Research Agendas and the Nazarene Archives

The primary purpose of the Nazarene Archives is to document the origin and development of the Church of the Nazarene. In the process of developing these collections, however, materials are assembled that can assist scholars researching other fields. At every point where the Nazarene pilgrimage has intersected other religious currents of its age-North American revivalism, campmeeting culture, fundamentalism, post-war evangelicalism, women’s roles in church and society, the youth movement of the sixties, or the challenges of evangelical higher education, to name a few-the Archives has accumulated significant sources relevant to the study of main currents in American religion. Three examples will illustrate this.

Women’s History

Each of the three principal parent-bodies of the Church of the Nazarene ordained women early in their church lives. Anna S. Hanscomb was ordained in 1892 by the Central Evangelical Holiness Union, a New England denomination that joined the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America in 1896, forming the Nazarene parent-body on the East Coast. In 1902, the APCA also ordained Martha Curry.

Mary Lee Cagle and (Mrs.) Elliot J. Sheeks were ordained in 1899 by the New Testament Church of Christ, a Southern root of the Church of the Nazarene. This church merged in 1904 with the Independent Holiness Church, a group in Texas and Oklahoma, led by C. B. Jernigan. Jernigan’s wife, Jonnie Hill Jernigan, was ordained in 1902 in the same service as her husband. On the West Coast, Nazarene patriarch Phineas Bresee ordained Elsie Wallace of Seattle, Washington, in 1902, and Lucy Knott of Los Angeles in 1903. By the time the regional churches had coalesced in 1908, there were dozens of women clergy, a majority ministering in the South. Women were among those set apart for the ministry in ordination services conducted at the two uniting general assemblies at Chicago, Illinois, and Pilot Point, Texas, in 1907 and 1908.
Ordained women were active in Nazarene social ministries and the records of several such agencies are held by the Archives.

The Nazarene Archives maintains strong collections on each of the parent bodies that ordained women. District assembly journals contain ministerial lists and document the activity of female ministers in committee and district work. Individual profile folders hold information on dozens of ordained women, and the Archives has autobiographical materials (diaries, information sheets, and reminiscences) of many others. Congregational collections contain material on women who served in parishes and on the churches they led.

The records on ordained women do not exhaust the women’s history sources in the Nazarene Archives. Women’s ordination was merely the most prominent symbol of a thoroughgoing revolution in women’s roles that the early Church of the Nazarene embodied. Better established denominations had not yet given women full laity rights by 1908, but from the beginning the Church of the Nazarene gave women equal lay and clergy standing at every level of church life. Women even constituted a majority of delegates at the church’s General Assembly in 1944.

Thus district and congregational collections provide documentation of the work of lay women on church boards and committees, and in district offices and agencies, while General Assembly records show their participation in the church’s highest governing body. The Woman’s Missionary Society collection documents the ways that Nazarene women-lay and clergy alike-joined hands to organize at denominational, district, and congregational levels to support the cause of overseas missions.

Protestant Missions

The late Kenneth Scott Latourette’s five-volume survey of Christianity in a Revolutionary Age deals at length with the transformation of the global Christian community in less than two centuries, while R. Pierce Beaver and William R. Hutchison have made the missionary enterprise a central subject in the study of American Christianity. The Church of the Nazarene was a strong missionary church from its beginning, and today nearly one in every two Nazarenes lives outside North America. The Nazarene Archives has strong collections in the area of missions.

The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America developed the most systematic missions program of any of the parent denominations. In its loosely structured polity, over-seas missions and a college in New York State were its two primary points of unity. The missions emphasis is reflected in the minutes of its annual meetings, church paper, and other publications. The general missionary secretary, Hiram F. Reynolds, became a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, holding that office from 1907 to 1932. For much of that period, Reynolds served simultaneously as executive secretary of the church’s foreign missions department. The Hiram F. Reynolds Collection is one of the most impressive holdings of the Nazarene Archives, with over 1200 files and 25,000 manuscript pieces. Reynolds’ papers contain extensive missionary correspondence documenting Nazarene missions into the 1930s. Nearly two thousand photographs that he accumulated in his extensive travels abroad enrich the missionary portion of his collection.

The General Missionary Board (now Division of World Mission) was the first general department of the church, and the World Mission Collection is the largest institutional collection in the Archives. It includes manuscript correspondence with missionaries on the field from 1911 through 1944 and microfilm correspondence from 1945 to the present. Reports, mission council minutes, and extensive photograph sets are among its varied holdings. The World Mission Collection is complemented by the collections of dozens of individual missionaries, such as Scottish surgeon David Hynd, founder of the Red Cross in Swaziland, whose diaries and letters reflect the spirit of the Protestant missionary enterprise.

Nazarene congregations are organized into districts, and the district collections in the Archives include materials on over two hundred Nazarene districts outside North America. Many document the transition of these districts from missionary fields to self-governing entities within an international church.

The Nazarene World Missionary Society records show the role of women in promoting missions. Chapters of this society were not confined to North America and Europe but took root in Asia, Africa, and Latin America soon after Nazarene churches were started there. Documents and photographs of NWMS chapters in China and Japan show how fully the international program of the church was accepted by Asian sisters, who organized themselves to support the church’s work in other areas.

The Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association was an Iowa-based holiness group founded in 1893. Several of its components united with the Church of the Nazarene in 1950. An excellent collection of its financial and membership records are deposited in the Archives, including a complete run of its chief periodical and numerous photographs. The Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association Collection offers the researcher an opportunity to study the lifecycle of a Wesleyan-holiness organization whose total life was centered on the missionary impulse.

Regionalism in Religion

Regionalism has long been recognized as a factor shaping politics, race, and religion. New England religion has attracted scholarly interest for decades, much of its centered on the region’s Puritan, Unitarian, and Transcendentalist past. In the last thirty years, a significant body of study has developed on religion in the South, much of it stimulated by the work of Samuel S. Hill and Donald Mathews. Meanwhile, Sandra S. Frankiel’s California’s Spiritual Frontiers is one of the recent works that seeks to identify the distinctiveness of religion on the West Coast.

The Church of the Nazarene united three major and several minor holiness groups across North America and is unusually well suited for studying regional patterns of religion. Historian Timothy L. Smith and theologian H. Ray Dunning used regional themes to explain fundamental tensions inherent in Nazarene ethics and life, but no one has re-examined these issues in the past quarter century. Until someone does so, we are left to wonder what shape new studies of Nazarene regionalism might take in light of recent scholarship, and what light Nazarene data can throw on regional religion.