L.A. Hosts Pentecostal Centennial Celebration
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
In April, 1906, a little mission on Azusa Street in Downtown Los Angeles launched an international religious movement. A century later about 30,000 Pentecostal and charismatic Christians converged on the Los Angeles Convention Center to celebrate their beginning. From member station KPCC, Rachael Myrow reports.
RACHAEL MYROW: L.A.'s Convention Center was a church this week. People from all over the world came with leather-bound Bibles in hand to hear a long roster of famous preachers pay tribute to a tiny church that once stood on Azusa Street not far from here. Bishop Charles Blake heads the West Angeles Church of God and Christ, the direct descendent of the early Pentecostals.
B: This is one of the most significant gatherings in the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. Aren't you glad to be a part of it? Aren't you glad to be involved in it?
MYROW: In the big hall while Blake preached, people swayed back and forth, their hands waving in the air. The hallmarks of the Pentecostal movement are faith healing, prophecy, and here, as Bishop Blake demonstrates, speaking in tongue.
(SOUNDBITE OF BISHOP BLAKE SPEAKING IN TONGUES)
MYROW: It all began with a 35-year-old black man named William Seymour, who arrived in L.A. in 1906. On fire with a new faith he picked up in the Midwest, his fevered preaching quickly scandalized the people who invited him to town as well as the press. But his message attracted others, rich and poor, men and women, blacks, whites and Latinos. Such a mixed congregation was unheard of at that time. Within three months, what started as a series of prayer meetings in a private home launched a church in Downtown L.A. One-hundred-three-year-old Otis Clark of Tulsa, Oklahoma wasn't there himself, but he heard stories about that time from fellow converts who were.
SIMON: So they had big time in them days, but we're holding up. Oh, this meeting here now is supposed to kind of bring us back some of the memories that we had in the early days.
MYROW: It was a small, squat mission with sawdust on the floor. Stacked wooden shoe crates served as the pulpit. But the timing couldn't have been more prophetic, says religious historian Gaston Espinosa(ph) of Claremont-McKenna College. Opening day was April 14, 1906.
SIMON: They prayed for a revival that would shake the City of Los Angeles and the nation. They got more than they bargained for when on April 18 what happened? The San Francisco earthquake took place and aftershocks rolled through Los Angeles, shaking the dust off the rafters.
MYROW: When news spread of the prophecy, there wasn't enough room to hold everyone who wanted to come. Services ran morning, noon and night, seven days a week for the next three years. A century later, there is still half a billion Pentecostal and charismatic Christians and the movement is still growing, especially in Africa and Latin America. In the lobby of the Convention Center this week, there were Koreans in Brooks Brother suits, Africans in tribal dress and countless in North Americans in jeans and T-shirts, including Steve and Darla Edlin(ph), Senior Pastors of the Safe(ph) Temple in Rochester, New York. What do they think Seymour's strongest legacy was? His multi-cultural populism.
P: That is something that has turned this country and the world upside down. And that's the way our church is: fully inter-racial, fully Pentecostal. And I believe that's the way Heaven likes to see it.
MYROW: And the fact that he was so globally minded. I mean, like we learned today, that there was 50 countries around the world that were impacted from it.
MYROW: With twenty-seven thousand dominations now have come out of one man.
MYROW: I didn't know that.
MYROW: Ironically, William Seymour lost hold of Pentecostal movement just as it started to explode. His egalitarianism made him an easy target for rival preachers of that day. It would take a few more decades for the Christian world to catch up with the totality of Seymour's early vision.
From NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in Los Angeles.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.