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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 Centennial Pilgrimage

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Aug. 3, 2014

Approximately 300 people gathered in Hot Springs, Ark., on April 10-11, 2014, to celebrate the centennial of the Assemblies of God in the place and on the corresponding dates of its birth. Echoes from the founding General Council, where another 300 ministers gathered in the same place exactly 100 years earlier, could be heard throughout the two-day event.

The centennial celebration, sponsored by AGTrust, featured seven speakers and a night of gospel music and worship. The celebration concluded with a pilgrimage to the site of the former Grand Opera House, where the first General Council was held, to recreate the iconic photograph portraying the founders of the Assemblies of God.

One hundred years ago, Hot Springs had a reputation as a wild town, known for its alcohol, prostitution, gangs and drugs. When the founders of the Assemblies of God met in the Hot Springs Grand Opera House for the first General Council, they had to pass by the saloon at the front of the building to attend the meetings in the auditorium. The centennial celebration was held in a more sanctified setting — spacious First Assembly of God, pastored by Larry Burton.

The centennial celebration drew people from across the United States. Jean and Magalie Rebecca, a husband and wife who pastor Haitian Assembly of God in Dorchester, Mass., were excited to be able to participate.

“We grew up in the Assemblies of God in Haiti. The Assemblies of God is a worldwide family, and we wanted to represent Haitians in Hot Springs,” they said.

Attendees also included descendants of participants in the first General Council, held April 2-12, 1914.

Bonnie Olsen, the granddaughter of founding Assemblies of God minister Oliver P. Brann, felt right at home. She commented, “I experienced faith-filled services and the power of God this week. I wish I could experience this every day!”

General Superintendent George O. Wood opened the celebration on Thursday by recounting the five reasons for the formation of the Assemblies of God as enumerated in the century-old “Call to Hot Springs.” Each speaker continued in this vein, expounding on why the founding principles of the Assemblies of God remain compelling today.

Greg Mundis, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions, shared about the heritage of missionaries who suffered, sometimes unto death, to take the gospel around the world. Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison preached on the bedrock importance of the Word of God.

True to Pentecostal form, the afternoon service included an extended time at the altar. Hundreds of voices were raised in fervent prayer, and people flooded the altars and aisles in the church.

Following a time of prayer for specific areas of ministry, Garrison asked those present who have a healing ministry to pray for the sick. Vocal spiritual gifts were manifested, and several people later testified of physical healings.

Wilfredo de Jesús, pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago,  encouraged those who are carrying on the Pentecostal legacy to fight complacency in their spiritual lives.

“It is essential to build a bridge,” de Jesús asserted, “so that the younger generation can learn about the power of the Holy Spirit from the older generation.” He illustrated this principle with the biblical example of Elijah, the older prophet, who discipled Elisha, the younger prophet.

De Jesús pointedly observed, “Elisha and Elijah were from different generations, but they walked together.”

Thursday evening, gospel musicians Johnny Minick and Russ Taff led participants in three hours of rousing worship. The music included songs from each decade of the last 100 years.

About 40 people — including Wood and Garrison — participated in a Jericho March, a spirited procession around the church in single file during the worship service. The practice originated in Kentucky Presbyterian camp meetings during the Second Great Awakening and had been adopted by some early Pentecostals.

On Friday morning, three younger ministers spoke — Rod Loy (First Assembly, North Little Rock, Ark.), Rob Ketterling (River Valley Church, Apple Valley, Minn.) and Aaron Cole (Life Church, Milwaukee). They described how the AG’s founding ideals are being carried out today while envisioning the future of the Fellowship.

The celebration culminated in a pilgrimage to the site where the Hot Springs Grand Opera House once stood. The 300 attendees viewed the new historic marker in honor of the AG centennial, which was placed in the sidewalk near Mountain Valley Spring Company, located at 150 Central Ave. They proceeded to climb the winding trail behind the site of the former Grand Opera House until the group reached a small clearing where the iconic photograph from the first General Council had been taken.

J. Don George, an Assemblies of God senior statesman and founding pastor of Calvary Church in Irving, Texas, called the centennial event “a historic occasion that will be long remembered.” He noted the event was relatively small in comparison to the larger centennial celebration slated for Springfield, Mo., from Aug. 5-10, in conjunction with the World Assemblies of God Congress.

“As a Movement we are called to generational, gender, cultural and racial diversity,” George stated. When thousands of visitors from across the United States and the world descend on Springfield, this diversity will be on full display. 

The men and women who met in Hot Springs 100 years ago laid a foundation for a cooperative Fellowship that would help Pentecostals more effectively evangelize the world. One hundred years later, with 3.1 million adherents in the United States and more than 67 million worldwide, this evangelization is in evidence.

The centennial gathering offered both a celebration of the past century and a vision for the future. According to George O. Wood, the Assemblies of God throughout its history “has been marked by purpose and passion.”

“Our purpose is embedded in our doctrine, mission, values and strategies,” said Wood. “Our passion comes from the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to empower us to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen.”

Wood predicted, “The future for the Assemblies of God is truly as bright as the promises of God.”

DARRIN J. RODGERS is director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center for the Assemblies of God.

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