Early Pentecostals in St. Louis, Missouri

Early Pentecostals in St. Louis, Missouri
By J. L. Hall

When Glenn Cook came to St. Louis in January 1915, he came to “Mother’ Moise faith home to tell her and her staff about water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. After he conducted Bible study with them, showing them that in the New Testament water baptism was always administered in the name of Jesus Christ and not in the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, he baptized “Mother” Moise and her entire
staff at the home in the Mississippi River. The number baptized was about forty, including Ben Pemberton, a student in her ministerial Bible training school.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1850, Maria Christian Moise, who later came to be known as ‘Mother” Moise, and her family moved to St. Louis in the 1880s. About 1900, she began work as a volunteer in an Episcopal Church mission to minister to wayward girls. In 1904, she was awarded a first prize at the World’s Fair held in St. Louis for her  work at the mission.

In 1905, she founded her own faith mission, the Door of Hope Rescue Mission, on North 13th Street. Later, in 1909, she moved her work and home to the large multiple-story brick house at 2829 Washington Avenue. She named it Christian Rescue Home, but everyone called it “Mother Moise’s Home” or simply “Mother Mary’s Home.”

Into this home came many different kinds of people-prostitutes, drunks, people needing help or prayer, itinerant Pentecost people, students attending her ministerial training school, officials of the Assemblies
of God, and some famous persons such as her friend Evangeline Booth. Someone has noted that Mother Moise’s large home, in addition to being a rescue mission, was also a Pentecostal motel and a Bible training
school.

Soon after “Mother” Moise opened the home, “Mother” Barnes (Leanore 0. Barnes) and her husband moved into the home, probably in 1909, the same year it opened. For many years Mother Barnes assisted Mother Moise, but Mother Barnes was also a noted evangelist, holding meetings not only in St. Louis but also throughout Missouri, Illinois, and other states.

Glenn Cook probably knew Mother Moise before his visit in 1915, and he may have introduced her to the Pentecostal message in 1907. Cook, a former holiness Baptist minister working in Los Angeles, received the Holy Ghost in the fall of 1906 at the Azusa Street Mission. He subsequently quit his job at a local newspaper to be a volunteer worker at the mission, becoming the administrative business manager of the Azusa Street Mission. He also served as one of the twelve elders of the mission that issued ministerial licenses and supervised the work under the leader, William Joseph Seymour.

On December 4, 1906, Cook Los Angeles to take the news of the Holy Ghost to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he had once lived. On the way, he made a few stops, one for more than a month at Lamont, Oklahoma. He arrived in Lamont on December 11, and introduced the Pentecostal experience to a group of holiness people. He reported that many people in Lamont received their Pentecost, some coming from miles to receive the Spirit.

He closed the revival in Lamont on January 17, 1907, and arrived in Indianapolis on Friday, January 21. During the next weekend he visited a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, gave his testimony of receiving the Holy Ghost, reported the revival at Azusa Street, and began prayer meetings with those seeking for their Pentecost. Soon several people received the Holy Ghost, but the pastor was not pleased,
so Cook and the Pentecostals were forced out of the church building. They found a room for a place for worship, and many others were baptized with the Spirit. Among those converted to Pentecostalism during his short stay in Indianapolis were J. Roswell Flower and Alice Reynolds, who later married in 1911. J. Roswell Flower later became the first secretary of the Assemblies of God, and for many years he played an important role in its history.

On his return to Los Angeles, Cook apparently went through Memphis, Tennessee, and preached about the Holy Ghost in a holiness church pastored by Charles Harrison Mason, who had gone to Los Angeles to receive the Holy Ghost. During the services, many in Mason’s congregation received the Holy Ghost. After Mason received the Holy Ghost in Los Angeles, he returned to Memphis to find a Spirit-baptized group who helped him establish the Church of God in Christ as a Pentecostal organization.

It is possible that Cook on his return to Los Angeles came through St. Louis, met Mother Moise, and introduced her to Pentecostalism, but this is uncertain. Reporting on his trip after his return to Los Angeles on March 20, Cook wrote about Lamont and Indianapolis, but he did not mention either Memphis or St. Louis.

Staying less than two months in Los Angeles, Cook returned to Lamont, Oklahoma, to hold a camp meeting on May 15-30. He probably shared the camp meeting pulpit with Gaston Barnabas Cashwell, who had received the Holy Ghost at Azusa Street and who is credited with bringing at least four holiness organizations into the Pentecostal movement, and with Joseph Hillery King, editor of the denominational journal for the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association. King had received the Holy Ghost under Cashwell’s ministry, and when he became the general overseer of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association, he brought this denomination into the Pentecostal movement. King also became one of the founders of the Pentecostal Holiness Church and served as its general superintendent for twenty-nine years (1917-1946).

From the Lamont camp meeting, Cook went on to Indianapolis to begin a camp meeting beginning the first of June. We do not know if he passed through St. Louis.
In January 1915, Cook decided to take the Jesus Name message to places where he had introduced Pentecostalism in 1907, especially in Indianapolis, Indiana. In St. Louis, he came to Mother Moise’s home, which at the time was also serving as temporary headquarters for the Assemblies of God.

One of Cook’s early converts in Indianapolis, J. Roswell Flower, was now serving as general secretary of the organization and staying in Mother Moise’s home. He listened to Cook’s message and watched others being baptized, but he rejected the teaching. Knowing that Cook was going on to Indianapolis, he wrote Pastor G. T. Haywood that Cook was coming with an erroneous doctrine. Haywood answered by mail, “Your warning came too late. I have already accepted the message and been rebaptized.”

One student at Mother Moise’s home, Benjamin Harrison Pemberton, later became an important leader in St. Louis and in Oneness organizations. He had come to Mother Moise’s home after he received the Holy Ghost in a meeting in Effingham County, Illinois. Born in the small town of Edgewood, Illinois, in 189 1, Ben grew up on a farm next to the Blunt family, and Ben’s brother married one of the Blunt daughters.

The Blunt family moved to Arkansas, but in 1909, two brothers, Fred and Harry Blunt, who had come into their Pentecostal experience in Arkansas, returned to Edgewood to hold meetings in the community. Ben went to the meeting, was baptized by Harry Blunt, and received the Holy Ghost. He soon felt that God had called him to preach, and he decided that the Lord wanted him to go to St. Louis, Missouri.

A neighbor lady, Mrs. Woolridge, whose farm was adjacent to the Pemberton family, provided Ben with five dollars, gave him Mother Moise’s address, and told him he should go there for ministerial training.

Mother Moise accepted Ben as a student and immediately assigned him duties at the home, such duties as washing dishes, ironing clothes, cleaning house, doing repairs, running errands, helping in street services and at storefront missions, and taking care of other menial tasks. But Ben also took classes in Bible study, and he learned how to believe God and pray. During mission services he often had the task of keeping order-mainly handling drunks and those who came to disrupt the meeting. But he was also given the opportunity to preach, which both he and his listeners enjoyed.

When Mother Moise accepted the ‘never die” doctrine in 192 1, Ben felt it was time to break with her and began his own work. He therefore moved to Sir Walter Raleigh Apartments on Washington Avenue, and continued his work in a mission. Soon the congregation grew to about two hundred.

In spite of her accepting the “never die” doctrine, Ben was always close to Mother Moise, and in some ways he viewed his ministry as an extension of her ministry. When Mother Moise died in 1930, he preached her funeral service.

In 1924, Ben’s church bought property at 4017 Easton Avenue and constructed a large brick building that would seat eight hundred. About 1940, the church had outgrown the building on Easton, so they purchased a large building on Delmar Street that had been used for a night club named Capii Inn. They repaired and renovated the building to seat 1,400. In 1953, the congregation moved again, purchasing an older but beautiful church building at 3610 Grandel Square. This stately building, which had belonged to the Methodist Church, still stands with few modifications, and is currently being used by a theater group of performing artists.

Many stories about “Brother Ben,” a name by which he was called, reveal his colorful personality, his lively preaching that drew and held crowds, and his kind, caring help to the needy.

One such story relates why he attracted and held large audiences. In 1922 during a large tent meeting he conducted at Vandeventer and Evans Avenue the St. Louis police had to direct traffic for about one
thousand people who attended. At one night service, Brother Ben became so excited that he climbed the center tent pole, and while hanging upside down on a crossbar shouted, “Glory! Glory!” Later he jumped
over the pulpit, dashed down the aisle to the street, did a couple of handsprings, and ran back into the church and to the pulpit.

While he enjoyed lively services and anointed preaching, Brother Ben was not one who would tolerate disorder. A converted St. Louis police sergeant often watched the congregation to keep order. One visiting minister told that he watched the policeman come behind two older ladies sitting together who had gone to sleep. After the policeman watched them for a few moments, he bumped their heads together waking them with a start. The visiting minister said the scene so amused him that he started to chuckle, but Brother Ben cast a stern look at him and he immediately stifled his laugh.

Another minister remembers another incident away from the church, but that illustrates Brother Ben’s personality. Walking down a street in St. Louis, Brother Ben saw a man run by a lady and take her purse.
Brother Ben immediately gave chase, caught the man, tackled him, and held him down until the police arrived. The lady was happy to get her purse back, the police was satisfied to catch a criminal, and Brother
Ben acted as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary.

Brother Ben never married, but the church was his family. He delighted to spend time in their homes, especially when he was invited for special occasions. When someone asked him why he had not married, he
gave this explanation. Once while he was visiting in a home the children kept playing and tripping over his legs. Although he delighted in children and their play did not annoy him, he said the
Lord spoke to him: “You cannot give your all to Me and have children.” So he chose to devote himself to the Lord’s work as did the apostle Paul.

From the church income, Brother Ben helped many needy families and individuals. His heart was always warm toward those who suffered, and in the spirit of Mother Moise, his hands were always open to them.

Brother Ben held ministerial credentials with the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies, the first Oneness organization that began in January 1918, and that merged at the beginning of 1919 with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. In 1925, he and W. H. Whittington organized the Apostolic Churches of Jesus Christ. When this organization merged with the Emmanuel Church of Jesus Christ two years later, in 1928, Brother Ben was elected to serve as its chairman. At the next conference, he was elected to serve as assistant chairman.

When this body merged with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World to form the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, Brother Ben became a minister in the merged body, and its first annual conference was held in his church on Easton Avenue. In 1937, he withdrew from this organization.

Brother Ben died on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Today Brother Ben’s church continues as the Pentecostal Church of Ladue, located in the St. Louis metropolitan area, at 12301 Ladue Road, in Creve Coeur. It is a part of the United Pentecostal Church
International.

This article is from: Pentecostal Herald, October, 1994.
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