Phineas Bresee

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Phineas F. Bresee

Phineas F. Bresee (1838 - 1915) was the founder, a minister and general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene. He was pastor of First Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in the mid-1880s.


Born: 1838; Died: 1915

Bresee grew up under the ministry of the circuit-riding preachers who criss-crossed his native Catskill Mountains. Entering the ministry at age 18, he took Methodist pastorates first in Iowa and then in Southern California. In 1867, while still in Iowa, He experienced the grace of entire sanctification, but he remained aloof from the holiness movement until his move to California in the early 1880s.

By 1894, Bresee had led all the major Methodist churches in the Los Angeles area. At his last Methodist pastorate, Boyle Heights Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, he brought in noted black evangelist Amanda Berry Smith to conduct a protracted revival. A respected and skilled preacher, Bresee's best-known holiness sermon, "The Transferred Image," described how the moral image of God is imprinted by grace on human beings.

In his mid-50s, Bresee grew intensely interested in the urban poor. In 1894, he withdrew from Methodism and affiliated with the Peniel Mission, an inner-city holiness ministry to the indigent. J. P. Widney, a physician and the retired president of the University of Southern California, joined Bresee at the mission.

While the mission's directors wanted to focus on the transient population, Bresee and Widney became convinced that the urban poor needed not just missions but strong family-oriented churches. In October 1895 the two men organized a congregation they called the Church of the Nazarene, to communicate their sense that Jesus had identified with "the lowly, toiling masses."

Describing the "Glory Barn," his Church of the Nazarene's first church building in Los Angeles, Phineas F. Bresee said, "We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest."

The Church of the Nazarene grew into a regional denomination, then merged with similar regional denominations located in the East and the South in 1907 and 1908, creating the present-day Church of the Nazarene. Today, the Nazarenes number over 1.4 million members worldwide, with over half living outside of North America.

Bresee continued to pastor the Los Angeles church until 1911 and acted as the new denomination's senior general superintendent until his death in 1915. He also founded Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego). To the end, his vision was always that of the "Glory Barn": "Let the Church of the Nazarene be true to its commission; not great and elegant buildings, but to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and wipe away the tears of sorrowing, and gather jewels for His diadem."


Phineas Bresee, speaking about church buildings

We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest.


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