The Pilgrim Holiness Church was first of all a movement, secondly, an organization. It started as a revival movement with holiness as its watchword and song. As an organization, its beginning can be traced to the formation of the "International Holiness Union and Prayer League." This took place in September of 1897 at Cincinnati, OH, in the home of Martin Wells Knapp, a Methodist, who was joined by Seth C. Rees, a Quaker.
At this meeting of a small group of ministers, a constitution was adopted which covered a four page, tract size pamphlet. Officers were also elected and provisions were made for state, county, and local unions.
As time went on the need to establish churches for those converts who had no other religious affiliation became clear. Thus, in 1906, the name was changed to "International Apostolic Holiness Union and Churches," a hint of what was unconsciously happening. George B. Kulp was elected General Superintendent that same year and he served until 1915.
In 1906, the U.S. Bureau of the Census recorded that the "Union had 74 churches and 2,744 members". The ninth General Assembly, held in 1913, decided it was time to become a denomination. They voted to do away with the "Union" and to rename it to the "International Apostolic Holiness Church". All who had been members only of the union were invited to join the new holiness denomination.
From 1919 to 1925, five holiness church groups, two missionary societies, and one church on Barbados, all united to form a strong holiness denomination. All of these groups had arisen out of holiness revivals and were realizing the need for stronger organization.
Among those groups who united were:
- The Holiness Christian Church in 1919
- The Pentecostal Rescue Mission in 1922
- The Pilgrim Church of Pasadena, California also in 1922
- In 1924, the Pentecostal Brethren in Christ joined the Ohio Conference
- In 1925, the People's Mission Church joined the Colorado Conference
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