Seymour, William J.


Seymour, William J.
( 1870-1922 )
   leader of Azusa Street revival and early Pentecostalist
   William Joseph Seymour was born on May 2, 1870, in Centerville, Louisiana. From 1890, he was associated first with Methodism and then with a Holiness group, the Evening Lights Saints. He came to accept the Holiness emphasis on sanctification, an experience of God that allowed believers to be free of outward sin and perfected in love.
   Living in Cincinnati with the Saints, he lost an eye to smallpox and decided to become a minister. He was ordained by the Church of God (Ander-son,Indiana). His travels led him in 1903 to Houston, Texas, where he met Charles Fox Parham and learned from him of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. He saw the baptism as an empowerment for those already sanctified.
   In 1906, Seymour became the pastor of a small church in Los Angeles. When he tried to introduce his new ideas, he was locked out. He began to hold services in the home of Richard D. and Ruth Asberry on Bonnie Brae Avenue.
   on April 9, the baptism experience occurred to two worshippers, Jennie Evans Moore (1883-1936, whom Seymour later married) and Edward Lee. Seymour received the experience on April 12. Crowds began to gather as the news spread, so the group moved to a former African Methodist Episcopal Church building, then being used as livery stable. Seating was arranged and a pulpit constructed from two boxes. Seymour found personal accommodations on the second floor.
   A newspaper article criticizing the Azusa Street revival happened to appear on April 18, the day of the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake. Thousands of copies of a tract tying the earthquake to the revival were distributed; readers flocked to Azusa Street to the newly named Apostolic Faith Missions. over the next three years, Seymour led three services a day. Most of the leaders of what would become the national and international pentecostal movement made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles and received the baptism. Those in attendance included African Americans, Hispanics, and whites.
   Following Seymour's marriage to Moore in 1908, dissident members Clara Lum (d. 1946) and Florence Crawford (1872-1936) took his mailing list and founded a rival church in portland, Oregon. Seymour's center in Los Angeles never recovered. The revival came to an end, and Seymour was left as the pastor of a single congregation. His isolation deepened when the movement divided into black and white factions.
   In 1911, William H. Durham (1873-1912), a white Baptist minister from Chicago, further split the Los Angeles Pentecostals by proclaiming his "Finished Work" views; he stated that anyone could received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, even if they had never been sanctified. The Finished Work Controversy took more than 600 believers from the mission. in 1913, the mission was hit by a new controversy over the "Jesus Only" message. Jesus Only Pentecostals, including many African Americans, rejected the Trinity and began to baptize people in the name of Jesus only. By 1915, Seymour was left with only a minuscule following. However, that year he published a church manual, The Doctrines and Discipline of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission of Los Angeles, and he assumed the title of bishop. He began to travel the country, occasionally with Charles Harrison Mason (1866-1961), founder of the Church of God in Christ, and founded a number of congregations, especially in virginia.
   Seymour died on September 18, 1922. His widow assumed control of the Los Angeles congregation and pastored it for the next few years; she died in 1936. The church building has not survived, and there is no visible remnant of Seymour's work in Los Angeles. The congregations Seymour founded in Virginia now make up the United Fellowship of the Original Azusa Street Mission.
   White Pentecostal historians forgot about the African-American roots of the movement, and Seymour's role was obscured until the late 20th century, when white and black Pentecostals made efforts to heal their divisions. Scholars now consider Seymour important to the whole Pentecostal global endeavor. His emphasis on the imminent end of this order and the need for foreign missions, as well as his own self-effacing leadership that allowed the broadest participation in the Azusa Street revival are now seen as essential elements in shaping the course of Pentecostalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ James T. Connelly, "William J. Seymour," in Twentieth-Century Shapers of American Popular Religion, ed. by Charles H. Lippy. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989); 381-87
   ■ Iain McRobert, The Black Roots and White Racism of Early Pente-costalism in the USA (New York: St. Martin's, 1988)
   ■ Douglas J. Nelson, For Such a Time as This: The Story of Bishop William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival: A Search for Pentecostal/Charismatic Roots (Birmingham, U.K.: University of Birmingham, Ph.D. diss., 1981)
   ■ Cheryl Sanders, Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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