Wesleyan Holiness Church

The Wesleyan Holiness Church was formed from the merger of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America and the Pilgrim Holiness Church.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church of America traces its origins to the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, a splinter group from the Methodist Episcopal Church formed in New York in 1843 with the declared aim of recovering authentic Methodism, free from Episcopacy and slavery. In 1947 following a number of mergers with like-minded holiness groups, including the Hephzibah Faith Missionary Society, and Missionary Bands of the World, the church changed its name to the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America.

Parallel to this was the development of the Pilgrim Holiness Church which traces its origins to the formation in 1897 of the International Holiness Union and Prayer League in Ohio, the primary aim of which was to spread the message of holiness worldwide. In 1900 the name was changed to the International Apostolic Holiness Union and in 1922 following a number of mergers with similar groups including the Holiness Christian Church, The Pentecostal Rescue Mission and the Pilgrim Church of California a new name was adopted, the Pilgrim Holiness Church.

By the 1950s the Wesleyans and the Pilgrims recognised how similar were their aims and outlook and a union of the two denominations began to be explored, which finally resulted in 1968 in the formation of the Wesleyan Church.

The Wesleyan Holiness Church in Britain has a unique place in this history. In the early 1900s Pilgrim Holiness missions began in the Caribbean and the work flourished. In 1948 the Empire Windrush arrived in Tilbury bringing the first wave of post war immigrants from the Caribbean to Britain. However, many of these immigrants who had previously been church-going folk soon stopped attending church altogether. In 1958 Dennis Sampson started the Pilgrim Holiness Mission in Birmingham, specifically to work in these new immigrant communities which had lapsed from British churches. This work grew rapidly and soon churches were established among West Indian immigrant communities in Britain's major industrial cities. This work was not commissioned or even directly supported by the Pilgrim Holiness Church in the Caribbean or the USA, but was rather a grassroots movement, initially led by lay people, though many of these were later ordained. In 1961 the Pilgrim Holiness Mission approached the General Assembly of the Pilgrim Holiness Church seeking incorporation into the denomination as the British Isles District. This was granted in 1962; and in 1968 following the merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Church with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America, the church in the British Isles became known as the Wesleyan Holiness Church. (Elsewhere in the world the title 'the Wesleyan Church' was adopted.)

Today the Wesleyan Church, headquartered in Indiana, has around 400,000 constituents in 5,000 churches and missions in 80 countries of the world.

  • The Discipline of the Wesleyan Church (Indianapolis, 1996)
  • Paula Pemberton and J.R. Maxwell Hughes, Pilgrims in Progress (Birmingham, 1983)
  • Calvin T. Samuel, 'More Wesleyan than Methodists? An exploration of the Wesleyan Holiness Church in Britain', in Epworth Review, 33:1 (January 2006) pp.40-49
  • www.wesleyan.org

Entry written by: CTS
Category: Denomination
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