Caption: This LP from the Hartford March includes a message by David Flower and numerous songs, including one by four-year-old Twila Paris.
This Week in AG History — November 30, 1963
By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on AG-News, Mon, 25 Nov 2013 – 4:11 PM CST
Fifty years ago this month, on November 30, 1963, approximately 600 Assemblies of God young people marched on the Connecticut Capitol in Hartford in a public demonstration asking government officials to preserve freedom of religion.
The Hartford March, as it was known, concluded a two-day convention sponsored by the Assemblies of God young peoples’ organization, Christ’s Ambassadors of the Southern New England District. The march was the brainchild of Assemblies of God pastor Kenneth Gustafson, who was deeply concerned about the growing problem of youth delinquency and the declining religious and moral condition in America.
The catalyst for the march was the 1963 United States Supreme Court decision, Abington School District v. Schempp, in which the Court declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional. In the minds of many Americans, this court decision would make it more difficult to teach good values to young people. Moreover, it seemed to symbolize a national shift away from the acceptance of Christian practices in the public square.
While Catholics and evangelical Protestants were often divided on religious and political issues, they found common cause in their opposition to the ruling. Evangelist Billy Graham voiced the concern of many: “[i]n my opinion … the Supreme Court … is wrong. … Eighty percent of the American people want Bible reading and prayer in the schools. Why should a majority be so severely penalized …?”
David W. Flower, pastor of Bethany Assembly of God (Springfield, Massachusetts), participated in the Hartford March and delivered a brief sermon on the steps of the capitol building. In his message, he affirmed the separation of church and state: “We are not asking our schools to give the religious training that our homes or churches should supply.” However, Flower admonished educators to not neglect moral training. Teaching Bible stories to youth, according to Flower, provided a common basis for the development of character.
Another speaker, Assemblies of God evangelist Bob Watters, identified the court ruling as undermining religious freedom. He rhetorically asked, “Could the time come when some student could have other freedoms, granted in the first amendment to the Constitution, revoked?”
Hartford March organizers were inspired by the “March on Washington” in August 1963, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., during which over 200,000 demonstrators called for civil rights for African-Americans. The assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, overshadowed the Hartford March and led some speakers to cancel their participation. The Hartford March showed how Assemblies of God members and leaders, concerned about the moral direction of the nation, tried to use peaceful demonstration to influence the public debate about important issues.
Read the article, “C.A.’s to March in Hartford,” on pages 18 and 19 of the November 3, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “Upon All Flesh,” by Frederick Huber
* “Christian Contentment,” by Robert C. Cunningham
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