Thursday, June 01, 2006

Faith Works 6-4-06
Jeff Gill

An End, And a Beginning

Pentecost is a Christian feast of the church calendar, marking fifty days (pente-, pentagon, got it?) after the events of Easter, paralleling a similar observance in Judaism following Passover.
The original Pentecost is described in the New Testament book of Acts, with the second chapter, where a sermon by Peter follows a gathering of the early church where the presence of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinitarian Godhead, was shown by a gift for languages and tongues of fire.
Leap forward to 1906, a century ago last April, where a revival in Los Angeles on Azusa Street was led by an African-American pastor named William Joseph Seymour. He had been to Houston, Texas recently, at a Bible school where Charles Fox Parham was teaching.
Parham had a Bible academy in Topeka, Kansas, where on New Year’s Day 1901 a student named Agnes Oznam "spoke in tongues," or experienced glossolalia, a verbal outpouring of sounds and syllables with no audible meaning.
Three days later, Parham and other students experienced the same phenomenon, and they concluded that speaking in tongues was biblical evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. This decision led to what we now know as Pentecostalism. Seymour’s preaching intersected with the San Francisco Earthquake of that month, drawing ever growing crowds and attention of the media, whose wire services were already looking to the West Coast at the destruction just north and its aftermath.
Nevermind that Parham made Seymour listen behind a door in a room separate from the white pastors in Houston: at Azusa Street, black and white worshiped together. This, as much as glossolalia, caught the public imagination.
Soon the Church of God in Christ sprang into vital, continent-spanning being; just as soon, racial reconciliation met racial divisions, and the Assemblies of God was born. Pentecostals have the mixed heritage of being more racially inclusive in worship and church life than most other denominational groups, but with their own vexed history of dividing and subdividing over racial and ethnic groupings.
A pre-existing "Holiness" movement helped push this new brand of faith and practice into the spotlight, with roots in German Pietism, Reformed revivalism, and Methodist separatism. Oberlin College here in Ohio, with Asa Mahan and Charles Grandison Finney, was one of the centers of Holiness revival, seeking a "higher life" in their traditional faith. With this movement starting in the US and England through the 1830’s, and influenced by later authors like William Boardman and Hannah Whitall Smith, institutions like the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, and William Booth’s Salvation Army were launched. A more personal and immediately transformative view of conversion and faith marked the "Higher Life" or Holiness movements, which gave birth to modern denominations like the Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, as well as the Salvation Army (a church before it is a social service, as many forget!); the Presbyterian A. B. Simpson led a mission-centered revival that created the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and many groups using the label "Church of God" spring from this period as well. Dwight Moody, the great revivalist of the late 1800’s, gave great force to this movement, laying the foundations for what was to come. (And you’ve likely seen he and his wife: the picture of the elderly, bearded fellow praying over a loaf of bread in the classic print is Moody, and if you have the companion print of an older woman saying grace over a bowl of soup, that’s the Missus.)
But it took the Azusa Street revival to spark the Church of God in Christ (with roots a decade earlier in a Holiness outgrowth), Assemblies of God, International Church of the Four-Square Gospel, and myriad other Pentecostal groups; mainline denominations also saw the rise of "charismatic" fellowships, or groups who worshiped with their wider fellowship but practiced the gift of tongues in private or through smaller gatherings. More recently new groups like Vineyard Fellowships, of which Licking County now has four, are not necessarily Pentecostal in outlook, expecting most members to experience the baptism of the Spirit through speaking in tongues, but charismatic in their inclusiveness of the experience.
This Holiness-Pentecostal movement has been the great gift of distinctively American Christianity to the world, with Pentecostals claiming 500 million adherents worldwide, from a few dozen in Los Angeles just a century ago. With African and Korean charismatics sending missionaries to the US, what will 2106 look like?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him at

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 6-4-06
Jeff Gill

Markers of the Season

Spring’s end is clearly shown not by the Summer Solstice (coming up in three weeks) or white shoes coming out of the back closet darkness. With the fading and fall of dogwood tree blossoms and trillium flowers on the forest floor, that’s when I stick a fork in springtime.
Now we see stacks of catalpa flowers erupt up all over those trees, a beautiful sight in full bloom. Harder to see are the spectacular canopy blossoms on tulip poplars, a hundred feet or more above us but slowly dropping yellow and orange and pink petals onto the may apples and ferns down at our feet.
And many roadsides across central Ohio are gently fuzzed with small blossoms on locust trees lining woody margins . . . of the cottonwood tree, we will not speak (I’ll just sneeze, again).
Your scribe had the honor to spend part of Memorial Day with combat engineers and medium maintenance soldiers who had seen Guadalcanal and Pelieu in the Pacific, corpsmen and WACs who had crossed Europe under Eisenhower’s command, and a B-17 ball turret gunner who had flown over the thick of it. They, and their wives and families who kept the home front strong, defeated the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan by 1945.
These stories are not in history books as vividly as they are in homes and retirement communities and nursing homes right here in Licking County. First sergeants and captains and warrant officers abound in the stands at their grandkids’ ball fields, and there are quartermaster’s mates steering carts down the grocery aisle who once navigated oceans at the helm of aircraft carriers or in the conning tower of submarines.
But just as I’m hinting to all you readers that it would be worth your while to listen to the stories these folk have to tell, I have a message for those veterans and fellow citizens. Make sure to tell your stories, too.
Some will say, sadly, that they’ve tried and found even among their own family little interest. That may be, but I offer two points in response.
First, my own experience is as a preacher and a storyteller, not to mention a lot of camp programming with young people. I can tell you many, many stories of when I thought I was wasting my time and theirs, because no one seemed to really be paying attention – and sometimes hours later, maybe days, occasionally even years, I’ll hear that story told back to me, word perfect. Just because they haven’t sat with expressions of rapt attention and obvious appreciation doesn’t mean they aren’t hearing it!
And second, if indeed you don’t have an immediate audience, then would you please write it down? Talk into a tape recorder, type on your computer if you have one or drop by the library and let them show you how to make a file.
One of the gentlemen I spoke to last Monday had participated with the Library of Congress Oral History project, but also noted a few stories that hadn’t made it onto the tape; I strongly encouraged him to put those on paper, too. If we don’t tell these stories, who will hear them, and how will they be passed along?
Motts’ Military Museum is just down the road from Licking County, and even closer on the internet ( They are the official home of the Ohio Military Hall of Fame (, while the seventh class of inductees was honored early last month on the steps of our state capital.
With about twenty new members honored each year, that means about 150 of your fellow Ohioans are part of this select group, whose stories can be read on line, and were heard out loud as part of the ceremony of induction. Ted Keller of the Millersport area may be just barely in Licking County, but he is clearly a hero, and has the paperwork to prove it.
Like many such stories, Ted may say that he was lucky enough to have someone tell his story that ended in a medal citation, and there likely are many who earned no less but ended their wars unseen. To which I say, all the more reason to tell your story and search out others’, and I suggest to anyone a little time at the Ohio Military Hall of Fame website within Motts’, reading the citations we have.
Between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, you could get a better sense of what we celebrate when the fireworks light up the sky, and who some of the upturned faces around you might be.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story through