From Holiness to Pentecost: The Indigenization of the Newfoundland Pentecostals
1919 represents an important date for evangelical Newfoundland and a turning point for the Pentecostal Movement. In January of that year, Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest, the independent granddaughter of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, undertook, together with her pianist husband, a Canadian crusade that led her from Toronto to St. John's. Evangelical and by no means Pentecostal in emphasis -- despite a belated claim to the contrary by Eugene Vaters -- she preached, sang, and acted out personal religious commitment and conversion before rapt audiences in St. John's Gower Street Methodist Church. The result was a renewal of religious fervour among St. John's evangelicals. More important, however, was the formation of new devotional groups and the increased communication among already existing but hitherto separate holiness bodies in the city. Two groups proved to be of special significance for the growth of the Pentecostal movement in Newfoundland. Kenneth S. Barnes, a Methodist and the proprietor of a local printing establishment, who had been brought into the holiness fold earlier in the century by the evangelistic efforts of Thomas Courtney, opened his own mission on Bell Street in St. John's. Later he became more explicitly Pentecostal and eventually joined his Elim Pentecostal Mission with ABG's Bethesda mission. Robert Chauncey English, a Water Street Jeweller, met with converts in his spacious home and later rented a separate hall. In the aftermath of the Demarest Crusade, English -- in the words of a participant who was present when it happened -- "received the Baptism [of the Spirit] in his own house ... with his head practically in the fireplace." Within a short time the group led by English joined forces with Bethesda Mission, where he became an associate Pastor, and, after its incorporation in 1925, the first Superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland. By then he had received ministerial credentials from the Canadian Pentecostals in London, Ontario. English -- like Vaters, his successor -- was one in a series of early Pentecostal leaders, who were prevented by personal or social circumstances to realize a religious vocation in the Methodist Church or the Salvation Army. In English's case, it was the family business, which he -- a boy in a family of ten girls -- felt obliged to take over. Now, the associate pastor could pursue both, but only until a more professionalized clergy emerged and English was forced out of his leadership role on account of his dual allegiance by the more aggressive and geographically mobile evangelist Eugene Vaters.
The recruitment or alliance with religious leaders from the Methodist fold gave new life to the fledgling Pentecostals. An added factor was the growth of independent revivalistic groups outside of St. John's within the Methodist church, which eventually were brought under the umbrella of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland. Methodism, brought to Newfoundland's Conception Bay in the 1760s by the Rev. Laurence Coughlan, a S.P.G. missionary and former associate of Wesley, had grown into a respectable denomination in the nineteenth century, but in the beginning of the twentieth century suffered from premature aging. Especially the experiential religiosity and personal intimacy of the after- meetings and traditional classes had declined. S. D. Chown, e.g., the Methodist General Superintendent of the Newfoundland General Conference, in 1922 voiced the following note of warning: "The Class Meetings have been declining for the past twenty-five years .... this is of fundamental importance to the spiritual life of the Church and we urge that more attention be given to it." While Methodists in St. John's found religious satisfaction in numerous holiness gatherings or in the revivalist services of George Street Methodist Church, the situation in the outports, which often were served by a minister in charge of several congregations, was far from satisfactory. The success of the Salvation Army among Methodists was proof for the demonstrated religious needs of rural and outport Newfoundland. With the spread of their message in print and by word of mouth, and because of their kinship with revivalist Methodism, Pentecostalism became an indigenous option in several Newfoundland communities. In Grates Cove, Trinity Bay, local Methodists experienced healings and the speaking in tongues. In North Harbour, Placentia Bay, Pentecostal tracts from the U.S.- based Apostolic Faith led to an indigenous revival, as did a similar one in Clarke's Beach, Conception Bay. All of these places of revival were visited by Pastor English or other members of Bethesda, and an enduring relationship developed.
Most significant, however, for the future of Newfoundland Pentecostals and the spread of the movement, was the recruitment of Eugene Vaters, a former Methodist ministerial apprentice, and later independent Pentecostal preacher in Victoria, Conception Bay. Vaters, who served as a Methodist Probationer in isolated Newfoundland communities and was following a prescribed course of readings by the Newfoundland Conference felt increasingly alienated by the choice of his readings which to his fundamentalist mind were severely repulsive. He writes:
Looking back upon the period since the Demarest Crusade, it seems that Newfoundland Pentecostals were able to breathe new life into their own movement by linking it with Methodist holiness groups catalyzed by the Demarest Crusade in St. John's and by recruiting a leadership from their ranks. Pentecostals were also able to establish relations with indigenous revivalistic Methodists in the Newfoundland outports, who had been alienated by the decline in religious fervour, a lack of community, and the absence of local ministers. The experiential proximity between the holiness-type Methodists and the early Pentecostals helped them bridge the theological gulf between Wesleyan Perfectionism and charismatic restitutionism. The greatest gain, however, from the ranks of the Methodists, was the recruitment of the Pentecostal-turned former Probationer Eugene Vaters, who -- as a former Methodist minister -- appealed skilfully to the holiness-oriented Newfoundland Wesleyans.
As the second Superintendent he shaped the Pentecostal movement's directions for decades to come. But the greatest growth occurred, when the Pentecostals not only amalgamated with autochthonous holiness movements, but when they finally found a social purpose: the evangelization and religious penetration of the new industrial centres in western Newfoundland.