It all began around the turn of the
century when Charles F. Parham, a young Methodist minister, dissatisfied
with his spiritual condition, determined to do something about it.
Reasoning that only a true rebirth and a rediscovery of the "gifts
of the spirit" would bring him into absolute harmony with God, he
set out to establish a Bible school in an abandoned mansion in Topeka,
Kansas, to be utilized as a "spiritual discovery center.’‘
The building chosen for the school was
sarcastically known as Stone’s Folly, so named because the builder ran
out of money halfway through its construction. This stigma, however, did
not hamper Parham’s zeal. With forty students, he initiated a study
into the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, with the hope of
discovering whether there might be one specific element common to
all of those who had received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in
In December, 1900, Parham was scheduled
to embark on a three-day trip, and he decided that in the interim his
students should undertake an intense study of the book of Acts.
"Study every account in Acts where
the baptism of the Spirit is received," he charged them, "and
find out whether there was a common denominator." Returning three
days later, he found his school buzzing with excitement, for "on
five occasions where the Holy Ghost was received," he was told,
"it was followed by the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. Could
this perhaps be what we’re looking for?" A methodical comparison
of the texts showed that there had indeed been a connection between the
Holy Spirit and tongues, and in order to test its validity in modern
times, they decided upon a marathon prayer session. Beginning at
daybreak the following morning, they sent up prayers for the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit. The morning passed, and so did the afternoon, yet
the Spirit did not come. Early that evening, at about 7:00, one of the
students, Agnes N. Ozman remembered something important.
"Wasn’t it true that many of the
baptisms described in Acts were accompanied by an action, as well as
prayer? Didn’t the person offering the prayer often put his hands on
the one who wished to receive the baptism? In the Bible she found the
reference she remembered. There it was: at Samaria, at Damascus, at
Ephesus, always the word ‘hands.’ ‘Putting his hands on him.’‘Then
laid they their hands on them.’
"Miss Ozman went to find Charles
Parham and told him about her new thought.
"‘Would you pray for me this
way?’ she asked.
"Parham hesitated just long enough
to utter a short prayer about the rightness of what they were doing.
Then, gently he placed his two hands on Miss Ozman’s head.
Immediately, quietly, there came from her lips a flow of syllables which
neither of them could understand.
"The Pentecostals look back on
this hour—7:00 p.m, New Year’s Eve, 1900, as one of the key dates in
their history. They point to it as the first time since the days of the
early church that the baptism of the Holy Spirit had been sought, where
speaking in tongues was expected as the initial evidence."—John
L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues (A Spire Book), page
Once the discovery of the common
denominator had been established, the news spread throughout America.
Fighting fierce opposition from both clergy and laymembers, Parham in
blunt desperation took to the street corners to propagate his teachings.
When subsequently informed that Stone’s Folly would be sold from under
him, he moved his operations to Houston, Texas.
By this time, his efforts had begun to
receive serious recognition, for his preaching was dynamic. He
proclaimed that only the "full gospel" could save; that is,
the gospel in its entirety, complete with tongues, faith healing and
other gifts as promised to accompany the reception of the Holy Spirit.
Consequently, faith healing was soon added to the list of Pentecostal
One of Parham’s Houston students, W.J.
Seymour, exported the full gospel to the West Coast, linking his name
permanently to 312 Azusa Street, Los Angeles, an address that was to
become a Pentecostal mecca for years to come.
An ordained Negro minister, Seymour had
arrived in Los Angeles to take over the congregation of a small Black
church. But as soon as he opened his series of sermons and announced his
intention to preach on the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, the
church elders, who had previously heard of his new ideas, protested
vehemently. When Seymour returned for his second sermon, he found the
church doors barred. His congregation had formally rejected him.
Accepting the invitation of a
dissenting church member, Seymour soon found himself presenting the
remainder of the series in her home. For three days he preached there,
expounding on the Holy Spirit. On the evening of the third day it
happened. As he was talking, his listeners suddenly began to speak in
tongues, speaking, laughing, and singing, using syllables they never
knew existed. It caused such enthusiasm that when the shouts of
Hallelujah and the clapping had reached a deafening crescendo, the roof
caved in, and the rafters crashed down. This signaled the end of the
Having now substantiated the validity
of his claims in the eyes of his followers, Seymour had no trouble
finding a suitable meeting place. This time it was an abandoned livery
stable on Azusa Street, wedged in between a stable and a tombstone
Some who witnessed the scenes that took
place there for the next 1,000 days called it a true spiritual revival.
Often with more praying than preaching, Seymour led out, but allowed
others to take over whenever possible. His believers came from
everywhere: New England, Canada, Great Britain. No one was sent away.
Old-time Pentecostals, when asked to identify the place where the
movement received its greatest thrust, usually agree:
"It was in Stone’s Folly that
the movement was born," they say. "But it would have died a
quiet and painless death if it had not been for the Azusa Street
Much has changed since the early days