Hiram F. Reynolds was a visionary leader who raised cross-cultural missions to a denominational priority by articulating a compelling idea, which he advocated tirelessly. He brought a heart for world evangelization into the Church of the Nazarene, and peers elected him as the second general superintendent in 1907.
He approached ministry and leadership with a missional mindset, grounded in the conviction that he was the personal recipient of divine love and redemption. His impoverished family in rural Illinois had disintegrated upon his father’s sudden death. He was separated from his brothers and placed with a farmer whom his mother met only once. The farmer died suddenly one year later, leaving a widow and baby. His childhood abruptly ended. At 10, Hiram became the primary farmhand, as the widow converted the farm into a winery and opened her house nightly as a gambling saloon. Hiram cultivated the fields and vineyards by day and spent evenings in an unsavory social environment in which he participated. He was schooled only in the coldest months. He left this harsh life at 18 and moved to Chicago. A brief marriage failed. In his 20s, visiting in Vermont, he came under Methodist influence, was converted, and called to the ministry. He remained in New England, remarried, and established a Christian home. He received this new life with great wonder and humility—a spirit that then undergirded his long ministry.
Reynolds brought discernment to his leadership. As general superintendent, he took different tacks depending on the situation.
Reynolds relied always on thorough preparation. He studied at Montpelier Seminary for two years before his ordination by Bishop John Hurst. His proficiency at preaching was developed during 10 years as a pastor of two, three, and four-point charges. After he became an evangelist with the Vermont Holiness Association, his early camp meeting and revival itinerary took him across New England, down the East Coast, and finally across America. His mastery of each stage of preparation added depth and new skills.
Reynolds brought discernment to his leadership. As general superintendent, he took different tacks depending on the situation. When he discovered unhealthy relationships among mission workers in Calcutta, India, in 1914, he acted immediately by terminating missionary contracts and assuming direct supervision of the mission, until new leaders were in place. And yet three years later, during the Seth Rees affair that embroiled the Southern California District in controversy, Reynolds purposely slowed things down. While loud voices called for immediate action, Reynolds investigated facts carefully, sought a wide range of information, and allowed a full month for emotions to dissipate before guiding the Board of General Superintendents to a resolution. Discerning leaders do not treat each crisis exactly like the last one.
Reynolds believed that mission was the church’s fundamental task. He did not think of “missions” simply as ministry that occurred “over there.” He lived in an era when American and Canadian denominations directed their vital energies toward home missions, prompted by continual waves of immigrants and a vast western frontier filling up with new inhabitants. Reynolds reflected this mindset in his own ministry. As missions’ executive for the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, he was responsible for home and overseas missions alike. While sending cross-cultural missionaries to India and Cape Verde, he personally opened the work in Canada and devoted himself to organizing new congregations across North America, while strengthening home mission pastors through revivals.
Reynolds distinguished between“home” and “foreign” missions in strategic and administrative terms, but still viewed every continent as a mission field.
Reynolds maintained his role as General Missionary Secretary of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene until 1911, when the General Board of Home Missions was organized separately. He retained leadership of the overseas mission program. From that point, Reynolds distinguished between “home” and “foreign” missions in strategic and administrative terms, but still viewed every continent as a mission field.
Reynolds believed that his life was overseen by divine providence. He believed that God had worked even within his childhood’s troubled circumstances. As a general superintendent, he was blessed with much greater stamina than his colleagues. He ascribed this attribute to the hard physical labor of his youth. A demanding itinerary took him repeatedly across North America and made him the first general superintendent to visit Asia, Africa, South America, Great Britain, and the Caribbean.
Preaching was the heart of Reynolds’ ministry. Honed during a decade of pastoral ministry, it became his primary task as an evangelist. The advocacy of world evangelization was an extension of the logic and role of an evangelist, and preaching was the primary method that brought others into his vision for the united church. Such passionate advocacy, exhibited at every district assembly where he presided, prepared the hearts and minds of the church to join him in supporting missions.
Reynolds was the missional leader who has passion in the soul, relies on preparation and discernment, and visualizes and articulates the needs of the times.
STAN INGERSOL serves as the denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene
Note: The leadership of P. F. Bresee and Hiram Reynolds are themes that are developed in great detail in Our Watchword & Song: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nazarene, which can be ordered from Nazarene Publishing House.—SI