E. P. Ellyson – The Third General Superintendent

Written by Stan Ingersol
From his column Past to Present

E. P. and Emily Ellyson

Edgar P. Ellyson was unique among the Nazarene founders. He was the first general superintendent whose spouse was also an ordained elder. He was the first general superintendent who refused to stand for re-election, doing so after serving a single term (1908-1911); and when he was elected to the office again in 1915, in absentia no less, he took a train to Kansas City, addressed the assembly, and became the first person to decline his actual election to that office.

Ellyson was unique in another way. Early Nazarene leaders usually had Methodist roots, but Ellyson came from the Quakers, which gave him a different outlook.

E. P. Ellyson was born in Damascus, Ohio, on August 4, 1869. He attended Cleveland Bible Institute (later Malone College), an institution associated with the Evangelical Friends, a branch of Quakers who had adopted evangelical revivalism and its practices.

In 1893, he became pastor of Friends churches in Ohio. He moved to Iowa in 1898, where he founded the Christian Workers Training School. He and his wife zealously promoted the holiness revival in the Ohio and Iowa Yearly Meetings of Friends and contributed frequent articles to The American Friend.

They left Iowa in 1906, after he was elected president of Peniel University (formerly Texas Holiness University), near Greenville, Tex. He succeeded the founding president, esteemed theologian A. M. Hills. Then, in 1911, he moved to the Los Angeles area, succeeding Phineas Bresee as president of Nazarene University (later Pasadena College).

He believed himself called, especially, to higher education and its administration.

Mary Emily Ellyson assisted him throughout the various phases of his career. She was a native of Quebec. Born eight days after her husband, she shared his Quaker roots. She taught on the faculty of religion wherever he served as college president and authored the booklet Woman’s Sphere in Gospel Service.

They joined the Church of the Nazarene two years after moving to Texas. C. W. Ruth visited Peniel University after New Year in 1908, and Phineas Bresee visited that spring, organizing a Nazarene congregation at Peniel. He appointed Emily as its first pastor. E. P. Ellyson’s credentials were recognized, and in October, at the Second General Assembly, Bresee ordained Emily Ellyson and Alpin M. Bowes, while H. F. Reynolds ordained one R. T. Williams in a service conducted by the two general superintendents.

That was not all. The General Assembly elected E. P. Ellyson to be the third general superintendent. When the assembly ended, he retired with Bresee and Reynolds to his office at Peniel, where they conducted the first meeting of the Board of General Superintendents.

One of the issues they faced was how to swing more holiness people in Texas into the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Ellyson encouraged several actions that were undertaken.

First, the general superintendents encouraged the denominational paper published in Pilot Point to cease voluntarily, so that the Pentecostal Advocate, published in Peniel by the Holiness Association of Texas, could be adopted as the official paper for southern Nazarenes. In turn, this paved the way to swing Peniel University into the Church of the Nazarene after the Holiness Association Texas disbanded in 1910.

Ellyson served a single term as general superintendent. He had less awe for the office than those with Methodist backgrounds, and he believed himself called, especially, to higher education and its administration. He was subsequently president of Pasadena College, Bresee College (Hutchinson, Kan.), Southeastern Nazarene College (Donalsonville, Ga., which merged with Trevecca), and acting president of Olivet College. Emily Ellyson taught Bible and theology at all these schools.

The Ellysons worked closely with the Nazarene Publishing House and were active writers of the church’s Sunday school curriculum throughout these years. Their deep investment in this enterprise paved the way for Edgar’s election in 1923 as the first executive secretary of the Department of Church Schools, which he led until 1948. Emily worked alongside her husband, writing and editing Sunday school curriculum and discipleship materials.

Emily Ellyson died at Vicksburg, Mich., in 1943. E. P. Ellyson died in 1954 in Kansas City, Mo. They are buried in the “Nazarene Cross” section of Kansas City’s Green Lawn Cemetery.

Stan Ingersol is manager of archives for the Church of the Nazarene.