Robert Brown: The Irish Immigrant Who Became a Pentecostal Pioneer in New York City


This Week in AG History–March 6, 1948
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 5 March 2015

Robert A. Brown (1872-1948), with his wife Marie, founded Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City, which for many years was the largest congregation in the Assemblies of God. However, Robert began his life on the other side of the world and spent his youth far away from God. The March 6, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published Robert’s life story.

Robert was born in a small town in Northern Ireland and grew into a tall, athletic, and popular young man. Seeking adventure, he moved to England and became a police officer. Robert went to the pubs, drank alcohol, and participated in the destructive habits of the world. He was an unlikely candidate to become a minister of the gospel.

One of Robert’s cousins in Ireland accepted Christ, became a zealous preacher, and began to pray for Robert. When Robert traveled back to Ireland to see his family, he decided to go hear his cousin preach. He thought he could make fun of his cousin’s newfound faith. But Robert was deeply impressed by his cousin’s earnest preaching and changed life. At the end of the service, his cousin came over to Robert and pleaded with him to turn his life over to God. Robert refused, but the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of his heart. The young policeman felt conviction for his sins and could not shake the sense that he needed to submit his life to God. For three days he experienced heavy conviction until, at last, Robert surrendered his life to the Lord in his family’s old Irish farm house.

Two of Robert’s close friends were also converted, and together the three young men decided to immigrate to America. They arrived in New York City in 1898. Robert studied for the ministry and was ordained by the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He displayed genuine faith and he lived out the gospel story in his lifestyle. He was a bivocational minister, working as chief engineer at a government building while also engaging in church work.

One day, in 1907, he decided to attend a service held a small Holiness mission in New York City. Two young women ministers, Marie Burgess and Jessie Brown (not related to Robert), led the service and were fearlessly preaching the Pentecostal message. Robert was moved by their preaching, but he refused to accept their contention that biblical spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, were still available for Christians today. Yet he continued to attend their services, perhaps because of the spiritual power he sensed.

The meetings led by Marie Burgess and Jessie Brown grew in attendance. The growing congregation relocated to larger quarters, and the female preachers asked Robert to give the dedication sermon. He did, and two drunken bums accepted Christ that night. Robert still did not fully accept the Pentecostal message. He could not deny that God was present in the meetings. The gospel was being preached with miraculous results. Souls were being saved and bodies were healed.

Robert was asked to preach again, and he decided to preach on Acts 2:4 and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As Robert preached, he grew under great conviction that he needed to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He received the experience a little while later, on January 11, 1908.

Love blossomed, and Robert’s ministry colleague became his wife. He married Marie Burgess in 1909, and they established what became Glad Tidings Tabernacle. Robert had significant ministry and personality giftings. But, according to the Pentecostal Evangel article, he continually “expressed contempt” for the thought that he should rely on his gifts rather than on the Holy Spirit. He considered his gifts “unworthy substitutes for the power from on High.”

Robert loved the character “Valiant-for-Truth” in John Bunyan’s classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He would often quote Valiant-for-Truth’s famous line, “I am a pilgrim, and am going to the Celestial City.” Similarly, Robert viewed himself as a pilgrim in a strange land, destined for heaven where his true citizenship lay.

Robert Brown became an Assemblies of God executive presbyter in 1915 and served numerous leadership roles, in addition to pastoring one of the most influential churches. But the Pentecostal Evangel article recalled his spiritual influence as his greatest trait. Robert Brown, the article extolled, “always stood for the highest standards of righteousness and holiness.”

Read the article, “Called Home,” on pages 3 and 11 of the March 6, 1948, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Pentecostal Revival in the Congo,” by Edmund Hodgson

• “The Test of True Discipleship,” by Robert A. Brown

• “A Mighty Revival at C.B.I.,” by Kathleen Belknap

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

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