Celebrating the Pentecostal Movement's Anniversary

Many of the faithful are gathering in Los Angeles this week to celebrate the centennial of modern Pentecostalism. A black minister is said to have founded Pentecostalism in downtown Los Angeles.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

This week, groups of Christians have gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the 100th anniversary of modern Pentecostalism. With at least 1.5 billion believers around the world, it's one of the fastest growing branches of Christianity, and among the most diverse.

The movement's black founder, William J. Seymour, first led his faithful at a private home in southern California.

Anthea Raymond has the story.

(Soundbite of singing and clapping)

ANTHEA RAYMOND reporting:

It's before seven in the morning. People crowd a one-story wooden house on Bonnie Bray Street in Los Angeles' Phillipino Town. Some are in the kitchen, where one man speaks in tongues, a deep sign of faith for Pentecostals.

(Soundbite of man speaking in tongues)

Early in the spring of 1906, a group of African-Americans began studying the bible here. Preacher William J. Seymour, the son of a slave, led the group. He'd been banned from several local churches because of his interest in religion's physical manifestations, including speaking in tongues.

Anthea Butler teaches religion at the University of Rochester. She explains what happened next.

Prof. ANTHEA BUTLER (Professor of Religion, University of Rochester):

Once the meeting begins at Bonnie Brae, within about a couple of weeks Edward Lee speaks in tongues because of hands being laid on him by William Seymour. The woman who lived across the street, Jenny Evans Moore, comes to the meeting to play the piano and she also speaks in tongues; and so from that moment forward about on April 8, 1906 you begin to see numbers of people gathering at the house.

RAYMOND: So Seymour began to preach from the porch to crowds in the street. Neighbors called the police and Seymour and his group were forced to move downtown. Thus began the Azusa Street Revival Mission. Pentecostalism's founding church.

Jovannah Antwine(ph) runs the Bonnie Brae house.

Ms. JOVANNAH ANTWINE (Manager, Bonnie Brae House): The presence of God still rests, rules and abide in this place, and so people are being affected by being touched by the presence of God. They come in wanting and expecting and to receive from God, and they leave with tears and with saying God, thank you for touching me.

RAYMOND: Antwine says even non believers leave the house changed. The building of the Azusa Street Revival, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this week, was torn down in 1938; only the Bonnie Brae house remains.

This winter the house was restored at a cost of .5 million dollars. It's now owned by the First Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ. Inside is the original piano, a table and some chairs. The rest of the space is open.

Korean-born schoolteacher, Dai Supon(ph), has brought his daughter Kara(ph) to see the house.

Mr. DAI SUPON: I don't really call myself a Pentecostalism or charismatic believer, but I've been exposed to all kinds of Christianity. I grew up in the Baptist church, Methodist church, Presbyterian Church. The church I go right now just happens to be Pentecostal, but I don't like today I'm a Pentecostal then because the people put like the visions, but I do believe in the entire scripture, which includes the father, the Holy Spirit.

RAYMOND: In the last decade, Korean Americans have flocked to Pentecostalism in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. They say it provides a much needed sense of community. Again, Anthea Butler of the University of Rochester.

Prof. BUTLER: People today, whether they're Pentecostal or not, look to sort of spiritual places in order to feel a charge, to feel close to--connected to something spiritual whether--however they believe about God; and so I think Bonnie Brae represents a place in which they know that this big spiritual event happened and that perhaps they can key into that event once again. Maybe there's something about the house that resonates for them.

RAYMOND: Two doors down from the Bonnie Brae House, a Pentecostal museum is opening. Jovannah Antwine hopes it too will attract people of all faiths.

The Bonnie Brae House and the museum have been open all week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival Mission. The anniversary ends tomorrow with a rally at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

For NPR News, I'm Anthea Raymond in Los Angeles.

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