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Henry H. Ness: The Norwegian Immigrant Who Became an Influential Assemblies of God Pastor and Educator

Ness

Henry H. Ness (right) and Ed Eliason traveled together as Assemblies of God evangelists in the 1920s. They were called the ‘Banjo Twins.’

This Week in AG History — March 22, 1970

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 22 March 2018

Henry H. Ness (1894-1970) immigrated to America in search of wealth and opportunity. When he dedicated his life to Christ in the 1920s, however, his focus changed from accumulation of wealth to sharing the gospel. He followed God’s call into the ministry and became an influential Assemblies of God pastor and educator.

Ness was born in Kristiania (Oslo), the capital city of Norway. His parents were devout Christians and were members of the Filadelfia Church, the first Pentecostal congregation in that country. Ness knew the power of God from firsthand experience. He grew up in the midst of the emerging Pentecostal revival, and he spent much of his free time during his teenage years in prayer meetings and church services.

Like many of his friends, Ness felt the lure of America. From 1820 to 1920, about 720,000 Norwegians immigrated to the United States. That was a sizeable portion of the nation, as Norway had a population of 2,653,024 in 1920. In 1911, when Ness was only 17 years old, he left Norway and set sail for America.

Ness initially settled in Chicago and then moved to Minneapolis, where he operated his own drug store. After several years, he sold the business and took a job with Standard Oil Company, where he was promoted several times and held a good position. In 1919, Ness married a young Danish immigrant, Anna, and they began a family together. They were living the American dream.

In his rush to achieve success, Ness neglected his spiritual life. He replaced the heart-felt Christian faith of his Norwegian upbringing with American materialism. Deep inside, he knew that he needed to get right with God, but he suppressed the sense of conviction he felt from the Holy Spirit. He became consumed with the daily activities of life and did not have time for God.

One Sunday evening in the early 1920s, Anna attended a Pentecostal service in Minneapolis and committed herself to God. She came home with a radiant countenance, exclaiming to her husband, “I am saved! Oh, I am saved! You too must be saved. It is so wonderful!” Ness could tell that she had a genuine conversion experience. Anna’s newfound faith brought back memories of the early Pentecostal revival in Norway. Two weeks later, Ness knelt down in his home and consecrated himself to the Lord.

Ness felt called to the ministry and, in 1925, he accepted the pastorate of a small Assemblies of God church in Brainerd, Minnesota. The following year, he moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where he pioneered Fargo Gospel Tabernacle (later First Assembly of God). Ness related well to the city’s large population of Scandinavian immigrants. During the seven years of his Fargo pastorate, the church grew to 500 members. He united several groups of Pentecostals in the region, including a group of former members of the Swedish Free Mission in neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, where people began experiencing the gift of speaking in tongues in the 1890s. Ness documented the story of this early Scandinavian-American Pentecostal revival in his book, Demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

In 1933, Ness accepted a call to pastor another congregation of Scandinavian immigrants – Hollywood Temple, located in Seattle, Washington. The congregation emerged from a Pentecostal revival among Baptist churches in Seattle in the early 1920s. Founded in 1927 by former members of Elim Swedish Baptist Church, the new congregation was initially called Hollywood Temple Full Gospel Baptist Church (now Calvary Christian Assembly).

Ness led the congregation to affiliate with the Assemblies of God in January 1934. Later that year, he founded Northwest Bible Institute (now Northwest University), which was initially located on the church property. The college flourished, and the church planted several daughter congregations across the area. He served as pastor and college president until 1948, when he was appointed by the Governor to be chairman of the Washington State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles, a position he held for six years. Ness was a respected minister and community leader. He authored several books, including the widely-read Dunamis and the Church (GPH, 1968).

Ness parlayed his background as an immigrant into a platform for building bridges across the religious and national divides. Following World War II, he made frequent trips to other nations and met with religious and political leaders. His obituary in the Pentecostal Evangel noted that Ness had a 30-minute private audience with Pope Pius XII, which helped win religious freedom for the Assemblies of God in Italy.

When Henry H. Ness went to be with the Lord in 1970, he left behind numerous institutions and countless people impacted by his extensive ministry. The young Norwegian immigrant had turned from a life of materialism, consecrating himself to God. Instead of building his own kingdom, Ness helped to build the kingdom of God.

Read Henry H. Ness’s obituary on page 28 of the March 22, 1970, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “A Corn of Wheat Must Die,” by William F. P. Burton

• “Pressures on the Church,” by C. M. Ward

• “What Chi Alpha Means,” by Johnny Davidson

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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