The Azusa Street Revival

We’ve finished our series on Revelation 4 and 5. That means it’s time for a palate cleanser, to get ready for a change of subjects.

Welcome to our third post on the Azusa Street Revival! In our last post (01/02/22), we talked about how the revival began at the Asbury’s residence on Bonnie Brae Street. On April 9, 1906, God poured out His power on those in the meeting and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. The meeting at the Asbury’s went on for three days, 24/7. There was nonstop singing, worshiping, and shouting praises to God continuously. The crowd grew to the point where it was physically impossible to accommodate all the people that came as it spread out into the streets of the neighborhood. The police told them they had to find a new place to meet. Based on the price they could afford, they found a broken down two-story building at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. When they relocated to the Azusa Street location, that’s when things became … astonishing!

The Azusa Street Revival

Third in a Five-Part Series
by Karen Thompson

The Revival Moved to Azusa Street

Every day, God’s power and glory were on display in ways never seen before during the Azusa Street Revival. In all of America’s history, there was never a revival like it. What happened at Azusa had never been experienced before in any revival. They were experiencing a lot of “firsts,” and for that reason, the Church didn’t yet understand what was happening. Today the term used to describe what happened at the Azusa Street Revival is “open heaven.” There was an open heaven on display every day during the entire length of the revival.

One of the manifestations of the open heaven that took place at Azusa was the glory cloud (also known as the Shekinah glory) being visible for all to see. It was said the glory cloud literally dwelled at the Azusa Street Mission. It even hovered around the outside of the building during the revival, day and night for the entire length of the revival of 3 ½ years. At times, the glory cloud became so thick that little children would play hide and seek in it.

One man’s description of the glory cloud was quite interesting: “The Shekinah glory was hard to explain; it could only be described but not understood.” He was awed by the glory, saying it was part of heaven coming down. At times, he came into the building and there would be “a kind of glow.” But when God would start moving and performing His miracles, the glow would turn into a smoke-like substance and would become even brighter. When people walked through it, it would “sort of roll.” Sometimes, the glory cloud would be so thick that it would fill the entire building. He said it couldn’t be blown away with a fan, and you couldn’t pick it up. People could walk through it, sit down in it, run their hands through it, and breathe it into their lungs. But one thing you could not do with the glory cloud is capture it.

Firsthand Experiences

One man gave an overall description of the scene you would encounter upon entering the Azusa Street Mission on any given day. He said when he came into the building, there was prayer and worship everywhere. The altar was filled with seekers. Some were kneeling while others were laid out flat on the floor. Everyone was doing something. And they were all seemingly lost in God.

There were extraordinary testimonies from people who came from other non-English speaking nations. Many of them shared similar experiences as to why they gave their lives to the Lord. They said when they came into the meeting, they heard someone speaking to them personally in their native language, telling them to repent of their sin and surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus. Of course, the people speaking in their native language did not know their native language. They were simply speaking in tongues as the Lord gave them utterance!  

Many who attended the revival had unique experiences. A man named A.C. Valdez gave his eyewitness testimony of his first visit to the mission. When Mr. Valdez approached the building, he said he felt a strong pulling sensation. It was so strong, he said, “I couldn’t have turned away if I wanted to.” Though it was a hot summer day when he and his mother stepped into the building, they felt a “chill wind.” They both began to tremble. He looked around at the people present and noticed they too were trembling. He said, “It felt as if I was surrounded by God.”

People Want to Be Where God Is

But let’s not get ahead of the story. Let’s go back to the very beginning when they first moved into the building. The two-story building at 312 Azusa Street was first a church. Then it became a wholesale house, a warehouse, a lumberyard, stockyards, a tombstone shop, and lastly it was used as a stable with rooms for rent on the second floor. It had 2,400 square feet of space. The only remaining evidence it was originally used as a church was a single gothic style window over the main entrance.

By 1906, the building was a broken down mess. All the windows and doors were broken, and it was filled with garbage. Those in the revival group that were in construction donated supplies and worked on making repairs. Seymour and other members cleared out the trash. They put sawdust down on the floor. For seating, they placed wooden planks on top of empty nail kegs.

Seymour decided against the usual setup you saw in most churches. He, instead, put the platform in the center of the room and placed the seating around the platform. He had low prayer altars running around the platform. They improvised a pulpit using two empty wooden crates stacked on top of each other.

The second floor of the building had to be cleaned up as well. They turned it into an “upper room,” for seekers to come and tarry until they were “endued with power from on high.” Since the mission was open 24/7, they used the upstairs as a place for sleeping quarters for William Seymour and the rest of the full-time staff.

Let’s take a pause and think about this for a moment.

No matter how much work they did on the building, it was still a rundown building. It had sawdust on the floor! For crying out loud, they didn’t even have real furniture. It was all improvised! And the mission was located in the poorest section of Los Angeles. Yet people from all over the world made a pilgrimage to this broken-down mission. People came by the thousands to get into that building. And when it was too crowded to get inside, they crowded around the windows outside just to be able to hear what was happening.

This broken down facility with the humblest of accommodations did not deter people from coming to the meetings. Why? Because people want to be where God is. And nothing will prevent them from getting to where He is pouring out His glory.

Holy Ghost Meetings

The revival grew quickly, and crowds packed into the small mission every day for three and a half years straight. Though the building was open 24/7, official meetings ran from mid-morning to midnight, seven days a week. Between those hours, there were as many as nine services per day. Sometimes, the meetings would flow into each other and would last for 24 hours. What is fascinating is that the meetings were never initiated by any leader. They started themselves. Or a more precise way to put it is, the meetings were initiated and conducted by the Holy Spirit. Today, we have a name for that. They’re simply called Holy Ghost meetings.

The Holy Ghost meetings at Azusa Street were the first of many that followed. Since Azusa, it’s been observed that Holy Ghost meetings always have certain elements. The first observation is that there is no person in charge of the meeting. The Holy Ghost is in demonstration, and He is the one that moves upon the congregants to do as He directs, whether it be preaching, singing, praying, etc. Secondly, the Word of God will always be taught. It is the foundation. The Lord will move upon people to stand and give a teaching about on a certain subject. Lastly, in a Holy Ghost meeting, the needs of the people will be met and the joy of the Lord will be manifested throughout. All of that was demonstrated at the Azusa revival.

The Azusa meetings would open with prayer. There would be praise and worship, with testimonies. When someone received an anointing and prompting to preach a message, they would simply stand up and preach. If someone got up when the Holy Ghost did not prompt them to do so, they would be convicted and immediately sit back down. The singing during the meetings was a cappella, both in English and in tongues. It was said to have a “heavenly” quality, which was unusual considering those doing the singing were non-professional singers. And none of the singing was rehearsed before the service. It was always spontaneous, prompted by the Spirit. During these meetings, the Holy Spirit would flow throughout and people would be “slain in the Spirit.” Or as some people would say, they would “fall out” in the Spirit. Sometimes it would simply be one or two people who were slain. Sometimes there would be 100s that would fall out in the Spirit. Very often, there would be masses of people that would simultaneously rush to the altar to seek the Lord.

The Holy Ghost meetings at Azusa were unlike regular church services. No one sang from hymnbooks as they didn’t have any. They didn’t collect offerings. There was no passing the plate or bucket. People gave as the Lord directed. Ministers didn’t prepare their sermons beforehand. Everything in the Holy Ghost meetings was spontaneous—the singing, the preaching, the praying, the testifying.

William Seymour, the Leader

William Seymour only preached when the Spirit would prompt him to do so. And when Seymour preached, he always emphasized accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and the need to repent from sin. Yes, he taught about and prayed with people to receive the baptism in the Holy Ghost and tongues, but he didn’t emphasize it. He told people that when they told others about the revival that they should emphasize Jesus as Lord and how many were giving their lives to the Lord.

William Seymour and his wife, Jenny, lived on the second floor. Seymour was a humble man who spent a great deal of time in prayer. He wasn’t a constant presence on the main floor. He only came to the main floor when prompted by the Spirit to do so. That meant he never followed a set pattern as to when he would come and preach.

When he came downstairs, he would sit down and then put a wooden box over his head. Many people had asked him why he did that, but he never did give anyone an explanation. There was much discussion about the box. Many surmised it was his way of keeping his focus on the Lord, to keep from being distracted. But others that knew him well said Seymour never did anything without being directed by the Lord, so they believe he put the box over his head because he was directed by God to do it. Anyway, he wouldn’t take off the box until directed by the Spirit. He would get up and do what the Spirit directed him to do. He might get up to preach. Or he might go to a section where people were laying in cots, who all came from a hospital. Seymour would point at them and say, “Everyone in a cot, you’re healed in the name of Jesus.” Every single person in a cot would be instantaneously healed from whatever they suffered. He would do the same thing when there would be a section of people all in wheelchairs.

For the entire three and a half years, the miraculous was a daily thing. All who came with a need had their needs met before they left the building. There was no end to the miracles.  

There came a day when Seymour came down to the main floor and took his seat as usual. But this time, he didn’t put the box on his head! From that day forward, he never put the box on his head again. And, unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end of the revival. Some say, the revival ended because Seymour stopped putting the box on his head. Others say, the Lord told him to stop putting the box on his head because it was time for the revival to subside.

In any event, there was much that took place in three and a half years. Seymour was the senior authority at the mission. He delegated authority to 12 overseers. He ordained ministers and commissioned missionaries. He also produced a newspaper, called The Apostolic Faith, which had 40 thousand subscribers.

As with all of the great movements of God, it had an egalitarian character. The people that came to the Azusa Mission represented every race, where whites and blacks had no problem sitting next to each other. The crowds represented the rich and the poor, the young and the old. People didn’t have any objection sitting next to someone not in their “class.” The only person who objected to the mixing of the races was Seymour’s mentor, Charles Parham, who was never comfortable with the mixing of the races. But other very famous holiness preachers had no problem joining together with William Seymour in the support of the Azusa Mission.

The movement resulting from the Azusa Street Revival came to be known as Pentecostalism, in reference to the first two chapters of the book of Acts and the events that took place on the day of Pentecost. The message of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and the gift of tongues spread worldwide. By the end of 1909, Pentecost spread to every region of the United States and in 50 nations worldwide.

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