The Church That Almost Wasn't - Part l of lll

Part One

100 years ago, when the Jamestown Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) church began, the C&MA was not even a denomination. The C&MA, also referred to as “The Alliance,” begun as two separate groups in 1887 at a summer conference held at Old Orchard Beach on the coast of Maine. The conference was organized by a man named A.B. Simpson.

A little background on this man will help you to see what he had envisioned and felt compelled by God's Spirit to accomplish.

Simpson had been a well-known and respected Presbyterian minister who hungered for God. His heart ached to reach those outside of the church, both here in the United States and also throughout the world.

By the time Simpson accepted the call to his third church, the prestigious Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church of New York City, his burden for those outside of the church had greatly increased. Eventually, a breaking point with the church came when Simpson sought to bring immigrants from the city wharfs into membership. These were men he had helped to come to faith in Jesus. Regretfully, he realized that if he was to reach the immigrants and masses in New York City, he would have to leave his church.

Simpson resigned his church, giving up a substantial salary, and stepped out in faith to start a church where all the people of New York City would be welcome. Placing an ad in the paper, he held a meeting which drew nine people. Within weeks he had seventeen committed to the venture and within a few months he had planted an independent church in the city called the Gospel Tabernacle. (On a side note, the building they eventually acquired is still there today, located on East Eighth Ave, near Forty-Fourth Street. It is a pizza parlor, but if you visit it and look up at the ceiling, you will recognize that it was indeed a church.)

Simpson had a magnanimous spirit and a huge vision. He saw that he needed more than a local church in order to fulfill all that he felt the Lord wanted to do. His desire was to inspire all Christians everywhere, across denominational boundaries. Thus, he fostered an interdenominational approach to fulfilling what God was calling him to do.

By this time, Simpson was also a part of the “holiness movement.” He desired to fully follow Jesus and know him in deep, intimate fellowship. He depended on the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the Christian to enable him to accomplish all he felt called to do. This way of life was often called the “deeper life” or sometimes “holiness-style.”

This brings us back to the conference at the Old Orchard Beach campgrounds. True to his innovative spirit, and in order to fulfill his vision, Simpson organized a camp meeting that departed from the model for most of the “holiness-style” camp meetings of the day. He was passionate for Christ and world evangelism. He designed the conference to not only focus on having a deeper relationship with Jesus (the “holiness-style” part), but to also focus on obeying Christ’s command to evangelize the world.

As a result of this dual focus, two organizations were formed at the camp meeting that summer of 1887. The first group was made up of Christians from all different denominations. Their common goal was a deeper relationship with Jesus, or “the deeper life.” Hence, it was an alliance of Christians, or The Christian Alliance.

The second group Simpson started was a missionary sending organization called The Evangelical Missionary Alliance. I am sure you can see where this going. After ten years, in1897, it was decided to combine the two organizations, and thus, The Christian and Missionary Alliance came into existence. But, it still was not a denomination. It was two alliances of Christians, the majority of whom had their own churches to attend.

Members attended their individual churches on Sunday mornings and evenings. That left Sunday afternoons for the activities of the Alliance to take place. They met in common meeting places and each group was called a “branch.” Alliance branches consisted of interested people who met regularly for prayer, study of the fourfold gospel, and concentration on world missions.

In time, the long standing denominations of his day began to stray from their founding beliefs. Simpson became concerned about the influence of “liberalism” in them. Liberalism does not recognize the Bible as authoritative, but takes the view that Christianity can be based on modern knowledge and experience. Therefore, in 1912, the General Council of the Alliance took action to form districts with the intention of establishing churches as they were needed to replace the ones that were drifting from the truth. Thus the movement began to shift from establishing “branches,” to starting Christian and Missionary Alliance churches. Evangelism was encouraged as opposed to membership. Most branches and churches met in homes, storefronts or rented halls. Less than 50 congregations owned their own buildings in 1914. When branches organized officially as churches they began to schedule worship services and Sunday Schools on Sunday mornings.

This was the situation by the time the church in Jamestown was thought of in 1918.

Rev. Hatch was pastoring the Alliance church in Corry, PA. Rev. Hatch had a burden to start a church in Jamestown, NY. Somehow he contacted Mrs. William Whitcomb who lived on Twelfth St. in Jamestown. They began holding prayer meetings at her home. These prayer meetings went on from April 1918 until the summer. During the summer of 1918 a series of tent meetings were held in Jamestown. A number of people made decisions to follow Jesus at these meetings, and those, along with the nucleus of people who met for prayer, formed the beginning of the Jamestown C&MA Church, which was known as the Jamestown Gospel Tabernacle during the first 25 years.

Rev. Hatch’s sister, Mrs. E. A. Holbrook, and Mrs. Bowman were the workers who began these tent meetings and carried on with regular meetings which eventually developed into the church. They rented an upstairs hall at 304-306 East Second Street in which to hold the meetings. On February 27, 1919, the church was organized with Mrs. E. A. Holbrook as the first pastor. Though the Alliance did not ordain women, they were instrumental in helping to start many churches. Mrs. Holbrook continued as pastor until July 1919 when Rev. A. M. Baggett was called as the pastor.

In April of 1920, Rev. Baggett personally purchased the property at 304-306 East Second Street known as part of the Jorgenson block. According to property records, the building had just been built that year. The church was not yet incorporated, so they could not make the purchase themselves. The incorporation meeting was held on November 29, 1920 and the property (and loan) was transferred to the local church.

Part two of this article will tell the story that followed in the years to come and some of the hardships the church faced in its early years.

If you are interested in visiting Old Orchard Beach or the Gospel Tabernacle turned pizzeria, check out this Alliance webpage: Top 10 C&MA Landmarks





Joan Eppehimer

Thanks for your kind words everyone. If you are interested in visiting Old Orchard Beach or the site of the Gospel Tabernacle turned pizzeria, check out this website of 10 top C&MA places to visit:


Greg Wheaton

I'm looking forward to the next installment!


Karen Sasse

I can't wait to get home this summer and look up the storefront church building. Thank you for yet another fascinating article. (I've visited the beautiful origional site of Simpson's NYC Gospel Tabernacle and enjoyed the very yummy pizza. I highly recommend going there.)


Joyce Albright

Joan, I love reading the history of our beloved Jamestown Alliance Church. Thank you for this dedication to research and for the use of your talent in this labor of love. I look forward to reading more.

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