Alexander C. Stewart Deposits Important African-American Pentecostal Collection at FPHC

Stewart3

William L. Bonner (left), Chief Apostle of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., with Alexander C. and Shirlene Stewart on their wedding day, June 22, 1985, at Solomon’s Temple, Detroit, Michigan.

Alexander C. Stewart, the respected historian of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. (COOLJC), has deposited an important African-American Pentecostal collection at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC).

Stewart has a long history in both Trinitarian and Oneness African-American churches. He was raised in Bethel Gospel Assembly, the large Harlem congregation affiliated with the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God. In 1974, while still in high school, he accepted the Oneness message and became a member of Greater Refuge Temple, the COOLJC headquarters church located in Harlem. Immediately upon joining his new church, he began collecting historical materials relating to African-American Oneness Pentecostalism.

Stewart described his passion for preserving Pentecostal history: “My life was changed, and I wanted to ensure the preservation of the legacy, heritage and contributions of African Americans and African-Caribbean Americans to Pentecostalism and American religion. As denominations and religious movements mature, generations become disconnected from the values, struggles and sacrifices of their founders. We must remember where we came from, and we must know our roots, so we can shape the future for this generation and the next.”

Alexander Stewart has served the COOLJC in various capacities. In 1988, he was appointed Chairman of the Church History Committee for the Greater Refuge Temple Board of Youth Education. He was editor of the Board’s periodical, Educationally Speaking. In 1991, he was appointed Assistant Historian, serving under Dr. Robert C. Spellman. Stewart and his wife, Shirlene, moved in 1993 to Columbia, South Carolina, and assisted Chief Apostle William L. Bonner in planting a new congregation. When the W. L. Bonner School of Theology (now W. L. Bonner College) was established in Columbia in 1995, Alexander and Shirlene were founding faculty members. He holds a Masters of Theology (Parkerburg Bible College, 2002) and a Masters of Theological Studies (Regent University, 2014).

A careful researcher and writer, Stewart has edited or written for numerous scholarly and church-related publications. His first book, The Silent Spokesman: Bishop Robert Clarence Lawson (1994), was co-authored with Sherry Sherrod DuPree. He also served as editorial and research consultant for the 1999 biography of Presiding Bishop William L. Bonner, And the High Places I’ll Bring Down. He also wrote three articles in The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Blackwell, 2011), edited by Dr. George Thomas Kurian. He is a longtime member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and he has presented three papers at the society’s annual meetings.

Stewart

A few publications from the Alexander C. Stewart Collection.

The Alexander C. Stewart Collection consists of 6 linear feet of publications, newspaper clippings, and correspondence, primarily relating to the COOLJC, other African-American Oneness Pentecostal churches, and Bethel Gospel Assembly. The bulk of the collection documents the development of the COOLJC over the past 30 years, with special attention to denominational publications and W. L. Bonner College.

Stewart began depositing materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center over 20 years ago and has continued to add items over the years. Due to the collection’s size and importance, the items have been brought together and recataloged as a special collection, which will aid researchers. Stewart has placed additional collections of materials at the following repositories: the United Pentecostal Historical Center (Hazelwood, MO), Schomburg Center for Black Research (New York Public Library), and Pan-African Archive of the William Seymour College (Bowie, MD).

The Alexander C. Stewart Collection is important, as it provides researchers access to materials that may otherwise be difficult to find. African-Americans, other than the iconic figures of William J. Seymour and Charles H. Mason, are often neglected in standard Pentecostal history books. This is ironic, as African-Americans played leading roles in the origins and development of Pentecostalism in America. In concentrating on the development of certain white segments of the movement, historians often have under-represented the stories of ethnic minorities and those in the plethora of smaller Pentecostal denominations. In recent years, the FPHC has attempted to remedy this problem by building bridges across the racial, linguistic, national, and denominational divides, intentionally collecting materials from the broader Pentecostal movement.

The Alexander C. Stewart collection fills in important gaps in the FPHC’s collections by making accessible a large amount of primary and secondary source materials on the COOLJC, which is the second largest African-American Oneness Pentecostal denomination in the United States. The Alexander C. Stewart Collection takes its place alongside other significant African-American Pentecostal collections deposited at the FPHC in recent years, including:

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Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archives and research center in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: http://www.iFPHC.org

 

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William W. Hays: From Addiction and Crime to Assemblies of God Prison Chaplain

Rev  W W  Hays

This Week in AG History — July 22, 1962

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 21 July 2016

William W. Hays (1927-2010) came from a family known for drunkenness and crime, and he lived up to his family’s poor reputation. Addictions and debauchery almost led William to an early grave, but God delivered him and called him into ministry. The ex-convict and former addict became a noted Assemblies of God prison chaplain and evangelist, devoting his life to helping others escape the living hell that he knew well. He shared his story in the July 22, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

William was raised during the Great Depression in an impoverished community along the Arkansas River near Fort Smith, Arkansas. Moonshine, violence, and prostitutes were a way of life in the community. William started drinking moonshine at age 5. He got into daily fistfights with other children and dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He and his brother, Benny, devoted much of their time to helping their father make whiskey.

William’s mother had died, and his father never took his children to church. The boys had few positive influences, and they lived to satisfy their destructive desires. By age 17, William was an alcoholic. “I lied, cheated, and committed crimes,” he recalled, in order “to get the money for another drink of alcohol.”

At age 17, William fell in love with a lovely young girl, Edith Mae, who had been raised in a Christian home. He was attracted to her “clean way of living.” After a whirlwind courtship, they married a few weeks later, on the condition that he would stop drinking. But he could only fight the urge to drink for a few days, and he again succumbed to what he later described as the “demon forces” of alcohol.

William had difficulty holding down a job and could not provide for his growing family. “I would leave my wife and children with nothing to eat,” he wrote, “and would awake from an intoxicated stupor to find myself hundreds of miles from home in some cheap joint or on Skid Row with the lowest characters.”

William’s wife, Edith Mae, spent much of the first 14 years of their marriage in tears and in prayer. She had six children in eight years, and William proved to be unstable. When he returned home from wandering, he would show tenderness to her and their children. But the next moment he might be wild and rash.

His life got even worse. William became addicted to morphine, and, at age 25, his body began to waste away. One more tragedy made life unbearable. His brother, Benny, who had been living in squalor with a prostitute, was murdered with a shotgun at close range. Seething with anger, he tried to find Benny’s killer, but was unsuccessful.

Hays mug shots

William W. Hays, mugshot

By age 31, William’s body was giving out. His nerves were shattered, his body was emaciated and addicted to alcohol and heroin, and his spirit was deadened to the world. He ended up in a state mental institution, where doctors gave him a few days to live.

William’s oldest daughter, Phyllis, called a Pentecostal Holiness Church preacher, Walter Brown, who came to his bedside. William, sensing this was his last chance, responded to Brown’s fervent prayers. “I began to cry to God for salvation,” he recounted. “Soon the tremendous load on my heart was lifted. I knew the power of the omnipotent God was working to set me free.”

Almost immediately, William’s condition began to improve. Brown helped to disciple William, teaching him how to follow Christ and to be a faithful husband and father. Brown warned him that he must take certain definite actions, or he would not experience lasting change. “You must study the Bible consistently and earnestly, and regularly attend a church,” he insisted. As William did this, he was able to overcome the temptations to return to his former addictions and lifestyle.

The new Christian felt compelled to share his testimony. He went to his former buddies on Skid Row, and they initially laughed at him. The road back to health was a struggle, but as William made progress, people took notice. When his former associates saw a lasting change in William’s life, they wanted to know more.

William read the Bible voraciously, hungry to know God. He sensed God’s call into the ministry and, in 1962, was ordained by the Assemblies of God. He pastored several churches, started rescue missions in Fort Smith and Oklahoma City, and then became director of the Teen Challenge center in Fort Worth, Texas. William felt a tug to prison chaplaincy, in part because his brother spent two stints in the Arkansas State Penitentiary, which was known as the “hell hole of the penal system.” He helped to lead a successful prison reform movement, which made prisons safer in Arkansas. He also engaged in chaplaincy work in dangerous prisons in Mexico. In his later years, he served as coordinator of prison and jail ministries for the Oklahoma District Council of the Assemblies of God.

William W. Hays was an unlikely candidate to become a minister, much less a prison chaplain. But when God changed his life, his early years behind bars and on the wrong side of the law became an asset for his new calling.

Read William W. Hays’ testimony, “Delivered from Dope and Death,” on pages 8-9 of the July 22, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “All May Prophesy,” by Donald Gee

• “New Church for Navajos in California,” by L. E. Halvorson

• “No Birth Certificate,” by L. Nelson Bell

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Mabel Dean: An Unexpected Pioneer of the Assemblies of God in Egypt

TWJuly14_MabelDean_1400
This Week in AG History — July 16, 1961

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 14 July 2016

When Mabel Dean (1884-1961) sensed God’s call to be a missionary to Africa, she was 40 years old. An unmarried, unassuming bank clerk in Chicago, she did not seem to be the ideal missionary candidate. But God opened unexpected doors, and she became a pioneer Assemblies of God missionary to Egypt.

When John W. Welch read Mabel Dean’s application for missionary appointment in 1924, he wrote across the top, “I would judge her to be a good helper for someone but not qualified to assume control.” Welch, who served as general chairman (now called “general superintendent”) of the Assemblies of God, apparently had good reason for this statement. The missions board felt that Dean lacked many of the skills that would be helpful on the mission field. Furthermore, at age 40, it might be difficult for her to learn a new language.

All of Dean’s life, people did not expect her to amount to much. Despite what others said, Dean believed that she had a mandate from God for missions work in Africa. She later stated, “I was the only homely one in my family. Yet I was the one that He chose for His work.”

Dean’s missionary story began with a vision from the Lord on her daily train commute. She saw Jesus standing with a small stone in his hand. He threw the stone across the ocean and said to her, “That small stone is you. I want you to go to Africa.” She pondered the vision but did not share it with anyone. It was at the very next church service that her pastor, Kelso R. Glover of Stone Church in Chicago, approached her and said, “Sister Dean, obey whatever God is telling you. Say ‘Yes’ from your heart.”

It was not long before Hattie Salyer, a missionary on furlough, visited Stone Church. After hearing Dean’s story, she exclaimed, “Why don’t you come with me to Egypt?” Taken aback, Dean replied, “But I feel that God has called me to Africa.” Smiling, the missionary replied, “But Egypt is in Africa!”

On October 1, 1924, Dean arrived with Salyer in Cairo, Egypt, where she assisted in a small school for children run by missionaries. Soon after their arrival, Salyer succumbed to illness, leaving her inexperienced assistant to continue on alone. Dean, who was used to contributing roles, was thrust into a position of leadership.

Two years later, Lillian Trasher, an Assemblies of God missionary who had begun an orphanage in Assiout, Egypt, encouraged Dean to open a work for children in the small village of Minia, located 70 miles north of Assiout. Bringing with her one small girl named Salma, Dean moved to Minia, where she started a Sunday school for street children.

After the move to Minia, Dean felt the urge to broaden her evangelistic work. She began praying for God’s guidance regarding how to begin. Meanwhile, a revival was taking place in Trasher’s work in Assiout. Six young girls from Trashers orphanage felt God leading them to go into surrounding villages and tell others about Christ. Trasher sent them north to work with Dean. These six girls, along with little Salma, became the first of Mabel’s evangelistic teams. She sent them out two by two into the villages around Minia. The girls were soon joined by several young men who began preaching under Dean’s guidance. Dean soon had 20 evangelistic teams engaged in church planting.

Dean proved to be an effective leader, despite the missions board’s initial concerns. However, the board’s apprehension about her linguistic abilities proved valid. Dean never did master Arabic. Her practice was to teach her workers enough English so that she could disciple them personally, then send them out to preach in their native language.

Dean believed in the power of prayer, and she would pray while her students preached. When the residents of one village, Izbet, responded to her workers with indifference, Dean told them, “Do not waste your time and strength there now. I will make this a matter of prayer.” Soon after she began praying, representatives from the village requested that a team return to Izbet and even offered to pay the costs for the establishment of a church.

Dean ran a faith mission. She always seemed to have more faith than money. But God always seemed to provide just enough money at just the right time. Dean kept the mission’s money in a tin can. When a need arose, members of her ministry team could go to the can and retrieve the needed funds. When the can was empty she took it to the Lord in prayer, trusting Him to refill it. In spite of this uncertain funding method, she was never afraid to spend money. She told her workers, “God’s money is like water in a faucet. You have to let it run to receive what’s coming next.”

Dean’s attitude about money and God’s provision was demonstrated when one of her gospel workers lost a five pound note on a trip into town to buy supplies. The young lady returned in distress, but Dean encouraged her to not cry. She told the girl that perhaps a very poor man had been praying for money, and God was using their loss to meet his need.

When Mabel Dean passed away at her mission house on June 4, 1961, at age 77, she had served 37 years in Egypt. She was one of a handful of early Assemblies of God missionaries who had never taken a furlough to return home to the United States.

Philip Crouch, fellow missionary to Egypt, lauded Dean for helping to develop “one of the strongest indigenous works in Egypt.” By the time of her death, Dean’s teams of young workers had established 15 churches that owned their own buildings and about 30 other active congregations meeting in rented facilities. The “little stone” that Jesus wanted to throw across the ocean had become a foundation stone for a ministry that continued long after her death.

Read Dean’s obituary, “Missionary Called Home,” on page 9 of the July 16, 1961, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Tragedy on a Thailand Canal,” by F.A. Sturgeon

• “Going Up to Jerusalem,” by Don Mallough

• “A Day in the Life of a Missionary’s Wife,” by Mrs. O.B. Treece

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Reaching Remotest Alaska: Byron and Marjory Personeus and the Gospel Boat

Fairtide II leaving for Alaska 1945

Byron and Marjory Personeus on board the Fair-Tide II, 1945

This Week in AG History — July 7, 1945

By Glenn Gohr
Originally published on PE-News, 7 July 2016

Byron and Marjory Personeus, Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska, developed a unique evangelistic tool at the close of World War II.

In 1945, funds from Speed the Light, together with money Byron had raised itinerating, made it possible for him to purchase the Fair-Tide II. This gasoline-powered cabin cruiser was an answer to prayer, as he longed for a mission boat to evangelize in Southeastern Alaska.

Byron Personeus was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up on the mission field as the son of pioneer AG missionaries Charles and Florence Personeus who first went to Alaska in 1917. After Byron finished Bible college in 1940, he worked with his father in Ketchikan and later helped him build the first Assembly of God church in Pelican.

After he was ordained in 1944, Byron presented the idea of Alaskan boat ministry to the Northwest District, and he was granted approval to itinerate among the churches to raise funds for this project. Because of gasoline rationing during the second world war, he used a motorcycle as he traveled some 5,000 miles raising funds.

An article entitled “Gospel Boat for Alaska,” published July 7, 1945, in the Pentecostal Evangel, reports on the Fair-Tide II, which “will be used to carry the gospel to fishermen, cannery workers and villagers among the many islands sprawling along the southeastern coast of Alaska where the Full Gospel has never been preached.”

The Fair-Tide II, built by the Stephens Boat Company of Stockton, California, in 1930, was commissioned in 1934. It was 43 feet long and could accommodate up to nine people. At the time of the article in the Evangel, the newly-acquired boat was on its way from Portland to Seattle, where it would be “recommissioned and dedicated to the service of the Lord.” While in Seattle, the boat was equipped with a public address system, and a few other necessary alterations were made before Byron and his new bride, Marjory, embarked for Alaska.

During the summer months, the Personeuses lived on the boat, taking the gospel to many isolated villagers and cannery workers. The Fair-Tide II was used regularly in gospel ministry until it was sold in 1949 because of needed repairs. After that, additional funds were raised so that other mission boats called the Anna Kamp and the Taku could be skippered by Byron Personeus as he and his wife continued to spread the gospel to the remote island areas of Southeastern Alaska.

Read “Gospel Boat for Alaska” on page 11 of the July 7, 1945 issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:
• “When Pentecost Came to the Moluccas,” by Mrs. R. M. Devin
• “Not Limiting the Holy One of Israel,” by Zelma Argue
• “Hints to Preachers,” by A. G. Ward
And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Nationalism and the Heavenly Kingdom: How Pentecostals Responded to World War I

1918 PE NEWS

A French couple welcome liberating American soldiers in 1918, after four years of German occupation.

This Week in AG History — July 1, 1916

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 1 July 2016

The summer of 1916, one hundred years ago, was bloody. The Great War, later dubbed World War I, had been raging for two years. Nearly every nation in Europe was embroiled in conflict. Political and economic turmoil and famine resulted in the death of millions.

Just a few years earlier, everything had seemed so different. Politicians and mainline church leaders had been confident that scientific, technological, and social advances would make war a thing of the past. These progressives aimed to perfect humanity through education and social change. They equated Christianization with Westernization, replacing the biblical notion of a transformative encounter with God with a “social gospel” that de-emphasized conversion in favor of cultural education.

The outbreak of war shattered these illusions of social progress. Progressives in America were divided on how to cope with this new reality. But for Pentecostals, the war merely confirmed what they already knew. Humanity was deeply stained by sin and only Christ, not culture, could save.

The pages of the Pentecostal Evangel during the war years were filled with warnings against confusing the Christian faith with national identities. The July 1, 1916, issue was no exception. In an article titled, “Light on this Present Crisis,” British pastor Leonard Newby responded to several difficult questions arising from the war.

Newby related a question: “Is it not an awful thing for one Christian nation to be fighting another Christian nation?” Newby disagreed with the assumption that a nation could be Christian. He wrote, “There is not, and never has been, such a company of people as a CHRISTIAN NATION, and never will be until the Lord comes.” Rather, he explained, “The people of God who form the mystical body of Jesus Christ are a small company of people scattered among the nations.”

Newby warned against those who advocated a “social gospel” without need of personal conversion: “They are preaching the Universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the need of regeneration and redemption through the blood of His Cross.”

Newby also responded to the question, “Does not this war show the failure of Christianity?” Newby stated that it did not. According to Scripture, Newby insisted, “Christianity is one thing, civilization is quite another.” He wrote, “What men and women need is not civilization merely (although God knows how much in some quarters that is needed) but they need TO BE BORN AGAIN (St. John 3:3), not to be veneered, but to become the subjects of a mighty spiritual revolution from within.”

Newby’s concern that Christians not confuse their faith with nationalism reflected not only the beliefs of the Assemblies of God at the time, but also those of many other premillennial evangelicals. This view sometimes had the effect of preventing significant cultural engagement by believers. Over time many within the Assemblies of God became leaders in the broader society, leading to further reflection about the proper relationship between Christians and national identity. However, the primary point of Newby and other early Pentecostals remains valid today: earthly allegiances should pale in comparison to the Christian’s heavenly citizenship.

Read the entire article by Leonard Newby, “Light on this Present Crisis,” on pages 6, 7, and 9 of the July 1, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:
* “Further Incidents from the Early Days in Azusa Mission,” by B. F. Lawrence
* “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” by H. M. Turney
And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Assemblies of God 2015 Statistics Released, Growth Spurred by Ethnic Transformation

Samoan District Council 2013 -2

The Assemblies of God is one of the few major denominations in the United States to show continuing growth. But the real story is the ethnic transformation of the Assemblies of God. It is becoming less white and more reflective of the ethnic, linguistic and social diversity that exists in the global church.

When the Assemblies of God (AG) released its 2015 statistical reports this month, the press release noted that the denomination’s number of U.S. adherents had grown for 26 consecutive years. In 2015, the AG showed growth of 1.4% to 3,192,112 U.S. adherents. This was almost double the growth rate of the U.S. population, which increased by 0.77%.

The number of U.S. churches also showed growth (from 12,849 to 12,897, up 0.4%), as did the numbers of members (up 0.3%), ministers (up 0.5%), and major worship service attendance (up 1.7%). Statistics for other key indicators of church health–including conversions, Spirit baptisms, and water baptisms–have not yet been released.

Much of the numerical growth in the Assemblies of God in recent decades has been among ethnic minorities. From 2001 to 2015, the number of AG adherents increased by 21.5%. During this period, the number of white adherents decreased by 1.6% and the number of non-white adherents increased by 76.8%. From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of white adherents dropped from 57.6% to 57.2%. It should be noted that the number of white adherents in the U.S. includes quickly-growing constituencies of immigrants from places such as the former Soviet Union and Romania. Without these new white immigrants, the white constituency in the Assemblies of God would be falling even more quickly.

The growth of the Assemblies of God is in marked contrast to most mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S., which have witnessed significant numerical declines in recent decades. From 1975 to 2015, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 56% of members; United Church of Christ lost 48%; The Episcopal Church lost 36%; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 30%; and the United Methodist Church lost 27%. Others showed increases, including the Southern Baptist Convention (20%) and the Roman Catholic Church (42%). During the same period, the Assemblies of God grew by 158%, from 1,239,197 adherents in 1975.

While mainline denominations have been declining for decades, in recent years some evangelical groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), have also begun to decline. SBC membership has decreased for nine straight years, prompting some pundits to predict the slow death of evangelicalism. Others have pointed out that Pentecostal and non-denominational churches show continuing growth. Faith trends expert Ed Stetzer has argued that American Christianity is undergoing “evangelicalization,” noting that the percentage of Americans who identify as evangelical or born-again is increasing. And much of that growth can be attributed to soaring numbers of ethnic minorities in churches.

In 2015, over 42% of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents were non-white. This is comparable to the ethnic diversity in the U.S. Catholic Church. According to a recent Pew study, 41% of U.S. Catholics are now racial and ethnic minorities (up from 35% in 2007). The study also revealed that 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%) are also racial and ethnic minorities.

The ethnic breakdown of the AG in 2015 showed significant diversity: Asian/Pacific Islander (4.8%); Black (9.7%); Hispanic (23.0%); Native American (1.5%); White (57.2%); and Other/Mixed (3.9%). These stats suggest that the AG closely mirrors the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population as a whole. The 2010 U.S. census revealed the following racial breakdown of the U.S. population: Asian/Pacific Islander (5%); Black (12.6%); Hispanic (16.3%); Native American (0.9%); White (63.7%); and Other /Mixed (6.2%).

The AG districts with the greatest percentage growth in the number of adherents from 2010 to 2015 are as follows: National Slavic (152%), Midwest Latin American (58%), North Dakota (56%), Minnesota (55%), German (51%), Korean (33%), Texas Louisiana Hispanic (29%), Hawaii (29%), South Texas (26%), and Brazilian (24%). Due to the changing borders of the Hispanic districts, which doubled from seven to fourteen in the past six years, data for most of these districts was unavailable for purposes of comparison.

The AG’s growth in America is partly due to immigration. The Assemblies of God is a global church. The Assemblies of God reported 67,992,330 adherents worldwide in 2015. About 1% of the world’s population is AG. Fewer than 5% of AG adherents worldwide live in the U.S. Pentecostals who move to America from other regions of the world often bring with them a faith, burnished by persecution and deprivation, that is an important part of their identity. Pentecostal refugees who move to America are like pollen scattered by a strong wind — they plant churches wherever they happen to land. Strong African, Slavic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic AG churches are taking root in American soil, and their congregations sing, preach, and testify in the tongues of their native countries.

Interestingly, this demographic shift is also helping to usher in a global re-alignment of Christianity. Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are generally evangelical in belief, if not Pentecostal in worship, and often have much more in common with their brothers and sisters in the Assemblies of God than they do with liberal members of their own denominations in the West.

The Assemblies of God is growing in America, due largely to a transformative demographic shift that has been underway for decades. The founding fathers and mothers of the Assemblies of God laid the foundation for this ethnic shift when they committed the Assemblies of God in November 1914 to “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” In 1921 the Assemblies of God adopted the indigenous church principle as its official missions strategy, in order to better carry out world evangelism. The implementation of this strategy — which recognizes that each national church is autonomous and not controlled by Western interests — resulted in the development of strong national churches and leaders. And now, in a fitting turn of events, those churches are sending missionaries to America.

By Darrin J. Rodgers, M.A., J.D.
Director, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

Photo: Scott Temple (Director of Ethnic Relations for the Assemblies of God) and Bill Welch (Alaska District Superintendent) pray over elected officials of the newly-formed Samoan District Council, in a meeting at Anchorage, Alaska, September 2013. By 2015, the Samoan District Council, which serves Samoans in the United States, had grown to 54 churches with 5,444 adherents.

Stats 2016 chart1Stats 2016 chart2

Sources for charts:
Assemblies of God
Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Roman Catholic Church
Southern Baptist Convention
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church

Notes:
ELCA: Formed in 1987 by a merger of three bodies: American Lutheran Church (1960-1987); Lutheran Church in America (LCA) (1962-1987); and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) (1976-1987). Tallies for 1975, 1980, and 1985 include stats of predecessor bodies. The AELC was a split from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) in 1976. The 1975 tally does not include stats for LCMS churches which later formed the AELC, which has the effect of understating the ELCA’s loss from 1975 to the present.
PC(USA): Formed in 1983 by a merger of United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Tallies for 1975 and 1980 include stats of predecessor bodies.

_________________

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Nazi Rocket Scientist Wernher von Braun Converted to Christ, Interviewed by C. M. Ward

Wernher von Braun

C. M. Ward interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun (center) in his office at the Space Center headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, May 9, 1966. Lee Shultz (right) looks on.

This Week in AG History — June 26, 1966

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 26 June 2016

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), one of Nazi Germany’s leading rocket scientists, became a pioneer in America’s space program following World War II. But it was von Braun’s conversion to Christ that captured the attention of Assemblies of God radio preacher C. M. Ward. Ward interviewed the scientist in 1966, during which von Braun described the relationship between his newfound faith and his lifework in science.

Von Braun’s interest in rocket science had been sparked by a desire to explore space, but he came to regret that his work was being used to cause tremendous destruction of human life. He had developed the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which allowed Germany to pummel Allied targets up to 500 miles away during World War II. The rockets, manufactured by slave labor, indiscriminately killed thousands of people.

Sensing disloyalty, the Gestapo arrested von Braun in 1944 and charged him with espionage. Von Braun’s work was deemed essential to the success of the war effort, so Nazi leader Albert Speer intervened and ordered the release of the scientist. When American soldiers marched into central Germany in May 1945, they found that von Braun had organized the surrender of 500 of his top scientists, along with plans and test vehicles.

Von Braun and his German scientists were relocated to the United States, where they became indispensable to the development of American military and space programs. Von Braun’s life had changed drastically within the course of a year. But it was in a little church in El Paso, Texas, that von Braun experienced a spiritual transformation that would change him from the inside out.

In Germany, von Braun had been nominally Lutheran but functionally atheist. He had no interest in religion or God. In Texas, while living at Fort Bliss, a neighbor invited him to church. He went, expecting to find the religious equivalent of a country club. Instead, he found a small white frame building with a vibrant congregation of people who loved the Lord. He realized that he had been morally adrift and that he needed to surrender himself to God. He converted to Christ and, over the coming years, became quite outspoken in his evangelical faith and frequently addressed the complementarity of faith and science.

C. M. Ward’s 1966 interview of von Braun took place in Huntsville, Alabama, at the George Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA), where he served as director. Von Braun contrasted the large empty cathedrals of Europe to the large numbers of churches he found in Texas, many meeting in temporary buildings, pastored by “humble preachers driving second-hand buses,” who led “thriving congregations.” The German scientist was impressed and noted: “Here is a growing, aggressive church and not a dignified, half-dead institution. Here is spiritual life.”

Ward published von Braun’s story and his thoughts on faith and science in an article in the June 2, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, as well as in a 15-page booklet, The Farther We Probe into Space, the Greater My Faith (Gospel Publishing House, 1966), of which almost 500,000 copies were published.

Wernher von Braun booklets

The booklet containing C. M. Ward’s interview with Wernher von Braun was published in several languages, including English, Croatian (pictured), and German.

Read the article by Lee Shultz, “Revivaltime Speaker C. M. Ward Interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun,” on page 26-27 of the June 26, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Circuit-riding Chaplain,” by Richard D. Wood

• “I Discovered God in the Manned Spacecraft Center,” by David L. Johnson

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Filed under History