Odell, Joseph
1846-1923; e.m. 1866

PM minister, born on 21 October 1846 near Dunstable. After two appointments as a lay agent in the Home Mission District, he was appointed to Abergavenny in 1866. While on sick leave at Hammersmith in the London First Circuit, he substituted at Croydon for the Home Mission Deputation minister, who was himself ill, and stayed on as an evangelist after the Croydon minister in turn fell sick. In the course of that work he established his first lay team to work alongside him.

From 1876 to 1880 he was stationed in Brooklyn, New York, to address problems that had arisen. After a difficult start, he achieved success and there he seems to have begun to implement his idea of lay evangelists to supplement the work of the circuit ministers. He also established the 'Odell Temperance League'. Returning in 1880 to Leicester, he put into print for the first time his vision of a formal Order of lay evangelists in the church. In 1885 he began a 20-year ministry in Birmingham, which resulted in considerable PM progress on the south-east side of the city, notably in the opening of the Conference Hall in 1895. Inspired by a Holiness Convention in Grimsby, in 1888 he made his vision concrete when he founded the Evangelists' Home as a private venture. Here young men were trained by Odell and sent to requesting circuits to work for a period as evangelists.However, in the face of existing provision for the supply of evangelical ministries to the PM circuits, his work was not well received by the Conference. When the 1889 Conference was invited to adopt his work, the offer was declined. Attempts to overturn that decision persisted until 1891, when the PM Magazine commented that Odell could 'deal as he pleased with the Home, so far as its maintenance and continuance are concerned... If he finds the undertaking too heavy for him, he can, without consultation or consent from any Connexional authority, drop it.'

He was President of the PM Conference in 1900 and gave the Hartley Lecture in 1903 on Evangelism. In it he was replaying his vision of a connexional order of lay evangelists. However, the work was soon to end. When in 1904 it became necessary for Mrs. Odell to retire, effectively as matron of the Home, its work was discontinued. Odell was given a year's rest and in 1905 was appointed Connexional Evangelist, retiring from that work in 1912. He died in Birmingham on 15 May 1923.

  • J. Pearce, Burning and Shining Lights: a souvenir of Primitive Methodist radiant personalities (Halesowen, 1935), pp.87-96
  • Colin C. Short, Joseph Odell and 'The Evangelists' Home' (Englesea Brook, 2001)