Fellowships and Congregations
The formation of new congregations and fellowships usually followed one of two patterns. Sometimes newly interested were referred to others nearby who had also expressed pleasure in Watch Tower publications. [food, England here] After a traveling ministry was established, evangelists who found interest would remain long enough to collect people into a Bible study fellowship. This was especially so after the publication of The Plan of the Ages in 1886. Examples with the most detaile come from some few years after 1886, but we think they represent an establish process.
The seeds of growth among the Scranton, Pennsylvania, beliverss were sown “about the first of December” 1894 when Watch Tower evangelists found interest there. Amelia Erlenmeyer, probably working with another female evangelist, contacted Emma and Clayton Woodworth. Amelia impressed the Woodworths, and they considered her “one of the Lord’s dear saints.” The Woodworths were “deeply interested in the subject of our Savior’s return,” and she had “little difficulty” persuading them to take The Plan of the Ages. Erlenmyer promised to return as soon as they had time to read it. And read it they did. “In two or three weeks” they “were interested to such an extent that although nearly everything else was mixed up” that they “scarcely knew what” they believed. Clayton explained:
We did see clearly that there certainly is some special prize, some exceptional opportunity, for which the humble, sacrificing members of Christ's flock are invited to strive. We felt that there was only about one plank in the old platform left for the Christian worker to stand upon, and that was the one in which we have always been most interested, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” We have always been expecting to fall into some trap unless we clung close to our Savior, and at the time of which we speak were by no means sure that your interpretations of the Scriptures, despite their apparent harmony with them, were not the well-meant views of another class of those unfortunates who unwittingly go about “deceiving and being deceived.”
“About a week later,” Amelia Erlenmyer returned “about a week later,” renewing their interest and leaving the next two volumes of Millennial Dawn. “We saw the old landmarks of orthodoxy topple and fall on every side,” Woodworth wrote to Russell. Between Erlenmyer’s visits they had engaged to support a missionary. This was now an issue. They no longer believed Methodist doctrine. Could they conscientiously support a missionary teaching doctrine they no longer accepted? The woman missionary was unable to accept an assignment because of eye disease, and in this way, though saddened by their friend’s illness, the Woodworths were relieved of the conflict. Tragic as this was for their friend, the Woodworths saw in it a divine answer to prayer: “We asked our Father in Heaven to show us the truth or falsity of your teachings by sending our friend as we had planned, or preventing her from going.”
By June 1895, they were fully committed believers:
Now we have proved the Lord, and he has answered us, and we mean to obey the call. With fear and trembling, but with confidence in our mighty King, we enter at the eleventh hour to run the race for crowns which others have flung aside. The thought that others have had them and lost them almost unnerves us. Oh! may he grant to strengthen our weak hands and confirm our feeble knees, that we be not castaways after having once entered the Holy Place and feasted on the wonderful truths so providentially placed in our way, is the heartfelt prayer of Your loving brother and sister in Christ.
The Woodworths were young, both eager to serve Christ before they met and married. They withdrew from their pervious church and took up the Watch Tower message. They found significant interest. Among those who found Watch Tower theology convincing was Hayden Samson, who would become a traveling evangelist for a period. They were not alone. At least one other represented pre-existing interest in Scranton.
We know little about Daniel Milburn Hessler. He was a prominent citizen, owning a laundry business in Scranton with branches in Indian, New Jersey and Wyoming, Pennsylvania. He appears once in the Watch Tower through a letter to Russell. The letter’s date establishes him as preexisting interest. Commenting on a new cover design for Zion’s Watch Tower in February 1891, we find him expressing his strongly held belief:
I received January number last night and quickly noticed the new suit in which the tower is clothed. I feel sure that the improvement will be greatly appreciated by its readers. The emblem of the cross and crown is an appropriate and beautiful design to be worn by the tower. Its presence should ever encourage, sustain and comfort the household of faith. It should also be a warning or reminder; for as the cross and crown are inseparable in the design, so the two are to be inseparably associated in the experience of the overcomers. If we would wear the crown we must bear the cross.
Hessler drops out of the record with this letter. We do not know if he maintained his interest or how active he was within the Scranton congregation. By July 1895, meetings were held in George W. Hessler’s home at 728 Green Ridge Street. Erlenmyer would have directed the Woodworths to this meeting. The one notice of it appears in the July 13, 1895, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune:
The Watch Tower Bible class will meet at the residence of G. W. Hessler, 728 Green Ridge street, [sic] Sunday, July 14, at 10 a. m. The subject will be “Restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began,” Acts, iii 21. The leader will also explain from the “Chart of the Ages” the special call of this gospel age, “The straight gate and narrow way to life, and the few there be that find it.” Matt. Vii, 14.
We do not know who the class “leader” was, but we do know something of George Hessler. [died May 1913] He was a cabinet maker, “well known in building circles,” and a member of the Improved Order of Heptasophs, a fraternal organization. Hessler was an inventor, holding patents for a ‘book holder’ and a toilet chair. A German immigrant, he became a citizen in February 1909. Later in life he was swindled, investing in a gold mine in Cuba. As with Daniel Hessler, we do not know if he maintained his interest. When his daughter Hazel was married in 1905, it was by the Reverent Stahl. This cannot be taken as evidence, because in this era adherents still turned to clergy for weddings. There were few Watch Tower evangelists who were recognized by state or county officials to perform marriages.
The Scranton congregation drew Watch Tower traveling evangelists. Frank Draper, a well-traveled and well-known Watch Tower representative visited nearby Peckville in May, 1896, holding two meetings in the Grand Army of the Republic Hall. A newspaper announcement read: “A cordial invitation is extended to all, especially the interested readers of Millennial Dawn. Bring your Bibles and come rain or shine.” It is likely that the meeting was sponsored by Hayden Samson who was then living in Peckville.
Russell visited the congregation in May 1897. In this era this wasn’t unusual. He continued to travel extensively, visiting small groups until a few years after his sermons were syndicated. The newspaper article that announced his speech was prepared by the Watch Tower. It said that “Scranton readers and students of the “Millennial Dawn,” series of Bible helps, and all others who are interested in the subject of the pre-millennial advent of the Lord have a rare treat in store for next Wednesday evening. C. T. Russell, the author … has consented to come to Scranton and deliver an address on “Why Christians Should Take a Lively Interest in the Second Coming of the Lord.” His talk was held in the Green Ridge Tabernacle, a Methodist church, on Jefferson Avenue.
Most of the article was an advertisement for Russell and his books. The Watch Tower press release said:
Mr. Russell stands free from all creeds and sects of men and is therefore able to give an unbiased view of every phase of Scripture truth and it is believed that all classes of honest thinkers who read his works will be enabled to realize the Bible as indeed God’s word and to recognize his plan therein revealed as one sublime exhibition of justice, wisdom, love and power. This is borne out by the fact that “Millennial Dawn” has been the direct means of conversion of hundreds of life infidels.
Frank Draper followed Russell, delivering two lectures on “the signs of the times” and “kindred topics” at Raub’s Hall, October 17, 1897. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune carried an announcement:
Mr. Draper is not an alarmist, but with very many excellent Christian people of today, he believes that “important events cast their shadow before,” when viewed in the light of prophecy, and that we are well into the time when “many were to run to and fro and knowledge be increased.” Hence the importance of attending these meetings.
We did not locate post-event reports for either Russell or Draper’s lectures. The announcements seem to convey the content well. Watch Tower press releases in Scranton were typical of the age. The speaker if prominent was praised. Russell was presented as a free Bible student, able to discern the divine message where others had failed. Many others believed as did the speaker. If you were a thinking person, you would too.
Russell and the Woodworths were close friends. Emma died in April 1899, and Russell traveled to Scranton to preach the funeral discourse. Clayton became seriously ill during the winter of 1898-1899, and Emma took on family responsibilities and her husband’s care while ill herself. She collapsed at his bedside, dying of heart failure. The funeral was held at the Woodworth residence.
The small Scranton congregation, really not more than a fellowship, placed a notice in The Tribune separate from the funeral notice: “Charles T. Russell, author of the “Millennial Dawn Series,” will be in the city Sunday to conduct the funeral services of Mrs. C. J. Woodworth. He will also address the Bible class which meets at Gurney’s hall. … All are invited to hear the most wonderful Bible scholar of the age.”
One is taken aback by the lavish praise heaped on Russell, but it is within the context of the era not spectacular. However, when set against the modesty attributed to Russell by himself and others, it comes across as crass advertising. If his friends and associates saw the praise as deserved, many more of his contemporaries did not.
By 1897 the Scranton group was small be well-established. A report of annual communion attendance said twenty attended in Scranton, eight more than the previous year. By 1899 the number had increased by one. A report from 1900 said that the Scranton group was one of those “leading in the volunteer work,” the circulation of Watch Tower tracts outside public places. Thirteen of their number were regular participants.
Russell and other Watch Tower evangelists continued to support the fledgling group. Russell returned to Scranton in late July 1902, speaking to the congregation in Guernsey Hall. His address resulted in a lengthy newspaper article, and this time Russell was introduced only as an editor and author; all the hyperbole had disappeared. To follow up interest generated by Russell’s talk, Hayden Samson returned to Scranton in September 1902. An announcement said: “All people … who are interested in ways and means for the betterment of social, economic and religious conditions, as all in this valley must be in such times of unrest as the present, will be doubly interested in the subject for discussion, ‘God’s Agency for the Blessing of the World.’”
Advertisement: Scranton Tribune¸ July 26, 1902.
As the congregation grew, so did opposition. Clergy in Scranton supervised the burning of Russell’s books. The pattern found here was repeated elsewhere, and was by the 1890s not a new one. We can find similar events in places such as Richmond, Virginia; Huston, Texas; and Washington, D. C. Colporteurs and locals testified to their neighbors, telling “the truth of the Bible as they saw it.” Residents were introduced to Millennial Dawn and other Watch Tower literature. Lectures were presented. Local interest was gathered by letter or by personal invitation. Before the press of fame limited Russell’s visits to larger gatherings, he accepted invitations to speak which were advertised in newspapers. Forming new congregations was a group effort, not the work of one man.
 If there was one, we don’t know the name of the other evangelist. In 1892 she was working in concert with “sisters” Peck and Clark. In 1900 she was working with a Lenora Thompson, a single woman born in 1871. Amelia Erlenmyer was born in Germany in February 1852 to Otto Erlenmyer and died in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in 1932. She never married, but devoted her life to the ministry. Her death date is uncertain, but she was still alive in 1900, a resident of Harrisburg, PA. She boarded with Anna Mackey, an elderly widow. The 1900 census lists her as “a colporteur tract.”
 We conclude that the Woodworths were Methodists on two grounds: Members of the family were Methodist; [Scranton Tribune¸ July 10, 1901, page 2.] and a letter from Woodworth to a friend preserved in Proclaimers details his pervious beliefs, and that detail fits Methodist Episcopal Church doctrine.
 Woodworths to Russells, “Out of Darkness into his Wonderful Light,” Zion’s Watch Tower, June 15, 1895, pages 147-148.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1891, page 29.
 U.S. Patents numbers 263,290 and 752,551.
 Scranton Wochenblatt, February 25, 1909.
 The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Truth, January 12, 1911.
 The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Truth¸ June 7, 1905.
 Peckville, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, December 24, 1900.
 Author of Millennial Dawn, C. T. Russell to Speak in Scranton, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, May 1, 1897.
 The Signs of the Times, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, October 14, 1897. The “important events” quotation comes from a poem of the same name by the British poet Thomas Campbell [1777-1844].
 Both announcements appear in The Scranton Tribune of April 22, 1899.
 See ZWT May 1, 1897, page 134; April 15, 1899, page 94; July 1, 1900, page 198.
 Hopes for the Millennium, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, July 28, 1902. Text of his address is found in the booklet Millennial Hopes and Prospects.
 Free Bible Lecture, The Scranton, Pennsylvania, Tribune, September 27, 1902.
 Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, page 642.