Pentecostal Movement Celebrates Humble Roots

In 1906, the Azusa Street revival began at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission building in Los Angeles. The revival launched the Pentecostal movement.
In 1906, the Azusa Street revival began at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission building in Los Angeles. The revival launched the Pentecostal movement. (Azusa Street Centennial)

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By Marshall Allen
Religion News Service
Saturday, April 15, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- One hundred years ago, a series of boisterous revival meetings in a converted stable on Azusa Street launched a global movement that overcame differences in class, gender and race to unite around the belief that the Holy Spirit still works miracles.

Today, there are about 600 million Pentecostal and charismatic Christians whose roots are in the Azusa Street revival. They make up the fastest-growing segment of Christianity, thriving especially in the Southern Hemisphere, with their beliefs having an impact on nearly every Christian denomination.

The 100th anniversary will be celebrated worldwide, with thousands expected to participate in an Azusa Street Centennial in Los Angeles from April 25-29.

But what is now known as the Pentecostal movement had humble beginnings.

It started in early 1906, not on Azusa Street, but in a small house at 214 Bonnie Brae St. There, a black pastor named William Seymour, 35, preached for several weeks about baptism in the Holy Spirit, the belief that Christians can receive empowerment beyond their first baptism to heal, prophesy and speak in a spiritual language called tongues.

On April 9, 1906, the first person from the group spoke in tongues. Then another, and soon several spoke in tongues. It was considered evidence of being baptized in the spirit.

The believers saw it as a modern-day fulfillment of Acts 2:4, the biblical passage in which the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. That night in Los Angeles, several others in the African American congregation spoke in tongues.

Word spread and crowds became so large that services were held outside, with Seymour using the house's front porch as a pulpit, according to Cecil M. Robeck Jr., professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

"This was no quiet demonstration; it was full of noisy manifestations, shouts, speaking in tongues, moaning, and singing in tongues that undoubtedly would have frightened any uninitiated within audible range," Robeck wrote in his new book, "The Azusa Street Mission & Revival."

Seymour moved the group to a ramshackle building used to shelter livestock at 312 Azusa St. in working-class Los Angeles. There, on the sawdust-covered dirt floor of the Apostolic Faith Mission -- popularly known as the Azusa Street Mission -- thousands of people came to worship at three services a day, seven days a week for almost three years.

The congregation met in the round, with Seymour facilitating the interactive gathering from the center of the room. The meetings were in the style of the black church, with hand-clapping, foot-stomping and shouting. But, at the height of the Jim Crow era, they included blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians from the Los Angeles melting pot -- up to 1,300 people at a time.

Newspaper reporters covered the rowdy meetings, and the reviews were less than flattering.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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