History of the Gospel Herald Society
by Jansen E. Hartman
I am assuming that our consideration of the Gospel Herald Society is for the purpose better understanding the agencies that helped to mold the Bible Fellowship Church.
The task of formulating a history of the Gospel Herald Society is not as simple a task as I originally assumed. There are five sources of information: the Year Books, the Gospel Banner (which was not available to me), the minutes of the Gospel Herald Society (if they are still in existence), and oral history which is disappearing fast. My primary sources are the Year Books from 1896 to 1906.
The forerunners of the Gospel Herald Society were two. Under the heading of the Home Mission Society, there were two divisions, a men’s society and a women’s society. The women’s division which is the best documented later became the Gospel Worker’s Society. The men’s division seems to have been in existence prior to the Gospel Worker’s Society but organized in a rather loose fashion.
The Gospel Worker’s Society under what must have been the dynamic leadership of W. B. Musselman set the pattern of zealous evangelistic enthusiasm which later inspired the formation of the Gospel Herald Society.
A brief statement under the heading, “Home Mission Society,” in the 1896 Year Book summarizes the activities of that agency of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. It must be remembered that this society operated as an auxiliary to the Annual Conference. If this paragraph refers only to the women’s movement then it must be recognized that we had women preachers in the past but not with the same credentials as the men.
Home Mission Society
This Society consists of President, Secretary, Treasurer, members, and Associate members. Quarterly Conference license and an unconditional submission to the Society is necessary to full membership. The operations of the Society extend over different localities in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The workers are consecrated for any work for the Master. They go two by two from house to house, visiting and praying with the people.
They hold meetings nearly every night the year around either in churches, halls, houses, tabernacle, and the open air. Their work is strictly on the line of faith. The Society pays the first month’s rent at each new place, and partly furnishes the halls and living-rooms, after which they are all supposed to be self-supporting. But in new openings, eating on boxes and doing without carpet is often the condition of our workers’ homes in the beginning.
In case the Holy Spirit leads any one to donate eatables, bedding, furniture, carpets, tracts, &c., they can report to the President, W. B. Musselman, P. E., Locust Valley, Pa. (1896, p. 23)
One can catch the zeal and dedication of this group of servants of the Lord that later was transmitted to the Gospel Herald Society. The basis tenets set forth in 1896 remained throughout the history of the Gospel Herald Society.
The Annual Conference of 1896 passed the following resolution: “Resolved, that we recommend a monthly (Home Missionary) meeting in each class under the supervision of the pastor, when a collection shall be lifted for the Home Mission Fund. The steward shall take charge of the money collected until the delegate to the Annual Conference is elected” (1896, p. 12).
Under the category of Quarterly Conference Licensed Evangelists there are six names listed. At least 3 can be identified as women (1896, p. 21).
W. B. Musselman was the Chairman of the Conference held in 1896. William Gehman, the founder, was still active but seemed to have a less prominent role in the expansion movement that was about to break forth. C. H. Brunner served as secretary and was in a strong supporting role. H. B. Musselman and W. G. Gehman were just beginning to come to the fore.
In the 1897 Year Book the Statistical Report of the “Gospel Worker and Men’s Missionary Societies” is interesting (See 1897, p. 19). There is a parenthesis under the heading of the Men’s Missionary Society which reads, disbanded. So it would seem W. B. Musselman began to direct his energies toward the “Gospel Workers.”
In the 1898 Yearbook, the minutes of the Friday afternoon session carried the following resolution, “That the Conference resolve itself into a committee at 7:30 to consider more fully the operations of the Gospel Workers and their future relations to the church” (1898, p. 11). At the next session held on Saturday morning, the following resolutions were passed:
Whereas, W. B. Musselman, President of the Gospel Workers’ Society, gave a clear and definite report of the past operations of the Society in every department (spiritual, statistical and financial) to the complete satisfaction of the Conference; therefore
Resolved, that we recognize their work as organized and carried on under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Ghost and pledge ourselves to pray for them and use our influence for the promotion of their work; and further
Resolved, that, according to the resolution of last year, the monthly collection for them in each class shall be continued and increased as much as possible.
Whereas, we greatly appreciate the energetic and devoted labors of Brother W. B. Musselman in connection with Home Missionary work; therefore
Resolved, that we recognize the President of the Gospel Workers’ Society as Missionary Presiding Elder ex-officio (1898, p.12).
Judging by the language used in the whereases, and the reserve with which Conference dealt with controversial issues, this seems to have been the “hot” topic of the conference.
In the Standing Rules the following was established in 1897, “H. -Gospel Workers- Resolved, That a free-will offering for the Gospel Workers [b]e made in each class at a monthly prayer meeting held by their respective class-leaders, which shall be delivered to the Presiding Elder at the Quarterly Conference and reported to the Annual Conference. (Enacted February 20,1897.)” (1898, p. 6).
This means that not only was money given out, the ministry of the Gospel Worker was kept before the people. Their work and testimony was an inspiration to the church as a whole. The Gospel Workers enjoyed the support of the people for they gave the church a “cause” to support.
The function of the Gospel Workers seems to have been church planting although that term had not yet been invented. It does not seem that the intent was at that time to develop as many missions as possible but to develop Mennonite Brethren in Christ churches. From the minutes of the 1898 Conference, Monday morning, March 7, comes the following:
Resolved, That whenever the Gospel Workers turn one or more of their missions over to the Church a committee, consisting of the Presiding Elder, the Missionary Presiding Elder and the Treasurer, shall appraise the personal property belonging to the mission, and, in case the Church chooses to buy the same it shall be paid for out of the Home missionary treasury.
Whereas, we have made no provision for the support of the Missionary Presiding Elder; therefore
Resolved, that we recommend each minister in charge to hold a Love Feast service in the middle of each quarter and lift an offering towards the support of the Missionary Presiding Elder (1898, p. 18).
The Gospel Workers were included in the report of the Stationing and Boundary Committee at the 1898 Conference as follows:
II. Gospel Workers
W. B. Musselman, Missionary P. E.
Gospel Workers’ missions shall be opened and supplied according to the rules of the Gospel Workers.
A. Gospel Workers.- Lucy Musselman, Lizzie M. Christman, Dora B. Rote, Cora J. Felty, Ada W. Smith, R. Jennie Rote, Franny L. Wismer, A. C. Spellman, Jennie E. Goranflo, Annie K. Wentzel, Rebecca R. Kunz, Mary G. Hassler, Bertha L. Snyder, Amanda E. Schaeffer, Laura E. Steinmetz, Elmira L. Zimmerman, Emma M. Geissing, Ella R. Weaver, Sarah G. Brunner, Emma J. Davison, Laura H. Schmoyer, Alice M. Eisenhart, Mary A. Snyder, Belle Emert, Sallie A. Green, Bertha M. Steinmetz.
B. Gospel Workers, Local.- Mamie E. Caskie, Mary A. Kern.
Committee: C. H. Brunner, P. E.; W. B. Musselman, M. P. E.; T. J. Knauss, A. G. Taylor, P. Y. Foltz, Noah Moyer, William S. Spies, A. A. Wismer, M. Kaufman, F. E. Frey and J. W. Miller (1898 p. 20).
The Gospel Workers report for 1898 notes these significant increases
Statistical Report of the Gospel Workers
Number of active members of Society 23
Number of probationers 9
Number of probationers whose time is expired 5
Number of converts 257
Number baptized 119
Number lay members received into the society 342
Whole number of lay members of Society 323
Whole number of lay member of Society also member
of M. B. Christ Church 19
Number of regular appointments 12
Number appointments turned over the Church 5
Value received in other contributions 625.13
Money collected for campmeeting 177.92
Money raised for President 263.64
Money raised for district leader 181.71
Money collected for foreign missions 30.64
Money raised for Gospel Workers’ fund 471.10
Money raised for interest 12.00
Number of sermons or talks 3,463
Number of visits 6,011
Number of classes of Society 10
Number of gospel banners regularly taken 580
Value of books, papers, &c., sold (retail) $2,933.98
Financial help received from Annual Conference 179.63
Money collected for rents 833.06
Money collected to table 20.46
Money collected for sundry expenses 135.26
Money collected for workers, in cash 244.22
Money raised for sinking fund 18.73
Extra percentages 122.16
Extra conventions and campmeetings 137.06
Extra collections 66.04
Total Collections $3,339.13(1898, pp 26-27)
The ministry of W. B. Musselman and the Gospel Workers seems to be on the way to being its own entity and having its own identity somewhat separated from the Conference as is indicated by a resolution passed in 1899:
Resolved, That W. B. Musselman, President of the Gospel Workers’ Society, be recognized as Missionary Presiding Elder, ex-officio.
Resolved, That the collections for the Missionary Presiding Elder and Gospel Workers shall continue as last year.
Resolved, That we recognize the quarterly conference license of the Gospel Workers’ Society as equivalent to the church quarterly conference license.
Resolved, That whenever the Gospel Workers turn one or more of their missions over to the Church, a committee, consisting of the Presiding Elder, the Missionary Presiding Elder and the Treasurer, shall appraise the personal property belonging to the mission and, in case the Church chooses to buy the same, it shall be paid for out of the Home Missionary treasury.
Whereas, The Gospel Workers’ Society desires to open new halls right along, and therefore propose to surrender all classes and halls to the Mennonite Brethren in Christ; and
whereas They always pay their rent one month in advance, which (one month’s rent) they agreed to forfeit in case the Church will close the mission inside of 90 days after it is handed over; therefore
Resolved, That all advance rent will be paid by our Church for such mission halls where the work is carried on for 90 days or more.
Resolved, That the Gospel Workers shall have the privilege to change their Gospel Banners as they think advisable” (1899 p. 21).
The heading of the report of the Gospel Workers’ Society reads as follows:
“Report of the “Gospel Workers’ Society
For the Year ending February 1, 1899. (Extracts)” (1899 p. 33)
One can surmise from the partial report that it was no longer necessary to report every detail to Annual Conference.
The separation is further indicate by a resolution passed in the Annual Conference of 1900.
Whereas, We highly appreciated the oral and statistical reports given by W. B Musselman, Missionary Presiding Elder, about the labor of the Gospel Workers’ Society; therefore
RESOLVED: That we, as a Conference admitting the noble work done, and the spirit of true self-denial manifested, feel deeply interested in this Missionary Society and pledge ourselves to recognize and uphold the same with our prayers, as well as otherwise.
(a) RESOLVED, That the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society shall be recognized as a part of the district of Presiding Elder C. H. Brunner by virtue of his office.
(b) Resolved, That C. H. Brunner is authorized to appoint his wife, Mrs. C. H. Brunner, to any office in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society as he sees proper, and is privileged to make any rules which may be beneficial to the work of God and the church (1900 p. 17).
Now there is to be a Home Missionary Society which is other than the Gospel Workers Society. The rules drawn up were no doubt patterned after the Gospel Workers Society.
The listing of the officers in the 1900 Yearbook for the Home Missionary Society seems to indicate some indecisiveness about the organization. No vice president is listed.
Missionary Societies’ Officers.
Home Missionary Society.
President and Treasurer, C. H. Brunner.
Secretary, E. T. Schick. Vice President _____________ _________.
District Leader, Mrs. C. H. Brunner (1900 p. 2).
However, the Home Missionary report for 1900 did show some substance and stability.
VI. Report of Home Missionary Society.
From March 4, 1899, to September, 1900.
Full Members 9
Class Members 106
Church members 59
Sermons and addresses 2,651
Open air meetings 287
Children’s Meetings 178
Banners Sold 10,405
Literature sold, total (retail) $1,293.40
Collected for gospel workers $61.40
Collected for district leader 174.89
Collected for President 104.06
Collected for Sunday Schools 67.90
Collected for helpers 21.20
Collected for Foreign Missions 38.74
Collected for Foreign Missions in Sunday Schools and
Children’s Meetings 132.48
Collected for Home Missions 48.00
Collected for poor 8.91
Collected for rents, (special) 105.85
Collected for workers (special) 153.44
Collected for hall expenses 1,193.41
Out of Home Mission fund 81.75
Received in donations 546.61
Total Receipts $2,738.64
(1900, p. 38).
By 1901, there seems to be a question about the functioning of the Home Missionary Society.
RESOLVED, That the Presiding Elders, H. B. Musselman, C. H. Brunner and W. B. Musselman report. H. B. Musselman reported a few missions and classes organized through tabernacle meetings and commented on the work done through camp meetings and stated that the work looks bright. C. H. Brunner reported that the missions in the Home Missionary Society were progressive spiritually and financially. Large crowds are easily gathered in open air to hear the Gospel and many get saved and filled with the Spirit. On both districts there are places ready to build houses of worship.
RESOLVED, That the Conference resolve itself into a committee as a whole, to sit at 7:30 P. M., and that W. B. Musselman, Missionary Presiding Elder, report the work of the Gospel Worker Society to this committee (1901, p. 12).
The question arises, why was it necessary to meet as a closed door committee?
Two pages later in the minutes in the record of the plenary session of the following day, the following was appears:
W. B. Musselman, Missionary Presiding Elder, gave a very interesting report of the Gospel Worker Society. Financially the Lord does provide in a most marvelous manner. Many were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost during the past year. In his report he plainly showed the approval of God in all things.
Resolved, That we give the Home Missionary Society the privilege of becoming a Gospel Worker Society, Division No. 2 (1901, p. 14).
Thus, there is a complete separation of Home Mission organizations. Note that the word society is retained for both.
The Conference was not yet finished with the Gospel Workers Society. Following the Stationing and Boundary Committee Report on Monday morning (October 7, 1901), the following was approved:
Whereas, We highly appreciated the oral and statistical reports given by W. B. Musselman, Missionary Presiding Elder, concerning the labor of the Gospel Worker Society; therefore
RESOLVED, That we, as a Conference, admitting the noble work done, and the Spirit (sic) of true self denial manifested, feel deeply interested in this Missionary Society and pledge ourselves to recognize and uphold the same with our prayers, as well as otherwise.
(a) RESOLVED, That the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society shall be recognized as a part of the district of Presiding Elder C. H Brunner, by virtue of his office,
(b) RESOLVED, That C. H. Brunner be authorized to appoint his wife, Mrs. C. H. Brunner, to any office in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society that he may see proper, and is privileged to make any rules which may be beneficial to the work of God and the church.
RESOLVED, That the collections for the Missionary Presiding Elder and Gospel Workers shall continue as last year.
RESOLVED, That we recognize the Quarterly Conference License of the Gospel Workers Society as equivalent to our Church Quarterly Conference License.
RESOLVED, That whenever the Gospel Workers turn one or more of their missions over to the church, a committee consisting of the Presiding Elder, the Missionary Presiding Elder and the Treasurer, shall appraise the personal property belonging to the Mission, and in case the church chooses to buy the same, it shall be paid for out of the Home Missionary Treasury.
WHEREAS, They always pay their rent one month in advance, which (one month’s rent) they agreed to forfeit in case the church will close the mission inside of ninety days after it is handed over; therefore
RESOLVED, That all advance rent shall be refunded to them out of the Home Mission treasury for such mission halls where the work is carried on for 90 days or more.
RESOLVED, That the Gospel Workers shall have the privilege to change their Gospel Banners as they think advisable (1901, p. 21-22).
VI. REPORT OF THE HOME MISSIONARY SOCIETY FROM SEPTEMBER 1, 1900, TO OCTOBER 1, 1901.
Full Member 9
Withdrawn, (left the work) 1
Withdrawn (received church work) 2
Missions abandoned 1
New Missions opened 3
Missions open now 6
Sunday School organized 5
Sunday Schools Total 6
Officers and teachers enrolled 50
Scholars enrolled 305
Sermons and Addresses 2408
Open Air Meetings 249
Children’s Meetings and Sunday Schools held 294
Prayer Meetings held 234
Pastoral Visits 2438
Gospel Banners sold 10365
Literature sold (retail) $1102.95
For Gospel Workers 9.10
For President 63.81
For District Leader 154.16
For Sunday School Work 94.44
For Conference Fund 28.57
For Foreign Missions 58.07
For Foreign Mission in Sunday School 36.69
For Tabernacle Helpers 30.74
For rents 405.12
For Hall Expenses and Workers 713.51
Donations received 622.35
Total collected $2216.56
C. H. Brunner, Pres. Treas.
(1901, p. 32)
In 1902, some significant changes were made.
Resolved , That the Missionary Society be a body by itself, and that the Church elect a president for the Society.
Resolved, That all other charges be under one Presiding Elder.
Resolved, That all collections at Quarterly Conferences be turned over to the Presiding Elder of the Church.
Resolved, That the president of the Home Missionary Society hold an all day meeting on every charge, and Missionary Meeting at each appointment, and take up a cash collection and subscriptions, the pastor to collect and bring them to the Annual subscriptions, and the Stationing Committee divide it as they see fit (1902, p. 12).
Also, another significant change that had portents for the future. In the same session the following appears: “Resolved, That our single men who apply for the work, shall be referred to the Home Missionary President” (1902, p. 13).
Something seems to be developing as is indicated by resolution passed on Saturday, October 17, 1903, by the Committee as a whole.
Resolved, That W. G. Gehman read the essay which he had read before the Ministerial Convention, on “The Relation of Our Church to the Home Missionary Society.”
Resolved, That a committee of seven be elected to form articles of mutual agreement, between the Gospel Herald Society and the church proper, which articles shall be submitted to the Gospel Herald Society for each one of them to sign (1903, p. 14).
Note that this is the first use of the name, “Gospel Herald Society.”
The committee acted as follows: “Resolved, That W. B. Musselman, C. H. Brunner, H. B. Musselman and W. G. Gehman be four of these men, the last three each to appoint another man. E. N. Cassel, J. H. Shireman and R. L. Woodring were appointed” (1903, p. 15).
The Conference took further action:
Resolved, That the President of the Gospel Herald Society, hold an all day meeting on each charge, and a Missionary meeting at each appointment, and take up collections and subscriptions, the pastor to collect and bring the same to the Annual Conference, and the Stationing Committee divide it as they see fit.
Whereas, We highly appreciated the oral report given by W. B. Musselman, Missionary Presiding Elder, concerning the labor of the Gospel Worker Society, therefore
Resolved, That we as a Conference, admitting the noble work done, and the spirit of true self denial manifested, feel deeply interested in this missionary Society, and pledge ourselves to recognize and uphold the same with our prayers as well as otherwise.
Resolved, That the subscriptions for the Home Mission work be taken between New year and the Camp meeting season (1903, p. 18).
The Stationing and Boundary Committee also brought the following action to the floor of the Conference:
Resolved, That $650 be donated to the Gospel Herald Society out of the Home Mission fund.
Whereas, C. H. Brunner shall collect the Home Missionary Money during the ensuing year, therefore
Resolved, That we recommend that 50 per cent. of the money collected the coming year be donated to the Gospel Herald Society, on condition that C. H. Brunner with some of his workers hold one all day meeting at each regular appointment, and pay their own fares (1903, p. 22).
The following is the first report of the Gospel Herald Society.
V. REPORT OF THE GOSPEL HERALD SOCIETY.
from October 1, 1902, to October 1, 1903.
Full membership (workers) 10
Transferred to the church 1
Workers died during year 1
Sunday Schools 5
Scholars Enrolled 310
Children’s meetings and Sunday School held 262
Open air meetings held 577
Prayer meetings held 188
Sermons and addresses 2437
Pastoral visits 2986
Papers sold 14511
Literature Sold (retail) $1521.00
Special collection for President, Dist. Leader, Sunday Sch. &c. 598.71
General collections and rent 727.25
Sundries, workers’ sup’t., &c. 930.96
Hackettstown Mission 15.54
Washington ” 27.42
Phillipsburg ” 3.63
Trenton ” 53.85
Easton ” 16.78
Doolittle ” 6.65
Philada. No.1 ” 205.97
Philada. No. 2 ” 59.20
Stroudsburg ” 29.12
T. E. Clewell, mov’g, exp. &c. 30.50
Home rent, 3 mos. 30.00
Church appropriations $506.15
C. H. Brunner, Pres. and Treas.
(1903, p. 31).
The transition of leadership from C. H. Brunner to W. G. Gehman took place at the fourth session of the 22nd Annual Conference on Friday afternoon, October 13, 1905.
W. G. Gehman and C. H. Brunner were elected Presiding Elders.
Resolved, That W. G. Gehman be Chairman and C. H. Brunner Secretary of the next Annual Conference respectively.
The Chair now appointed the Committee of five, including himself, as set forth in the report of the Committed of the Whole to divide the districts and assign the Presiding Elders to their districts respectively.
He appointed R. L. Woodring, E. T. Shick, E. N. Cassel, J. C. Roth and H. B. Musselman.
Resolved, That we adjourn for committees to meet until the call by the Chair.
After the intermission the following committee reports were submitted and received:
Committee on Dividing of Presiding Elder Districts:
(a) Bethlehem District. Presiding Elder, W. G. Gehman. Cementon, Northampton, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Plainfield, Phillipsburg, Erwinna, Springtown, Coopersburg, Quakertown, Hatfield, and all the work of the Gospel Herald Society, except Pottstown.
(b) Reading District. Presiding Elder, C. H. Brunner. Mt. Carmel, Girardville, Weissport, Lehighton, Walnutport, Tripoli, Allentown, South Allentown, Emaus (sic), Macungie, Fleetwood, Blandon, Reading, Alburtis, Hereford, Terre Hill, Reps, Royersford, Spring City, Athol, Gratersford, Harleysville, Zionsville, and Pottstown Mission.
H. B. Musselman
R. L. Woodring
E. T. Shick
E. N. Cassel
J. C. Roth (1905, p. 10).
Thus C. H. Brunner became Presiding Elder over the largest body of churches while W. G. Gehman had lesser churches and supervision of the Gospel Herald Society.
C. H. Brunner’s final report came in 1905.
IV. REPORT OF THE GOSPEL HERALD SOCIETY.
Ordained Ministers of Annual Conference 1
Probationers of Ann’l Conf 3
Applicants for ” ” 2
Church Members 16
Sunday Schools 3
Officers and Teachers Enrol. 14
Children’s Meetings and Sunday Schools held 130
Scholars enrolled 198
Open Air meetings 422
Prayer Meetings 55
Sermons and Addresses 2134
Pastoral Visits 1819
Heralds Sold 20976
For Rents $495.92
” Sundry Expenses 834.41
” President and District Leader 362.78
” Sunday Schools 114.56
” Foreign Missions in Sunday schools 48.07
Literature Sold, retail 1762.89
Opening New Missions, homes and halls $140.77
Printing, Sign Painting etc. 27.55
Fares and Expressage in changing workers 90.05
Household Goods 68.84
Fares and Freights at Tent meetings 47.99
Mileage Book 20.00
Home Mission Meetings fares 114.90
Philadelphia Mission 2310 Germantown Ave. 54.00
Philadelphia Mission 518 Lehigh Ave. 93.00
New Tents, Living tent, Freight etc 136.90
Donation to workers 45.00
Received from Annual Conference Treasurer $839.00 _________
(1905, p. 35)
The roots of the Gospel Herald Society have been traced back to leadership of W. B. Musselman and the Gospel Workers Society.
The first years of C. H. Brunner’s founding of the Gospel Herald Society have been traced up until the assumption of W. G. Gehman of the role of leadership.
Three basic emphases show from this historical sketch.
1. The Society was a separate entity.
2. The primary focus of the Society was church planting.
3. The Society provided for the training and discipling of men.