The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland
Alice B. Garrigus was a schoolteacher by profession and an itinerant preacher for the Congregational Church in New Hampshire before her conversion to Pentecostalism in 1907. In October 1908 she received a mysterious message guiding her to go to Newfoundland. By 1910 Garrigus had arrived in St. John's, accompanied by a retired missionary couple Mr and Mrs W.D. Fowler. The three introduced Pentecostalism to the island and established the Bethesda Mission in April 1911. This was to become the centre of Pentecostal activity in Newfoundland.
Establishing a Congregation
Mr Fowler was the mission preacher until the couple departed in 1912, leaving Garrigus to carry on alone. The congregation grew slowly, and remained strictly confined to St. John's in its early years. The success of Pentecostalism in the United States had been based in part on the social instability and poverty generated by rapid industrialisation. Newfoundland, in contrast, was a relatively stable society in the first decades of the 20th century. Furthermore, existing denominations, in particular the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army, provided established outlets for evangelical fervour, as well as support and charity for the poor.
The 1919 evangelical crusade of Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest in Canada and Newfoundland served as an important catalyst for change. The renewed evangelical fervour which accompanied her crusade brought many new converts to the Bethesda Mission. In the midst of this evangelical renewal, a recent convert, Robert Chauncey English, began to hold Pentecostal prayer meetings in his home. He subsequently joined forces with the Bethesda mission. English was thus transformed from a Water Street jeweller into Garrigus' co-pastor from 1920 to 1927, and the first superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland.
Pentecostalism spread to other parts of Newfoundland in the 1920s. Methodists, in particular, were attracted to the revivalist enthusiasm of Pentecostalism, and congregations were established in Clarke's Beach, Port de Grave, Flat Islands and elsewhere. The Pentecostal movement experienced its greatest growth in central and western Newfoundland beginning in 1925 with the activity of Charles L. March and Herbert Eddy. Industrialisation, which had encouraged the growth of Pentecostalism in the United States, had reached Newfoundland. Central and western Newfoundland were particularly affected by the new industrial economy. March and Eddy erected the first west coast Pentecostal church, known as the Ark, in Corner Brook in 1925, and congregations were established in central Newfoundland soon after.
In the early 1920s Garrigus came into contact with Eugene Vaters, a young preacher who had opened an independent Pentecostal mission in Victoria, Conception Bay. Studying to be a Methodist minister in Rochester, NY, Vaters had been attracted to Pentecostalism and moved back to Newfoundland in 1923. Garrigus and Vaters joined forces in 1925, and the Bethesda Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland were designated as a distinct denomination that same year. Vaters replaced English as leader of the Bethesda Pentecostal Movement in 1927, and served until 1962.
Vaters accomplished much for the Pentecostal denomination in Newfoundland and Labrador. He maintained and strengthened the Bethesda Assembly, and achieved governmental recognition in education in 1954. He helped to establish the periodical Good Tidings, and a summer camp in Lewisporte.
Vaters was also instrumental in encouraging missionary activity both overseas and in Labrador, where assemblies were formed in places such as Cartwright, Happy Valley, Nain, and Forteau. By the end of Vaters' administration in 1962, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland had over 20 000 adherents in 115 congregations. Vaters was succeeded by A. Stanley Bursey who served as General Superintendent until 1980. In 1981 there were over 35 000 Pentecostals in Newfoundland and Labrador.