In 1882 Free Methodist elder Vivan Dake along with his wife Ida, J.B. Newville, Henrietta Muzzy Abbie Dunham, and J.L. Keene formed an evangelistic outreach group they named the Pentecost Band. The six were based in Iowa at the time, and God called them to devote their lives to winning people to Christ. Unfortunately, the band was short-lived, dissolving in less than a year as members were pulled in various directions. However, in 1885 while appointed the Michigan Conference evangelist, Dake restarted the bands as a tool to encourage young adults to devote themselves to ministry.[i]
The 1885 Pentecost Band was formed in Parma, Michigan, and established guidelines that all new bands were to follow. The name “Pentecost” was chosen by Dake as a rhetorical tool to remind band members and the public that the group was returning to what Dake referred to as “primitive Pentecost methods, for in the revival at Pentecost converts as well as preachers engaged in spreading the gospel.”[ii] Young adults didn’t have to be licensed evangelists or elders in the Free Methodist Church to join, and many didn’t even complete any sort of formal ministerial training. In reviewing some journals and testimonies from band members published in The Free Methodist and The Pentecost Herald, band members joined because, like Dake and the first Pentecost Band, they felt passionate about sharing their faith and winning individuals to Christ.
Within a year of the first Pentecost Band forming in Parma in 1885, there were four bands composed of 3-4 young adults, mostly single men and women apart from Vivan and Ina Dake. Three of those first four bands were composed of young women, and as the movement continued to grow throughout the mid-1880s and early 1990s, the majority of bands that formed were woman-led.
I’ve been trying to document every member as I find them in the era’s journals, books, or newspaper accounts. To date, I’ve found at least 105 women served in the bands from 1885-1920 and at least 45 men. Free Methodist historian Howard Snyder briefly researched the bands in the 1990s; his estimates are higher. Snyder estimates that between 1885-1958 (when the bands merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Church), there were around 400 members; between 1885-1900 (the time frame I’m most interested in exploring), there were over 200 members.[iii]
There exists little research on the bands, but what does exist paints the bands as an official outreach effort of the Free Methodist Church from 1885-1894 when a large group of band members chose to formally establish their organization, changing their name to Missionary Bands of the World, Inc. in 1925. I’ve spent the past few months buried in newspaper accounts of the bands, journals by women in the bands, and reading basically anything I could find written from 1885-1894. I don’t think I would categorize these young adults as an official ministry of the Free Methodist Church.
Over a few blog posts, I’ll outline the Pentecost Bands’ organizational structure and theology, but they were much more theologically radical than most Free Methodists of the time period. Additionally, members shied away from individual property, and day-to-day band life was highly communal. Snyder and a few others have proposed calling them a religious order, but a religious order (as was the case with the Free Methodist Deaconess Order) has some sort of denominational oversight and would theologically be in line with their parent denomination. The bands were not.
Furthermore, band members were not always Free Methodist.; As the movement grew, converts of early Pentecost Band revivals would join ranks, and the Pentecost Bands had their own guidelines for membership, their own yearly convention where they elected leaders and their theological interpretation of what it meant to follow a holiness lifestyle. Even their theological views on conversion and sanctification were not in-line with the Free Methodist Book of Discipline.
While some leaders, such as Dake, were ordained Free Methodist elders at the denominational, annual, and quarterly conference levels, the bands had no formal oversight from 1885-1890.[iv] Some Free Methodists, such as Benjamin Titus Roberts, embraced Dake’s vision and encouraged his efforts. Other sources that are used to tie the Pentecost Bands to the Free Methodist Church include an 1891 Enclycopedia of Missions article that referes to them as the “Pentecost Bands of the Free Methodist Church.”v
I think the relationship and official ties to the denomination are more complex than has been documented to date. Even the Encyclopedia of Missions has numerous details about the bands organizational structure– a structure distinct from the Free Methodist Church and annual conferences did not keep records of band members like they did for deaconesses, deacons, elders and evangelists.
By the time Free Methodist leadership finally began to consider ways to formalize and oversee evangelistic bands in 1890, the Pentecost Bands had grown into an international movement with its own publication, The Pentecost Herald, its own international missions’ endeavors, and its own leadership hierarchy.
Perhaps a better way to refer to the relationship between the bands and the Free Methodist Chburch would be an informal mentoring relationship by annual conference leaders and general superintendents such as Roberts.
[iv] The Free Methodist Book of Discpline first included oversight of band work in the 1890 edition ad even then it was not specific to the Pentecost Bands, just general band work annual conferences might oversee.
[v] Enclopedia of Missions Pentecost Band article