From right: William Seymour,
Original Azusa Street Mission,
Proposed Azusa Street
Spiritwalk Promenade

   Azusa Street Mission is the Cradle of the Pentecostal Movement and the Spiritual Door to the World.   

A z u s a   S t r e e t   M i s s i o n   . c o m


  A Century of Faith

Event Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Azusa Street Revival

This year marks the centennial of the great San Francisco earthquake, but 100 years ago another kind of temblor erupted in Downtown Los Angeles.

by Andrew Moyle

Now seen as the great awakening of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, the Azusa Street Revival took place from 1906 to 1909. This week's Century of the Holy Spirit event commemorates the anniversary at venues large and small in and around Downtown.

"Really, in many ways, the Azusa Street Revival is one of the most significant things that ever happened in Los Angeles," said Rev. Billy Wilson, head of the Azusa Street Centennial organization. "And yet, it is one of the most unknown things that happened in Los Angeles, especially to Angelenos."

Events will take place all week at an array of spaces, from houses of worship in Echo Park, South Los Angeles and Crenshaw, to the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Revival culminates on Saturday, April 29, with a celebration at the Sports Arena and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park. Wilson has secured a lineup of major Christian evangelists, including Bishop T.D. Jakes, Pastor Benny Hinn and Rev. Paula White.

If everything goes according to Wilson's expectations, the Exposition Park event will draw as many as 50,000 people.

Spiritual Epicenter

Toward the end of the 19th century, a schism was forming in the Protestant Church. A handful of believers in Los Angeles began experiencing what they could only describe as the touch of "the Holy Spirit," a blessing that most Christians at the time saw as a one-time event (that coming to Jesus' disciples at the Feast of the Pentecost).

The blessing took on distinct elements: speaking in tongues (glossolalia), the full-body expression of the Holy Spirit and the channeling of the spirit into faith healing.

William Seymour felt it. The African-American preacher had come from Houston to preach in early 1906, but within days was driven from his congregation. After a stop-off at the house of one of his congregants (where Seymour experienced his first blessing of the Holy Spirit), the flock settled in a rundown building on Azusa Street in what is now Little Tokyo.

In his new digs, and in a charismatic style characteristic of the growing faith, Seymour spread the word to the poor and the disaffected. The movement quickly gained media attention and rippled outward.

"The people at Azusa Street encountered God in a fresh way, a dramatic way, and in a life-changing way," Wilson said. "A great spiritual hunger was met by great spiritual experience. Extreme desire was met by extreme experience with God. Ultimately, what happened there changed the world."

The revival spawned preachers like Robert Semple, husband of noted Los Angeles evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Though she never called herself a Pentecostal, "Sister Aimee" became a mainstay of the Los Angeles evangelical movement, creating in the early 1920s the Foursquare Gospel Church and the domed Angelus Temple that overlooks Echo Park Lake.

Over the next century, certain Protestant and Catholic sects adopted elements of Pentecostalism, spawning what is commonly known as the Charismatic Movement. The movement is diverse, with people believing in different elements of it, Wilson said.

It is also widespread, and is one of fastest growing religious movements in Africa and South America. It's gaining influence in many countries, said Diane Winston, Knight Chair in Media and Religion at USC.

But it is something that few attending this week's events will address, Winston predicted.

"Most of them focus on the religious meaning of this event and how it was a seminal development. They're done from the perspective of people who are themselves a part of the Pentecostal community," Winston said. "I think that's all correct, but Pentecostalism has a had a big effect on politics."

In response to Wilson's revival commemoration, Winston organized a USC and Pew Forum conference to address the social and political impact of the revival. The noon lunch conference takes place Monday, April 24, at USC's Davidson Conference Center, 3415 S. Figueroa St.

"All of a sudden, it becomes a political, social and cultural movement, rather than just a religious one," Winston said. "They've spread so fast."

Wilson sees the success in poorer countries as cause for celebration. Diversity and unity are the themes of the Revival, which is expected to draw people from more than 100 nations, he said.

"This is the most diverse event, perhaps, in the history of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement," Wilson said.

That diversity, he hopes, will prompt people to open their hearts.

"We hope that during the week, by reflecting on the revival that took place in L.A. 100 years ago, that people will be encouraged to seek spiritual revival and renewal in our generation," he said.

More information is available at azusastreet.com.

Contact Andrew Moyle at andrew@downtownnews.com.


 

 


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