Current research takes us into the nature of the first congregations. Sometimes small clues lead to more details. While we know many details about some congregations, then called ecclesias, many small gatherings existed about which we knew nothing. White and others who give a number to existing congregations are in error. Russell is given credit for starting some that existed before he visited. So there’s a mystery of sorts.
A common name for many congregations was “Readers of Millennial Dawn.” These groups were formed out of a common interest in Russell’s Millennial Dawn series. Sometimes they would advertise a visiting speaker, but often they grew out of word of mouth evangelism. An example of this is found in the Bolivar, New York, Breeze of June 24, 1909. This is about ten years beyond the era we’re researching, but it does provide an interesting example. A brief notice of social events in the village of Horse Run says that “Mrs. Charles Allen” attended the Millennial Dawn meetings held in Singlehouse, another small village. That’s it. There is no more detail.
Mrs. Charles Allen was born Bertha N. Nichols. She didn’t maintain an interest in the Bible Student meetings but remained a Baptist all her life. Her obituary tells us that. But her brother, Francis P. Nichols, was active in the Watch Tower movement and promoted the meetings. The meetings were held in his home in Singlehouse, Pennsylvania, just across the state line. We know this from his obituary, which also gives us some considerable biography. Nichols died June 1924. Walter P. Thorn traveled to Shinglehouse to deliver the funeral oration. Thorn was a well-known and respected “Pilgrim” representative of the Watch Tower Society.
This chain of detail gives us insight into local evangelism as it was in this era. Word of mouth evangelism may appear obvious. It does to us. But history is not made out of speculation. History derives from evidence. Here is an evidentiary series of events. That’s what moves this research forward.So, if you run across something that seems irrelevant or obvious, pass it on anyway. Don’t presume we’ve seen it. We may have, of course, but we may not have