Delegates arriving at Kansas City's Union Station on Wednesday, September 24, 1919, for the Fifth General Assembly of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene brought their railway "certificates" to General Secretary E. J. Fleming for validation. This entitled them to a one-third reduction in the return fare.1
Rev. Fleming had just been appointed general secretary for the church following the death of Rev. Fred H. Mendell, but he was already familiar to the arriving Nazarenes because he had served as secretary for the Third General Assembly in Nashville in 1911 and the Fourth General Assembly in Kansas City in 1915. Prior to his appointment as general secretary, he pastored in Racine, WI; Stockton, IL; Chariton, IA; and Grand Rapids, MI. He had been ordained to the ministry in 1903 by the Apostolic Holiness Union but united with the Church of the Nazarene in 1909, one year after the national church's birth in Pilot Point, TX.2
The detail of validating railway tickets was just one of thousands of details that would occupy Fleming's energies over the next 20 years that he served as general secretary. His role in bringing legal and organizational form into a rapidly expanding religious movement proved extremely valuable in the years ahead. Another important characteristic of Fleming's remarkable ministry was his interest in caring for the needs of retired Nazarene ministers and their spouses. In one way or another, he expended his efforts in their behalf for most of his life.
As a pastor in Grand Rapids, MI, he was involved in the Minister's Mutual Aid Society which was started in January, 1916, by Rev. A. H. Kauffman. There were two mutual aid societies--one for ministers and one for laymen. Both were located on the Michigan District but appealed to a national constituency through advertisements in the Herald of Holiness.3 The approximately 900 members each paid one dollar every time one of their number passed away, and the funds were presented to the bereaved family to help defray funeral and attendant expenses. It was a primitive form of life insurance and represented a first attempt within the church to provide "system and organization" toward relief of distressed ministers and laymen.
The same issues of the Herald that promoted the mutual aid societies, also carried advertisements for annuity bonds issued by the General Foreign Missionary Board of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Intended as a means of raising funds for the missionary cause, these bonds also were presented as safe investments which would bear interest to provide needed retirement income for ministers and laymen. When the holder of an annuity bond died, the principal of the investment became the property of the General Foreign Missionary Board.
These early attempts to assist retired ministers and widows soon were to be affected by changes made in the church's structure by the delegates who came to Kansas City for the Fifth General Assembly.
This Fifth General Assembly was the first to meet following the death of founding General Superintendent Phineas F. Bresee in 1915. As a result, the general superintendents were very conscious that, for the first time, major decisions would have to be made without the benefit of Bresee's counsel. The senior general superintendent was Hiram F. Reynolds who had served with Dr. Bresee from the beginning. Joining him were John W. Goodwin and Roy T. Williams.
In announcing the assembly, the three leaders had urged delegates to arrive Wednesday evening for the "great religious meeting" at Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene at 24th and Troost, and to be in their seats and ready for business at 9 A.M. Thursday morning. "Be prepared," the general superintendents said in a notice published in the Herald of Holiness "to make the coming General Assembly a great success and a world-wide blessing."4
The world they hoped to bless was a world in uncomfortable peace. While the 500 delegates were assembling for the Friday evening service at Kansas City First Church, a few blocks away at Union Station, President Woodrow Wilson's blue-painted private rail coach was being refurbished for its high speed journey back to Washington, D.C.5 The President had suffered a stroke while speaking at Pueblo, CO, on behalf of the Treaty of Versailles. Late Friday afternoon, the President's personal physician reported only that the President was suffering from "nervous exhaustion" and that, while his condition was "not alarming," he would require a period of rest.6
The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was supposed to provide a structure for enduring peace called the League of Nations. Before year's end however, the United States Senate rejected both the treaty and U.S. participation in the League.
Not only was the world scene uncharted, but the citizens of the United States were in a period of cultural transition. As the delegates worshiped on Sunday, September 28, an angry crowd just 200 miles north in Omaha, NE, stormed the new high-rise courthouse demanding the release of a black prisoner. Rioting and setting fires, they forced their demands and promptly lynched the prisoner. The U.S. Army at Ft. Omaha was called in to help restore order. The Kansas City Times gave full coverage to the event.7
Just one month later, on October 28, the National Prohibition Act was passed by Congress outlawing the sale of beverages with alcoholic content above a certain level. This Act had been supported fully by the assembly delegates and was one of the few social shifts that met with their approval. Women's fashions--especially short dresses, low necklines, and high heels--were sternly condemned.8 Movies, dances, and painted faces also were denounced. While they often looked at their changing world with a disapproving eye, the gathering Nazarenes nevertheless kept intact their own emerging tradition of joyous Christian fellowship.
As the Assembly got underway, a joyful spirit prevailed. B. F. Haynes, founding editor of the Herald of Holiness, noted that "We have shown ourselves as delegates [to be] appreciative eaters, and First Church has furnished caterers fully equal to the occasion . . . We are just born to love, and we are sanctified to keep on loving and we just can't stop and don't want to stop." He continued, "The Assembly is a happy body. We have yet to see a frown or a cloud on a face or to hear a growl or a grumble from a member. The shouting is genuine, happy, free, and of the Spirit."9
Amid the obvious good feelings, Haynes was careful to " . . . thank [God] also for the absence of any symptom or tendency toward fanaticism or excesses of any kind, for the absence of the fault-finding or censorious, or super-sensitive spirit."10
The legislative sessions were characterized by serious debate, but there was good will in accepting the vote of the majority. Reporting on the Assembly in the Herald of Holiness, Haynes wrote, "Retrospecting, we may correctly say, that this session just passed, has been an epochal General Assembly. This is a fact, from every viewpoint we may review the Assembly.11
One major change made by the delegates was to shorten the organization's name to "Church of the Nazarene," dropping the word "Pentecostal." This was done partly for convenience, but mostly to separate the Church of the Nazarene from other groups who claimed the name "Pentecostal" and who practiced speaking in "tongues"--a practice that the Nazarenes eschewed. Haynes wanted everyone to be sure to know, however, that "as a Church we have always been and are still, and are determined always to be tremendously Pentecostal. It is our sole and joyful mission to spread the Pentecostal fire as far as be in our power, till Jesus comes."12
There were other changes voted by the Assembly that were of equally far-reaching impact. The various general boards which comprised the national governance of the denomination were asked to meet jointly in Kansas City, forming the Correlated Boards of the Church of the Nazarene. This represented a first attempt at drawing together the various departmental interests of the church which, up to that time, had been governed by more or less autonomous "general boards." Each of these boards had made their own financial appeals to the church. They proved unwilling to surrender this independence and, four years later, stronger action would be necessary.
Another change made by the 1919 General Assembly was that the Mutual Aid Societies were transferred from the Michigan District and were brought under the overview of a General Board of Mutual Aid. Appointed to the General Board of Mutual Aid were:
The same men were named to the General Board of Ministerial Relief. Fleming became the chief communicator for both boards in addition to his being secretary for the Correlated Board. These actions 75 years ago began to focus the first denominational attention on the problems of aging and ailing ministers.
The Correlated Boards met for the first time on February 18,1920, in Kansas City. At that meeting, the General Board of Mutual Benefit (previously called the General Board of Mutual Aid) submitted a report which was adopted by the larger body. The General Board of Mutual Benefit then was asked to prepare a plan for accident and sickness benefits that was to be similar to that of the Mutual Benefit Societies (formerly called the Mutual Aid Societies).14
Also reporting to the Correlated Board was the General Board of Ministerial Relief which had adopted legislation to include deaconesses in the list of those eligible for assistance from the General Ministerial Relief Fund provided the deaconess received proper recommendation from her District Board of Ministerial Relief.15
These actions were not approved universally as was evident from a letter which appeared in the Herald of Holiness commenting that "It looks like the brethren were set upon relieving us of any dependence upon God except for the bare saving of our soul." The writer preferred that church organizations commit time and funds only to "get folks saved and sanctified and so ready for the coming of our blessed Lord."16
F. M. Messenger of Chicago, president of the General Board of Mutual Benefit, responded to the charge of self-reliance which had been expressed in the letter. The General Board of Mutual Benefit, he pointed out, was not an entity of its own creation. It was brought into being by action of the General Assembly and assigned responsibility for the Minister's Mutual Benefit Society and the Layman's Mutual Benefit Society. These organizations already were operating within the church and, if they were to continue operating within the church, they should be controlled by the church. Although agreeing with the letter writer's assertion that only such boards as are necessary to enable us in the propagation of scriptural holiness and the raising up of a holy people should be encouraged or tolerated, Messenger questioned who, if not the General Assembly, should be able to determine the function and purpose of such boards. Messenger wrote,
We wish that our church was made up of one hundred percent men of the faith of Elijah, that we could read in the Herald of Holiness of ravens feeding--through faith--Nazarene preachers whose membership were either too poor or too stingy to give them a comfortable support. But we are not seeing many miracles of that kind in these last days, therefore we ask, which is the better, to stand by with folded hands and say to the widows and orphans, "Be ye warmed and filled," while with dry eyes and sanctimonious looks [we] behold their unalleviated distress, or make our church responsible for some kind of corporate action whereby these distresses may be relieved?17
While the Mutual Benefit Societies depended upon their membership for funding, the Board of Ministerial Relief depended on funds collected from churches and active ministers. According to the plan adopted in 1919, each active minister and each deaconess was asked to send in $1 each year, and each church was asked to contribute 10 cents per member. The amount of money available for relief always depended on the amount which had been submitted by the churches.
F. M. Messenger was himself the publisher of a line of religious calendars and offered $500 toward printed material for distribution among the ministers. On October 8, 1921, Fleming wrote to Messenger recalling that promise and requesting $75 for the purchase of 100 copies of Dr. J. B. Hingeley's book, The Retired Minister. He intended to distribute this compendium of information on ministerial relief to Nazarene district superintendents and other leaders. Although Messenger originally had intended for his offer of $500 to be taken out in trade in his own printing plant, he graciously agreed to the purchase.18
A year later, Fleming wrote to M. C. Mann of Hallsville, TX, that the number of persons helped since 1919 had been 21. Some of these were for temporal needs (emergency needs of the moment), but he said,
At present we have discontinued granting temporal assistance. We now have 7 men receiving from $13.75 to $25.00 per month, 3 women receiving from $10.00 to $12.50 per month, and three widows receiving from $5.00 to $15.00 per month. Three of the men are blind, one is in an old peoples' home, one is paralyzed. Two women are not far from death's door, one having four well-developed cancers, the other an uncerated [sic] kidney. One widow has four children to support. We have three applications on file but have not been able to make a grant on them till we see a fair hope of funds to cover the cases. Two are widows. There are other widows who would be eligible for assistance but we have not attempted to seek information until we have more income at our command.19
For Fleming, this theme would recur through all the years he was to serve as relief secretary. Always there were pathetic pleas for help; always he was constrained by lack of funds. Early on, the decision was made not to encumber the Board of Ministerial Relief with debt. Therefore, only such funds as were collected were available for distribution, and many worthy requests had to be denied on the grounds that there were no funds available. Fleming was aware that denominations with longer histories had amassed reserve funds and had invested them in order to provide for future needs of retirees, but the young Church of the Nazarene had no history in which it could have collected such funds.
On April 7,1922, Fleming began a long series of letters to George A. Huggins, a consulting actuary in Philadelphia, concerning the operation and funding of an adequate pension program for Nazarene ministers. This correspondence quickly established the need for reserve funds and discouraged relying exclusively on current offerings for pension and relief operations.20
In a major article in the September 20, 1922, issue the of the Herald of Holiness, Fleming summarized Board's progress since 1919.
On August 1 we were rendering assistance in 13 cases: Two were widows receiving $5.00 and $11.66 per month respectively and one widow with four children receiving $15.00 per month; three ministers are nearly or wholly blind, one is disabled with paralysis, one is in an old people's home; two women preachers are hopelessly sick, one severely crippled; two other men are receiving old age assistance. There are two applications on file from widows and one from a disabled man.
The assistance granted is based upon service rendered to the Church since 1907, at the rate of $30.00 per year of service ministers, and $20.00 per year of service (husbandâs) for widows. The remittances are made monthly. 21
Fleming noted that the 1919 General Assembly did "one of its best works when it took action looking to the care and relief of the wornout ministers of the Church, as well as the care of the widows and orphans of ministers who died in the service of the Church." He further noted that this effort had proven "very inadequate to the necessities of the cases," and said that the Board of Ministerial Relief was therefore devoting "much time and effort to finding the best possible plan for the work of Ministerial Relief," with the intention that such a plan would be submitted to the Sixth General Assembly when it met in 1923.22
The United States in 1923 was a nation in distress rocking from one scandal to another in the administration of President Warren G. Harding. In July, he left Washington for a nationwide speaking tour, but suffered a heart attack and died in San Francisco on August 2. Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office the following day at his father's home in Plymouth, VT. His father, a notary public, administered the oath. Coolidge's first message to Congress was the first presidential message to be broadcast by radio. It also was in 1923 that Nevada and Montana established laws for America's first old age pensions at the state level.
In the church, stress levels were high also. The church was growing rapidly as a national organization, and such growth brought inevitable problems. The earlier attempt to establish financial control over the general boards had proven ineffective. Then, just as delegates to the 1923 General Assembly were corning together in Kansas City, they heard murmurs about what came to be called the "North Dakota land deal" involving speculation with church funds.23 When the Assembly finally convened, its attention clearly was not on the problem of establishing an adequate pension program. Rather, the Assembly
demolished with one blow the Boards of Home Missions, Foreign Missions, Publication, and Church Extension, and took away all discretionary authority over financial matters from other boards as well. These powers were then placed in the hands of six ministers and six laymen, elected at large, to serve under the chairmanship of the Board of General Superintendents in what was first called a General Council, soon renamed the General Board.24
The office of E. J. Fleming, general church secretary, became the clearing house for the entire operation. His administrative excellence smoothed the way for the reorganization at every step. He made certain that "communication was full and deliberation possible on every issue."25
The 1923 General Assembly was able to report that 33 persons had been assisted with relief payments ranging from $5 to $25 per month.
In 1924, the General Board asked for a budget of $7,500 for ministerial relief. This equaled three percent of the General Budget and represented 15 cents for each of the 50,000 Nazarenes. The governing policies for ministerial relief, however, were left in limbo. In early 1924, Fleming was to write to a questioner,
I do confess that we are somewhat doubtful just how to proceed in view of the attitude of the General Assembly. However, I think you will agree that the attitude taken by the General Assembly in its closing moments, when there were present but a hand full of delegates, was not a good criterion by which to judge what undoubtedly would have been done had the entire delegation been present.26
Lacking clear direction from the General Assembly regarding "the whole Mutual Benefit proposition," the new General Board authorized a committee to make an "exhaustive investigation" and to report back.27
In 1925, grants for relief were based on the following schedule: $25 per year for each year of active service up to 12 years; an additional $5 per year for each year of active service from 13 to 20 years. Relief was payable monthly, unless otherwise stated in the application, provided funds were available. Although the situation was under study, there remained too many needs and too little money. Still, in a letter to a district superintendent explaining the denial of requested assistance for one of the districtâs ministers, Fleming was able to add a cheery closing, "We trust that the air is getting clearer up your way, and the sun is shining brighter, and the stars are twinkling with more glory, and the road is getting smoother, and you are seeing some gracious results from the labors which you are undertaking in His precious name."28
In a more somber vein, Fleming wrote to an applicant in 1925, "I can not tell you how deeply this work presses upon my heart, but I am utterly unable to respond to the urgent appeals that reach me except as finances are provided by the General Church."29
In 1928, the Ministers' Contributory Reserve Pension Plan was authorized by the General Assembly. It was to begin as soon as at least 500 ministers notified the Department of Ministerial Relief in writing that they intended to pay contributions of 2.5 percent of salary and that their church intended to pay contributions of 10 percent of salary. Relief annuities were granted at the rate of $15 annually per year of service, but not to exceed $300 annually in any case, provided funds were available. In 1930, the General Board lowered the requisite membership to 300. But the Minister's Contributory Reserve Pension Plan never began because the Great Depression ruined the economy, and neither the ministers nor the churches were able to make the necessary contributions.
The decade of the 1920's found the Church of the Nazarene, like the nation itself, struggling to find itself in the midst of cultural diversity, technological change, and uncertain resources. In this mix, the church also was trying to find the organizational structure that would best suit its mission as a holiness denomination.
© Copyright 1993 Board of Pensions and Benefits USA, Church of the Nazarene