of this kind, came to me with proposals to enter upon such an enterprise. They desired me to co-operate with them in securing a proper location, putting up suitable buildings, and conducting a work of such magnitude as might be sufficient to accomplish the results that we all so ardently desired. The conditions of this enterprise were such that, if it were entered upon, it must necessarily be undenominational. At first the matter was scarcely entertained, but the proposal being repeated and pressed, thought and much prayer were given to it, and finally the conclusion was reached that this was a providential way to accomplish the object which had been sought. Agreements were entered into, arrangements made, property purchased, in the heart of the city, a block erected, which contained a large auditorium and other rooms for services and for rent” (Girvin, 1916).

This was a partnership that was definitely “out of the box”. The denominational flags would need to be lowered, and no particular denomination would get credit for the work accomplished. Bresee felt like he could still carry out this mission objective and at the same time retain his relationship to the Methodist conference which would involve having the mission as a regular appointment. He went through the proper procedures to get approval for this, and wrote a letter to Bishop John N. Fitzgerald and his council for their review. He gave them the option of making the Peniel Mission a regular appointment, or allowing him to take a supernumerary relationship. The council discussed his proposal at length, and asked him questions as to how he would fulfill his calling as an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church. By the action of the council representing the denominational conference that he was apart of he was forced to choose between his mission plans of ministering at the Peniel Mission, or remaining a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After much time in prayer he parted ways with the church he loved and served for thirty-seven years. He left the conference on good terms, and had many friends who were sad to see him go.

Donald Brickley writes “everyone knew of his great love for the poor and outcast. It was his lot to live with many great and some wealthy men, but these things meant nothing to him. He felt the Methodist church had failed to follow Wesley’s example of preaching the gospel to the poor. He felt it his particular calling to go to the neglected and despised” (Brickley, 1960).

The Los Angeles Times of October 7, 1895, printed the following about Bresee, “when Dr. Bresee left the Methodist Episcopal Church one year ago, he gave as his reason for leaving that a wider field of usefulness was opened to him in the Peniel Mission work”.

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