A Long Look Back – The Oldest Anglo-Israel Church Celebrates 75 Years
The month of March, 2008 witnessed the seventy-fifth anniversary of Restoration, the oldest Anglo-Israel church congregation in North America, if not the world. On March 11, 1933, a dozen individuals gathered in the home of Wilbur C. Dendel, first president, to organize themselves into a church body.
They chose as a name, “The Royal Oak Michigan Bible Society,” and gathered downtown for worship in the beautiful Masonic Lodge building – which recently received historic designation. But the story doesn’t begin there
Our message was proclaimed in Detroit as early as 1871, and the earliest local Anglo-Israel evangelist, so far as we know, was Daniel J. Smith, who through the years operated a grocery followed later by a photography studio. That later shop was located on a prime spot along Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s main thoroughfare, on land now possessed by one of the largest bank buildings of the city.
Known as “the local preacher” due to his evangelism, it is probable that Smith had a hand in bringing to Detroit in 1879 the eminent speaker and writer, Rev. Dr. William Henry Poole (1820-1896), a descendant of Reformation martyr Matthew Poole. Rev. W.H. Poole authored several celebrated books, including his major 1879 work, “Anglo-Israel In Nine Lectures,” which went through several printings.
In the 1870’s, Rev. Poole pastored one of the oldest and largest Detroit cathedrals, Simpson Methodist-Episcopal Church, with nearly a thousand members. This beautiful landmark is now long gone after being demolished to make room for freeway construction after World War II. Although his weekly sermons and teaching have not survived, Poole undoubtedly taught the Anglo-Israel truth from the pulpit.
Most of the history of the Anglo-Israel movement in 19th century Michigan is now lost, never having been written down for preservation. A few facts are known. In June, 1885, the celebrated spokesman and author, Edward Hine, spoke before a large appreciative audience in Detroit, but no record remains of the message or location of the meeting.
In 1905, the respected minister, Rev. Dr. John Wellington Hoag, was called to Detroit to pastor the large historic downtown congregation, Woodward Avenue Baptist Church, founded in 1860. Under his leadership, this church drew the largest attendance in Michigan during the World War I era, with over 3,500 members, including Detroit’s celebrated former mayor, Hazen S. Pingree. Rev. Hoag was an ardent advocate of our message, and the eminent Dr. Howard B. Rand also taught from the pulpit on a number of occasions. When the church closed during Detroit’s downtown decay of the late 1970’s, their large library of old Anglo-Israel books and literature was given to Restoration’s pastor.
Coming down to the Great Depression, Dr. Howard B. Rand moved to Detroit during the 1930’s and opened an office on Woodward Avenue in the prestigious Fox Building – another recipient of historic designation. Dr. Rand encouraged the various home Bible study groups to unite and organize themselves into a church body, which they consequently did, and have continued weekly worship services now for three quarters of a century. Rand also established a network of dozens of Anglo-Israel study groups around the country, calling them “The Anglo-Saxon Federation of America.” The Royal Oak believers were chartered as group no. 4 of that federation, the only group still remaining today.
An idea of the type of worship service that was held in those early years can be gleaned from the minutes of the second gathering on March 18, 1933: “The service opened by songs and prayer followed by the discussion of current news topics. A motion was made and carried that a letter of appreciation be sent to J.F. Gibbs, City Manager of Ferndale, concerning the stand taken in regards to prayer before the business meetings. There was to be a letter from each individual as well as the letter sent from the society as a whole. Mr. Walter Pester gave a talk on the “elect” from Matthew 24:1-31; Isaiah 41:8, 42:1, and 45:1-6, and also First Peter 1:1-2. This was followed by Mr. Charles Dendel who also spoke a few words on the elect (Second Timothy 2:10, Romans 11:25-30) before giving us a talk on the covenants. This talk to be continued. The service was closed by songs and prayer.”
On February 7, 1935, the first “Kingdom Herald” radio program was sponsored by our church, with the hymn, “We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations” as a theme song. Charles Dendel was the first speaker, and this church broadcast continued for nearly forty years with a succession of other spokesmen. In those early days of radio, the minister would rush out the door at the conclusion of the church service at noon on Sunday, jump in his car and drive a short distance down the road to the radio station, where he would breathlessly rush in the door and sit down to re-give the Sunday sermon live for the radio audience!
Tracts and literature were produced and distributed through the years, and open-air revival meetings were held on a rented lot downtown in the autumn of 1934. One of the featured speakers at these rallies was Dr. A. Royal Forsythe, a popular Anglo-Israel radio minister of the era.
World War II took so many men away to fight the war effort that church services were temporarily moved to smaller quarters in the business district downtown – located on the second floor of a building now containing a hair salon.
One of the interesting ministers who led the church through the years was Bruce Daines, who also had a successful law practice. His great passion and hobby, however, was in the field of Biblical archaeology, a subject in which he could have boasted some expertise. Daines prepared a number of illustrated slide lectures on this subject, which he presented to a plethora of fraternal and veterans organizations through the years, such as the Moose, Elks, and Lions Clubs. The church office still possesses a large file folder full of letters of recognition and appreciation for his fine lectures.
In early January, 1976, Pastor Daines had a home workshop injury that took him to the hospital late on a Saturday night. The following morning, the church secretary telephoned to ask me to lead the Sunday service that day in his absence. Daines unfortunately never recovered and passed away a few weeks later. To make a long story short, I will be marking a third of century as pastor next January, 2009. How the years have flown! To mention just one other milestone, we purchased a beautiful brick church building and moved our worship there on Sunday, July 4, 1981, over a quarter of a century ago.
Through the years, a long list of Anglo-Israel pastors and leaders have graced our pulpit. Guests from Great Britain have included Dr. Adam Rutherford, Harold Stough, Alan Campbell, Rev. Robert Phillips, and Paul Boyd-Lee, to name a few. American Anglo-Israel scholars, too numerous to list, included Dr. E. Raymond Capt and many others.
In addition to church worship, we have an internet ministry, with many of my own studies and research (all unsigned) available for free download at www.israelite.info, and a bookselling ministry with a variety of books by Anglo-Israel scholars such as Steven M. Collins and others, at www.bibleblessings.net. In addition, two wonderful new DVD’s on the lost tribes will be available in the latter half of March, 2008. Research and writing is continuing, with four new books planned in the future. We are thankful for the opportunity we have had all of these years to worship, and to proclaim both the Gospel and National Message of the Bible. We now pray that God will continue to bless our efforts for many years to come!