The origins of The Peace Mission Movement can be traced to Sayville, Long Island where Father Divine came to public attention in the 1920s. He and his first wife, who was also African American, purchased in cash an eight room house as a home and worship space in a predominantly white residential area. A permanent group gathered around Father Divine in this house and in the surrounding neighborhood, and they lived a cooperative, communal lifestyle first in Long Island and later in Harlem where the Peace Mission became a major force within the African American community.
Father Divine's movement expanded beyond the United States to Canada, Australia, Panama, England, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and his models of community and the Banquet Service were extended there as well. His sermons were translated and read in French and German throughout the 1930s.
In New York City, and especially in Harlem, he commanded enormous spiritual, economic, and political influence and respect. A 1939 New York Times article on "this large Negro community" ("It's Not All Swing In Harlem") assessed: "Harlem's intellectuals may deny the urge and decry the practice, but Harlem masses still believe in churches"... And Father Divine... [is] the most significant and dynamic personality Harlem has known in the past two decades....Father Divine has linked production, distribution, and consumption. And there is no magic or voodoo about his hold upon his followers. A big sign prominently displayed in the mission on 126th Street offers what many consider the best answer: "No true Divine follower on relief! Saved the City of New York $20,000,000 since 1932!" (Stewart 1939:20)