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More than 20,000 Celebrate Pentecostalism’s 100th Birthday

c. 2006 Religion News Service LOS ANGELES _ At least 20,000 people from more than 100 countries have converged here to mark the 100th anniversary of the modern Pentecostal movement. For five days, beginning Tuesday (April 25), Pentecostal and charismatic Christians are commemorating a revival at a converted stable on Azusa Street that launched the […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES _ At least 20,000 people from more than 100 countries have converged here to mark the 100th anniversary of the modern Pentecostal movement.

For five days, beginning Tuesday (April 25), Pentecostal and charismatic Christians are commemorating a revival at a converted stable on Azusa Street that launched the movement that is now the fastest growing segment of Christianity.

“We are hoping that as people reflect on the Azusa Street revival, they will be inspired to experience revival in this day,” said the Rev. William M. Wilson, the centennial’s executive officer.

Wilson said he was also praying the celebration would create a new sense of unity for a movement that began as racially diverse and all-inclusive but has since splintered off into ethnically divided groups, scattered across the globe.

“We’re hoping that we will reunite as a family once again,” he said.

Although the centennial officially began Tuesday, pre-centennial events put attendees in a celebratory mood.

About 3,000 Christians arrived early, on Saturday, to kick off the festivities with a “Holy Spirit Procession.” Marchers held banners praising Jesus. They waved flags, clapped, danced and shouted “Hallelujah!” as they walked through Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles.

The parade began at 216 Bonnie Brae St., and ended two miles later, at Noguchi Plaza, on the site of the original Azusa Street Mission.

“Everybody’s excited because of what we’re anticipating the Lord is going to be doing,” said Christiana Egwunye, a 41-year-old nurse from Nigeria who lives in Los Angeles. “We’re expecting a revival, the greatest revival in history, that will be bigger than that of the first at Azusa,” she said.

Along the way, some worshippers stopped to pray, kneeling with arms outstretched. A handful of Messianic Jews blew the shofar’s horn. Some paraders anointed people with a drop of oil to the forehead. A brass band from the Bahamas led the pack to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit resides within them and manifests itself, in some cases, by allowing worshippers to speak in tongues. “Tongues” is a spiritual language that to the uninitiated may sound like gibberish but to believers is a sign that a Christian has been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Pentecostals also believe that the signs and wonders of Jesus’ time still happen today. They have faith that prayer can lead to healing.

So during the parade, when a stranger took hold of 37-year-old Annette McDonald’s hand and pressed his palm against hers, she hoped for a miracle. She had sprained her wrist while at work loading ships at the dock.

Suddenly, she was healed. “It doesn’t hurt anymore. Look,” she said, smiling, flicking her wrist in the air.

The Rev. William J. Seymour, the son of former slaves, led the original revival in 1906 from a small house on Bonnie Brae Street. While he preached about the Holy Spirit, worshippers in the group began speaking in tongues _ a sign that the Spirit had moved them. Word spread, and soon, the crowd spilled onto the street.

On April 14, 1906, four days before the San Francisco earthquake, the worshippers moved to a larger space, a former barn known as the Azusa Street Mission. There, believers prayed three times a day for three years.

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Scholars estimate there are 250 million to 500 million Pentecostal and charismatic Christians worldwide, said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Lugo made the comment Monday at “Moved by the Spirit: Pentecostal Power and Politics After 100 Years.” The conference, held at the University of Southern California, was sponsored by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the University of Southern California’s Knight Program in Media and Religion and the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Lugo said that while the movement is growing fast in the United States, it is particularly popular in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Most Pentecostals have an apocalyptic vision that the world is in the end of times and Jesus is coming soon, said Anthea Butler, an assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York. Butler, who also attended the conference, said followers also tend to share an egalitarian mentality that says everyone can receive God’s gifts.

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At the Saturday parade, Christians of different ethnicities, from around the world walked together toward Azusa Street.

Gabriel Ward, a 43-year-old pastor of a Native American tribe in California, held a Bible in one hand and a traditional musical instrument _ a type of rattle _ in the other. “The purpose of this revival is to bring us together from across denominations, cultures and nationalities,” he said. “We’re here in unity of spirit, for one reason: to glorify Jesus Christ.”

The parade culminated under a tent at Azusa Street, where church officials spoke of the centennial, which includes lectures, historical tours, Bible study sessions and 120 hours of continuous prayer.

“Let miracles, signs and wonders be manifest in these days,” prayed pastor Jack W. Hayford, president of The Foursquare Church based in Los Angeles. Standing on a floor sprinkled with sawdust, a reminder of the way it was 100 years ago, he called out to the “spirit of history.”

“Revisit us again,” he said.

MO/JL END BROWN