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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Larger Family

By Scott Harrup
Jan. 16, 2011

Dated June 21, 2010, the letter began with New Testament cordiality.

“Accept greetings in the name of our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My name is Thomas A. Barclay, and I recently was elected as the International Presiding Elder of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, Inc. I have always been interested in reunifying our two fellowships. … The issues which separated us from the Assemblies of God in 1919 are no longer valid. I am feeling compelled by the Lord to make the effort to end this separation.”

Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood, the letter’s recipient, remembers his surprise and concern as he read Elder Barclay’s kind epistle. He lost no time in contacting Barclay personally.

“He said he was shocked that I would call him, and he’d wondered if I’d even answer his letter,” Wood says of that phone call. Wood invited Barclay and other UPCAG elders to join with the General Council of the Assemblies of God’s Executive Leadership Team for dialogue at the Fellowship’s national offices in Springfield, Mo.

The Oct. 11 and 12 meetings reaffirmed a deep sense of spiritual connection among participants. The days proved to be a time of healing for a wound more than 90 years old.

From 1919 …
On Aug. 28, 1919, a committee including members from three African-American Pentecostal churches in Cambridge, Mass., gathered to form a religious corporation under the name of the New England District Council of the Assemblies of God. Visiting ministers Alexander and Margrete Howard had spoken of a divine call to missionary service in Liberia, West Africa. The Cambridge congregations, inspired by the Howards’ passion for missions, resolved to establish a fellowship of churches to support the Howards and other missionaries.

Within a year, members of the newly formed group raised the then substantial sum of $1,200. The Howards sailed for Africa to begin years of fruitful ministry. In 1927, they would write of the continuing move of God in Liberia.

“Christmas was a day of feasting with the Lord. … At seven-thirty [p.m.] we held an evangelistic service, and we shall never forget how mightily the Spirit of God rested upon this meeting; some were dancing, others laughing, and still others weeping their way to the cross and finding Jesus as their deliverer from sin; and praise God, a few more were added to the Church of God.”

But this bright chapter in Pentecostal missions history emerged from an unsuccessful earlier attempt by the Howards to receive missionary appointment with the recently established General Council of the Assemblies of God.

“Alexander Howard was a porter at a hotel in Chicago, and he felt the call of God to become a missionary to the continent of Africa, in particular Liberia,” says UPCAG Bishop Brian Greene, pastor of Pentecostal Tabernacle in Cambridge. “He approached the officers of the Assemblies of God in 1917 and informed them of what he felt God impressed him to do. Unfortunately, they informed him that it was not God’s will to send a ‘colored person’ to do missions work in Africa.”

In his 2008 Assemblies of God Heritage article “The Assemblies of God and the Long Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation,” Darrin Rodgers, director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center at the AG national offices in Springfield, took note of the General Council’s uneven approach to recognizing African-American ministers. “The Assemblies of God was formed as a largely white organization where non-Anglos were present as a minority. The culture, language, and attitudes of the white founders were privileged.”

The first 25 years of the Fellowship were marked by cultural discrimination, and the problem deepened in 1939. “In 1939,” Rodgers wrote, “the denomination created a national policy that denied ordination to African-Americans. This structural discrimination persisted until 1962, when the policy was overturned.”

Rodgers’ article also took note that African-American missionaries did eventually receive AG endorsement: “Isaac S. and Martha ‘Mattie’ Neeley were the first African-Americans to serve as Assemblies of God missionaries. They originally were ordained by L.C. Hall with the [white] Church of God in Christ as missionaries on Nov. 30, 1913. They served as missionaries to Liberia, then returned to the United States in 1919 and attended the 1919 General Council at Stone Church in Chicago. While they did not receive Assemblies of God credentials until 1920, this delay was probably because they were on the mission field.”

… to 2010
Because the Assemblies of God in Springfield already had a New England District, the Massachusetts churches changed their corporate name to the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God. Their Fellowship grew beyond their own regional New England District to include churches in designated Midwest, Eastern, Southern and Barbados districts. The UPCAG had been established in 1919 to send a missionary couple to Africa. The current leadership continues to prioritize missions.

“Presiding Elder Thomas Barclay is reestablishing a strong missions presence, both locally and internationally, which is inclusive of Africa and points beyond,” says Bishop Carlton Brown, a former international missions director for the church.

The histories and ministries of the two Assemblies of God entities have overlapped in other ways. Zion Bible College in Haverhill, Mass., started in 1924 by Christine Gibson, in 2000 became one of 19 endorsed General Council AG institutes of higher education. Christine and her husband, Reuben, were founding UPCAG members.

Christine started the school in East Providence, R.I., shortly after Reuben’s death. The first UPCAG president, George Phillips, was a professor at Zion. Many Assemblies of God students have pursued their Bible education at the school, which has long been one of the most racially diverse Pentecostal schools in the U.S.

Elder Barclay notes that his church, Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church in Chicago, has enjoyed a long ministry partnership with Teen Challenge, the General Council’s ministry to people with life-controlling addictions.

“Teen Challenge has opened up their doors for us across the country for us to ship men and women to their programs to get help to restore their broken lives,” Barclay says. “It’s been a real blessing for us to be a part of the ministry of the Assemblies of God through the arm of Teen Challenge to help those men and women in need of restoration.”

Beulah Pentecostal Church is also an active participant in Royal Family Kids’ Camps, an international AG ministry to abused and abandoned children. That fact immediately captured General Superintendent Wood’s attention. Royal Family’s founder, Wayne Tesch, is an Assemblies of God minister who began his children’s outreach in 1985 while serving on staff at the AG church Wood was pastoring in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“When I saw that,” Wood remembers of Barclay’s letter, “I just picked up the phone and called him.”

Meeting with the UPCAG leaders, Wood expressed the collective regret of the Assemblies of God for history’s missteps.

“I told them, ‘Those people are gone,’” Wood remembers, “‘and I cannot apologize for them, but I’ll tell you that what you share with me is just like a stake in my heart that this ever happened and, on their behalf, if I could, I apologize. This should have never happened in the body of Christ.’”

For Barclay, the October gathering was a sign of a divine call to greater unity in the larger Pentecostal community.

“I believe that God has a bigger plan in mind,” he says, “but we have to start the process of hearing the voice of the Lord by coming together. And as we heard the voice of the Lord and asked for a meeting and Dr. Wood responded to the meeting — that’s the beginning process.

“We’re reaching out to other denominations, other like-minded denominations, Pentecostal denominations, so we can begin to do what God has called us as Pentecostals to do — and that’s speak the word of truth so people can be baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

Wood sees the reunion of these fellowships, and potentially others, as an extension of the Holy Spirit’s reviving work in Los Angeles in the early 20th century at the Azusa Street Mission. “It’s as though the children of Azusa Street are coming home,” he says, “finding each other again.”

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. Darrin Rodgers and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center ( provided historical documents for the research of this article.

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