(Deuteronomy 32:7)

Not with any bigoted sectarianism, but rather in a spirit of humility and gratitude to God, we call to remembrance the “Former Days.” In this anniversary service let us pause for a few moments, turn backward in time, and take a retrospective gaze over the winding but widening stream of our spiritual history and heritage. We do not have to gaze too far back to find material enough to evoke within a deep spirit of praise and thankfulness to God. The primary concern of this reflection, however is to look back to the “headwaters” that gave rise to the rivers of our “goodly heritage.” Whether in the far past or near present, again and again, as we view the twist and turn of events, we are led to say, “hitherto the Lord has helped us.”

In addition to the cause and inspiration for praise there is, perhaps, another value and result to this time of historical reflection. Several decades have passed in the history of our work. During that time hundreds have been led, providentially, into our fellowship, many of whom, especially in more recent years, have had little or no contact with the earlier days of our Zion. Therefore, in the interest of an historical acquaintance, it seems both appropriate and wise to put down a few accounts as to origin and early beginnings.

In those first twenty-five years, our holiness work was known as the Pentecostal Rescue Mission Association. There were two positive elements that characterized the work in this period; viz., a deep desire for the preservation of spiritual freedom and life, and an aggressive evangelism among the destitute and the unfortunate of the street. We had no church buildings with high spires and fancy windows. Our work then was started in store fronts and conducted in mission halls. But here holiness was proclaimed. It was here that the fallen sisters of the street found God. It was here that the homeless and friendless were reached.

No pen could ever tell, and only eternity will reveal, the good that was accomplished in those early meetings among those pioneer saints. Opposition in those days was more open and sometimes very severe. Strangely enough, opposition not only came from the world, but sometimes from the church. Many of the charter members of our Conference had been
members of other churches, and not a few were squeezed out by ecclesiastical pressures. But as they left they cried, “We will stand for holiness.” Their zeal to reach the fallen, their gospel to the slums, their freedom in worship, their craving for the “old paths” —these elements were somewhat offensive to Mr. World and Mrs. Church. But with action to match the heroism of their words, they went out. They went out under the stars, the tents, the ceilings of mission halls, and scrubbed-out saloons.

They went out to rescue the perishing. They went out to reach the fallen. They went out and preached the glorious truth of Holiness. “Holiness unto the Lord” was their motto and motivation.

It has been over one hundred years since the first prayer meeting was held that became the fountain-head of a stream that has watered this state with holiness — and it is still flowing today. In the year of 1896 prayer meetings were started in the home of Mrs. Carrie Puffer at 18 Frederick Street, Binghamton, NY. There was a burden for a holiness work on the north side of the city. Among others who shared this burden and attended these prayer meetings were: Nelson Young, E. Strickland, Henry Clark, Wm. Hazelton. Some of these names will appear again in this history.

If a digression may be allowed here, it was while J. A. Wood was pastoring the M. E. Church on Court Street in Binghamton in 1860 that he was gloriously sanctified. Sad to say, the great flame of holiness that had burned so brightly then in that Methodist Church, as well as in others, was nearly extinguished by the end of the century. By 1900 the only holiness work in the city (to this writer’s knowledge) was a Free Methodist Church situated on Rutherford Street. Moreover, it might be well to mention here that many who became a part of our work, especially in a later period, had same affiliation with the Methodist Church or Free Methodism - thus, a Methodist background was initially and strongly blended into the character of our work.

These prayer meetings that were started in the Puffer home continued for several months until the crowds became too large for private dwellings. A hall was then rented in the downtown area on Court Street, below Carroll Street. Shortly thereafter, the Rev. John Scobie of Ottawa, Canada, a member of the Mennonite Church was contacted to conduct revival services. There was a need for a permanent leader to give direction to this growing work. Rev. Wm. Christie, also a member
of the Mennonite Holiness Church, was sent by Rev. Scobie to be the first pastor. The congregation met in several halls in the central part of the city during the next four years. Two other Mennonite ministers served as pastors during this time under the direction of Rev. Scobie.

A short account of these meetings may be found in the “News From Home,” April 15, 1907. “This work started with a few saints who had consecrated their lives to God. The dear Lord heard their prayers and honored their faith. In cold weather they would hold their services in a hired hall, and in summer in a tent. God blessed and saved precious souls. There will be many who will praise God all through eternity for their daring to step out for Him.”

A man who was later destined to be a great soul winner and the first leader of the Pentecostal Rescue Mission, came to one of these tent meetings. During the summer of 1900, Preston Kennedy, a meat cutter and a horse trader, had come from Schoharie County to Binghamton to find employment. As a young man he had made contact with God and found a measure of grace. However, since coming to the city he was living a life of despair. One night, after work, he was wandering aimlessly over the city streets when he suddenly became attracted by singing coming from a tent placed on the corner of Stewart and Water Streets. This man followed the Gospel sound and found Gospel Grace while kneeling in the straw, weeping, by an improvised altar, Bro. Kennedy became the leader of this band of Christians in May 1902. He entered into the fully sanctified experience in the spring of 1904 through the faithfulness of Sr. Puffer and others. Whatever sad experiences that may have taken place in his later life, no one can deny the fact that Preston Kennedy was, for a long period, mightily used of God in the early building of the work. He had an uncommon power in his preaching and a great influence over many people. Even today, some contend that he was the most effective preacher they ever heard.

The success of a later revival held in a tent at the corner of State and Chenango Streets led to the purchase of the old Horton Building at 399 Chenango Street for the sum of $100 in 1904. Might I add here, the dividends of this hundred-dollar investment will only be known in eternity. The building at this time was badly in need of repair. Bricks from a razed chimney in Rossville were brought to the site and used in remodeling the building. Room for the sanctuary was enlarged, extending from Chenango Street to State Street. For twenty-three years this four story block building on Chenango Street was a veritable power station where redemptive light and heat emanated. The memories of old 399 will be forever cherished by our older saints. While it was a place of many battles, it was the place of many blessings. The work was incorporated on July 20, 1903 as the Pentecostal Rescue Mission. The charter leaders of this new organization were: E. D. Baker, S. N. Bennett, M. E. Sampson, A. P. Valentine, S. S. Preston, E. 0. Fuller, Miss Mary Berg, Miss Emma Manning, Miss. A. E. Manning, and Preston Kennedy, superintendent.

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