Across a Century:
The Heritage of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America

To Christian Witness readers, William Howard Hoople described himself in 1895 as a Congregationalist who had “embraced Methodist doctrine,” and this logic lay behind the churches he shepherded in Brooklyn, New York. He rejected American Methodism’s episcopal system but as an adherent of “Methodist doctrine” was unwelcome in the Calvinistic church that nurtured his early faith in Christ.

Nazarene - William Howard HoopleHoople was born in Herkimer, N.Y., in 1868, to Canadian immigrants. They moved to Brooklyn shortly thereafter. His father, a wealthy leather merchant, exerted a Christian influence and Hoople was converted as a young man. He followed his father into business and prospered. He married Victoria Crawford in 1891. They had a daughter and five sons.

His conversion to “Methodist doctrine” occurred after he began attending a prayer meeting at John Street Methodist Church in Manhattan. There he met Charles BeVier, choir director at a large Methodist church in Brooklyn and an ardent exponent of Wesleyan-holiness experience. Hoople soon testified to his own experience of sanctifying grace and joined forces with BeVier to open a mission to the poor at 123 Schenectady Avenue on January 4, 1894.

By June it was a full-fledged church of 37 members with Hoople as its pastor. A sanctuary “in a new and rapidly developing part of the city” was dedicated on June 15. The participation of the Rev. D. V. Gwillym, “the High Church” rector of a nearby Episcopal congregation, signalled community favor.

The Utica Avenue church was but the first in a new denomination that Hoople and BeVier fostered. Other churches soon appeared in the city. Hoople, ordained in late 1894, planted Bedford Avenue Pentecostal Church in east Brooklyn in early 1895. John Norberry became its pastor. The Emmanuel Pentecostal Tabernacle soon followed, organized on Labor Day.

In December church representatives organized the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America. The name reflected a national vision at the outset, and through merger and aggressive evangelism the denomination stretched from Nova Scotia to Iowa within a decade.

A church was organized in Clintondale, N.Y., in mid-1896 after a camp meeting revival. H. F. Reynolds, a visiting Methodist from Vermont, decided to unite with the small denomination during that revival; he claimed that God had clearly called him to do so. Susan Fitkin, A. B. Riggs, H. N. Brown and other New England holiness stalwarts soon did the same. Reynolds brought solid experience as a pastor and evangelist--and connections throughout the Holiness Movement in the Northeast. Meanwhile, BeVier organized the John Wesley Pentecostal Church in Brooklyn in October. He was ordained and called as its first pastor.

Reynolds was only one factor in the union of the APCA and a New England denomination, the Central Evangelical Holiness Association founded in 1890. (“Our New England Roots,” Herald, May 1990). Another was the Christian Witness of Boston, which published frequent reports from churches and ministers in both groups. Long before Hoople met his New England counterparts they had read of each other’s work.

The groundwork of union was laid in November when Fred Hillery (Providence, R.I.), C. Howard Davis (Lynn, Mass.), and other New England pastors met with leaders of the New York movement in Hoople’s parlor. A plan of union was approved after two days of discussion. The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America’s name better reflected their common purpose and became that of the united body. A snag developed: several New England churches refused to enter the union. Most CEHA churches united anyway. Hillery brought a paper, the Beulah Christian, into the union, and it was adopted later as the official publication.

The APCA grew steadily from 1897 to 1907 as churches were added in New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and the Midwest. Reynolds organized churches in Oxford and Springhill, Nova Scotia, in 1902. Others pushed the boundaries westward. A congregation in Pittsburgh led by John Norris united in 1899. By 1907 there were churches in Illinois and Iowa.

Schools and missions were the critical elements in the church program. Pentecostal Collegiate Institute, now Eastern Nazarene College, was founded in 1900. It struggled in its early years at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., and North Scituate, R. I., finding stability only after E. E. Angell became president in 1907.

World missions was a distinctive aspect of the APCA and its primary gift to the broader Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Five missionaries were sent to India in 1898, the year Reynolds assumed full-time responsibility for promoting home and foreign missions. Eight others went to India in 1904 and 1905, including L. S. Tracy and Gertrude Perry, who soon married. John Dias, an immigrant from Cape Verde, was sent to his land of origin as a missionary in 1900. The administration of the missionary program was complicated by the independence of some pastors, but Reynolds’s efforts were decisive in nurturing the vision of a missionary church.

The union of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene derived its initial impetus from C. W. Ruth, a National Holiness Association evangelist and the assistant general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene. In 1906, Ruth conducted revivals in the East and was invited to an APCA meeting, where he proposed merging the two denominations. Cautious enthusiasm prevailed. Eastern pastors A. B. Riggs, John Short, and H. N. Brown--dubbed the “three wise men”--toured the Nazarene churches in the west that fall and favorably impressed Nazarene leaders.

In turn Phineas Bresee and several associates visited the APCA’s annual meeting in the spring of 1907, where the principles of merger were hammered out and union was proclaimed under the name Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. The APCA brought to the union 2400 members and 45 churches, many in major eastern cities such as Pittsburg, Providence, Manchester, Saratoga Springs, Washington, and several in Greater Boston, including the university city of Cambridge.

In October the First General Assembly of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene met in Chicago. H. F. Reynolds was elected as the general superintendent from the east and also continued as missionary secretary for the united body. He “retired” in 1932 but carried out the tasks of a general superintendent for several more years.

Charles BeVier had died at a relatively young age in 1905, with no inkling of the outcome of his labors on behalf of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America.

The tall, genial Hoople became New York District superintendent, serving until 1911 while pastoring the John Wesley church, which grew to 350 members under his ministry. His doubts about the Pentecostal Nazarenes uniting with the southern Holiness Church of Christ evaporated at the Pilot Point General Assembly, in which he participated. Hoople became a Y.M.C.A. worker during World War I and was sent to France to provide wholesome entertainment and spiritual guidance to U. S. soldiers. His health was undermined after breathing poisonous gas. He was stationed later in Italy and Germany, and visited his daughter, a Presbyterian missionary in Peking, China, before returning to America. He died in 1922.

—Stan Ingersol is denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene.