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  George Jeffreys (1889–1962), by unknown photographer George Jeffreys (1889–1962), by unknown photographer
Jeffreys, George (1889–1962), revivalist and founder of the Elim Pentecostal church, was born at 24 Metcalfe Street, Maesteg, Glamorgan, south Wales, on 28 February 1889. His father, Thomas Jeffreys (d. 1895), was a coalminer who, with his wife, Keziah, née Brown, daughter of a Baptist minister, had eight sons of whom five died young. The family attended Duffryn Chapel, a Welsh Independent (Congregational) church, until Thomas died of chronic bronchitis and cardiac failure in 1895 when George was six years old. Stephen Jeffreys (1876–1943), George's older brother, was by then already working in the mine. Moving house, the two brothers attended Siloh Independent Chapel, where the minister, Glasnant Jones, took an interest in the family and enriched the education of the young and sickly George.

More dramatic and more formative upon the Jeffreys brothers than ordinary churchgoing was the Welsh revival of 1904–5. This series of fervent and partially spontaneous meetings broke out in the nonconformist subculture of south Wales and led to prolonged prayer and hymn singing, public confession of sin, repentance, and intense evangelical commitment to Christ that altered the character of close-knit communities, especially by reducing endemic drunkenness. During the revival Stephen and George Jeffreys experienced conversion or the ‘new birth’ on 20 November 1904 in response to Glasnant's preaching. George's later life carried forward many aspects of the revival into the crowded meetings he convened and in the activities of the congregations he established.

After the conversion of the two Jeffreys brothers their lives continued in parallel for a while. After leaving school at the age of twelve George worked, like Stephen, in the coalmines. Even so, George, who lived in Stephen's household after the latter's marriage, was recognized by Glasnant as ‘a chosen vessel’ and a ‘splendid scholar’. At first the brothers were opposed to the burgeoning spiritual movement called Pentecostalism but, when Edward (b. 1899), Stephen's son, spoke in tongues, their opposition melted and both experienced the Holy Spirit powerfully and were then later baptized by full immersion in a river in 1911. In November 1912 the council of the Pentecostal Missionary Union accepted George's application for training, and he went to a small Bible school in Preston, Lancashire, where Thomas Myerscough was in charge. Stephen continued as a miner and part-time preacher but, when his mission at a chapel in the Swansea valley was extended, he sent for help from George who came down early in 1913, and the services carried on for seven weeks with converts and miraculous healings. The Anglican vicar, Alexander Boddy, heard of the brothers' work, visited them unannounced, and then asked George to speak at the Sunderland convention in 1913. This was an international gathering of early Pentecostals and it launched the young preacher into his wider ministry.

George Jeffreys was invited to Ireland in 1913 where, in January 1915 in Monaghan, he formed the Elim Evangelistic Band which established its first church in Belfast in 1916. The band bought a tent for summer campaigns, held gospel meetings in hired halls, farmhouses, and private homes, collected money from supporters and, by 1920, amounted to twenty-two people who were ‘like one great family’ (Robinson, 137). In Ireland's highly religious culture, the band adopted an ecumenical evangelical outlook while preaching on the reality of spiritual gifts and divine healing. In these circumstances converts could hardly be comfortable in denominational churches that did not believe these things, and so specifically Elim congregations came into being. The band became the Elim Pentecostal Alliance in 1918 and was legally constituted as a property-holding body. By the end of 1920 it held fifteen congregations in Ireland and by 1921 its first congregation was opened in England. The headquarters of the movement was moved to Clapham, London, where an old convent in pleasant grounds was soon converted into a Bible school for the training of ministers.

The next fifteen or so years witnessed extraordinary growth. The post-war population traumatized by war and high unemployment crowded into the meetings that George Jeffreys held in the main cities in the British Isles. In 1926 he was in Liverpool, where 3000 attended the closing service, in 1927 in Glasgow where over 10,000 attended the closing weekend, in Leeds where 2000 converts were claimed in the same year, and then in 1930 in Birmingham, where the Bingley Hall was filled. At the Crystal Palace, London, in 1931, 5000 attended, and the 10,000 seats of the Royal Albert Hall, London, were filled every year at Easter from 1926 to 1939. One observer said he ‘had a voice like music, with sufficient Welsh intonation to add inimitable charm … he presented his message with a logical appeal and a note of authority that was compelling’ (D. Gee, These Men I Knew, 1980, 49). Reports in the national press were generally favourable and investigative journalists followed up and verified cases of healing. The crowds were turned into congregations and given a sense of denominational identity by the Elim Evangel, which from 1925 reported on all the campaigns. It featured photographs of Principal Jeffreys, as he was now called in deference to his role as principal overseer of the work, advertised future meetings, generated excitement, carried in-house news, Bible teaching, advertisements, and information on the financing of missions.

Behind the glory of public success there were changes and tensions. George and Stephen Jeffreys parted company in 1926 with bad feeling on both sides. George amended the constitution in 1925 and introduced a new one in 1929 to create the Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance. The word ‘foursquare’ meant that Elim stood firmly on the Bible but also expressed four key beliefs about Jesus, who was regarded as Saviour, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and Coming King. Day-to-day control of the movement flowed through the administration in Clapham, where E. J. Phillips (1893–1973) was in charge. In 1934 control was transferred to an executive council of nine men, of whom Jeffreys appointed three, two (Jeffreys and Phillips) were ex officio, and four were elected from the annual ministerial conference which became the final seat of authority. From having been in charge of a small band of enthusiastic and committed workers, Jeffreys was now at the top of a large and varied organization but not in ultimate control. His majority on the executive council was not built in and the ministerial conference, where decisions were reached after debate, might disagree with him and, on one crucial issue, it did.

British Israelism (BI) contended that the ten lost tribes of Israel were incorporated within the Anglo-Saxon population. Jeffreys had probably been persuaded of the doctrine while he was in Ireland and his acceptance of it complicates analysis of the power struggle that now followed. Phillips, who had Jewish ancestry, regarded BI as an ‘infatuation’ rather than a theory and his opposition became gradually more apparent. Jeffreys anticipated that the constitutional changes in 1934 would increase the freedom of local congregations from central control; those who opposed him thought he wanted to use this freedom to propagate BI. Yet, the ministerial conference of 1934 had debated the issue and only 17 out of 131 had accepted the teaching. Sociologically, the contest between Jeffreys and Phillips has been seen as a classic struggle between a charismatic leader and a powerful bureaucrat, but it was more than that because Phillips was the main speaker against BI at the conference in 1934.

The disagreement between Jeffreys and Elim was framed in terms of the granting of ownership of their buildings to local congregations, with Jeffreys thundering against the ‘Bablyonish bondage’ that vested valuable trust deeds with the headquarters. He proposed several schemes to the conference and, in 1936, launched the World Revival Crusade that was intended to fund himself and his own Revival Party (his pianist, and close support team) and facilitate his international preaching ministry, over which he would have complete control. The executive saw this as a competing organization that could turn into a new denomination. Alongside this a disagreement over Elim's finances arose. Jeffreys saw it as a crisis whereas Phillips saw it as a normal situation in which debts in the form of mortgages on church buildings were easily exceeded by the value of the properties. Moreover, if churches owned their own buildings, they were more likely to break away from Elim and join any alternative organization Jeffreys might construct. In 1939 the executive council and the ministerial conference failed to reach agreement with Jeffreys in their negotiations about the reform of governance. Jeffreys resigned. He rejoined in 1940, but left finally later that year.

From 1940 until his death in 1962 Jeffreys worked through the Bible-Pattern Church Fellowship (which he founded) and the World Revival Crusade. He continued to hold a punishing schedule of meetings, though, because the Elim churches were now closed to him, he hired halls or used a big tent as he had done at the beginning. Every Easter from 1942 to 1961 he preached several times at Westminster Central Hall, London, and more often than not filled it. There were never more than about sixty Bible-Pattern congregations and they stood for Pentecostal doctrine and local church government. Jeffreys himself had developed diabetes in the 1930s but this hardly slowed him down and, when the war ended, he was free to travel overseas. He was in Belfast in 1945 and 2600 packed the Royal Hippodrome. Large crowds heard him in France (1946, 1948, 1950) and Switzerland (1947, 1948, 1950) and he preached in the USA, Canada, Belgium, and Palestine. He opposed the formation of the World Pentecostal Conference in 1947 and the World Council of Churches and he took comfort from the big Swedish Pentecostal churches which, unlike Pentecostal churches almost everywhere else in the world, refused to organize themselves into denominations.

Jeffreys never married and his close colleagues in the Revival Party were like a family to him. He wrote Healing Rays in 1932 and Pentecostal Rays in 1933, setting out his teaching on divine healing and the Holy Spirit. He died quietly in his sleep, of a coronary thrombosis, at his home, 8 Clarence Avenue, Clapham, on 26 January 1962.

William K. Kay

Sources  

N. Brooks, Fight for the faith and freedom (1948) · E. C. W. Boulton, George Jeffreys: a ministry of the miraculous (1928); (1999) · D. W. Cartwright, The great evangelists: the lives of George and Stephen Jeffreys (1986) · A. W. Edsor, George Jeffreys, man of God: the story of a phenomenal ministry (1964) · A. W. Edsor, ‘Set your house in order’: God's call to George Jeffreys as the founder of the Elim Pentecostal Movement (1989) · M. R. Hathaway, ‘The Elim Pentecostal Church: origins, development and distinctives’, Pentecostal perspectives, ed. K. Warrington (1998) · R. Landau, God is my adventure (1935) · J. Robinson, Pentecostal origins: early pentecostalism in Ireland in the context of the British Isles (2005) · B. R. Wilson, Sects and society (1961) · D. N. Hudson, ‘A schism and its aftermath: an historical analysis of denominational discerption in the Elim Pentecostal Church, 1939–1940’, diss., King's Lond., 1999 · Elim Evangel, www.revival-library.org, accessed on 4 July 2011 · The Times (27 Jan 1962) · healingandrevival.com/BooksGJeffreys.htm, accessed on 4 July 2011 · census returns, 1891, 1901, 1911 · b. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Regents Theological College, West Malvern Road, West Malvern, Worcestershire, England


Likenesses  

photograph, c.1920, Mary Evans Picture Library, London · photograph, priv. coll.; repro. in www.elim.org.uk/Groups/121645/Hear_George_Jeffreys.aspx [see illus.] · photographs, Regents Theatrical College, London · photographs, repro. in Boulton, George Jeffreys · photographs, repro. in Edsor, Set your house in order

Wealth at death  

£20,641 12s. 0d.: probate, 15 June 1962, CGPLA Eng. & Wales