ne cannot discuss the Azusa Street Mission without beginning with its pastor. In an era of bullish and charismatic speakers, William J William Seymour was different (not just because he only had one good eye). By those around him, he was described as a very humble man who didn’t mind if others outshined him in the spotlight. 

Early Years

William Seymour was born on Monday, May 2nd, 1870 in Centerville, Louisiana. Both of Seymour’s parents were born into slavery and worked in the heart of bayou country, St. Mary Parish. It is without question that slavery played a role in how Seymour viewed himself and the Lord. It is well documented that in local church’s many ministers relied on the Exodus story in the Bible to help encourage and strengthen its congregation through our nation's dark history. 

When Seymour became of age, he left the South and moved to Indianapolis. Although we do  not know the exact reason why he moved, one can conclude that it was due to economic opportunity. During the Civil War, Indiana had aligned with the North and it became the home of many Quaker and holiness brethren who had worked to free slaves. 

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According to the Indianapolis City Directory published between 1896 and 1898, we know that Seymour’s main occupation was a waiter. During his time in Indianapolis, it is claimed that William Seymour had an encounter with the Lord. Seymour alluded to this conversion in a later interview in 1914 with Charles Shumway, who was writing his thesis for the University of Southern California. 

Being converted in a Methodist church had a huge effect on Seymour’s theology. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, birthed many of the doctrines Pentecostals would later adapt into their down beliefs. You could say, coming underneath the teachings of John Wesley in Indianapolis positioned Seymour well to relieve the later holiness doctrine and gifts of the spirit. 

Beginnings of Pentecostalism 

During his stay in Indianapolis, Seymour came under the influence of Martin Wells Snapp. Snapp had a school in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was here that Seymours Pentecostal theology would be forever shaped. The advertisements of the school had the word “pentecostal” in it, although the term was commonly used across many holiness movements at the time. 

Knapp’s school was racially inclusive, so everyone was able to study side by side. At the time, this was an abnormal situation that Seymour benefited from greatly. Knapp was also a huge believer in pre-mellennism, which teaches that Jesus will come for his church and rapture them before the period of severe tribulation on earth. This belief shaped Seymour which would later shape the pentecostal movement, as they adopted this position into their doctrine. 

William Seymour’s Prayer Life

After a stint in Jackson, Mississippi, Seymour traveled to Houston, Texas to search for relatives. He made this his home from 1905 to 1907. During his time in Houston, Seymour ran into John G Lake, a minister working in signs and wonders, specifically healing. According to Lake, Seymour told him that he had such hunger for God that he was praying for five hours a day. 

In Houston, Seymour attended a small holiness congregation pastored by an African American widow, Lucy Farrow. Both of them grew in their relationship and became close. Farrow trusted Seymour with her small congregation as she took a brief period off after being recruited by Charles Parham to minister in Melrose, Kansas. Parham worked in gifts of healing and preached that one could receive the gift of tongues for evangelism purposes. 

In Kansas, Farrow watched first hand Parham’s teaching on the gift of tongues and concluded that this was something she wanted for her own life. She pursued the gift and encountered the Holy Spirit through evidence of speaking in tongues. 

Upon Farrow’s return from Kansas with Parham, she immediately sought to bring Seymour up to speed on her experience. Up until that point, Seymour believed that he had already been baptized in the Spirit the moment he had been sanctified at conversion.

After conversing, Farrow challenged Seymour to go after the gift on tongues and experience what she had. This challenge met Seymour at his hunger state. He searched the scriptures himself and finally concluded that Purham and Farrow were correct and sought the gift of tongues for himself. 

Azusa Street Mission 

After receiving the gift of tongues, Seymour was ready to take on a full time position at a church. The invitation came from Mrs. Julia Hutchins to pastor a small congregation in Los Angeles. The church itself was very small and met on Sundays. 

The experience was a disaster from the start. Hutchins was unaware that Seymour taught the Holy Spirit was evidenced by speaking in tongues. She maintained that sanctification was already in place in believers at the time of conversion. 

After Seymour began teaching the local congregation about tongues, Hutchins freaked out and immediately went to the board to seek Seymours dismissal. Hutchins arranged for a meeting with local elders for Seymour to explain his position on tongues, which he did very clearly. Seymour was convinced that they had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit and was eager to try and persuade them to consider his position. Seymour was dismissed and was no longer able to serve as pastor. 

Upon his dismissal, Seymour lodged with a janitor friend and together they turned a small apartment into a prayer meeting. Lees, who had previously served as pastor in another city, and Seymour both sought after the Lord together. At the start, the prayer meeting began to grow and moved to a larger home, the Asberry’s. 

At the Asberry’s home the prayer meeting grew to about fifteen people and Seymour explained the theology of being baptized in the Spirit with evidence of tongues. Those gathered in the home soon accepted the revelation Seymour had discovered from Farrow and his earlier experiences. 

Read more on how this prayer meeting turned into one of the greatest revivals in the history of Christianity here.  

William J Seymour Wife 

Another incredible thing happened at the Asberry’s. Seymour met his future wife Jennie Evans Moore. She lived directly across from Asberry's home and was one of the first people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. She and William Seymour would eventually marry and co-pastor the Mission together. After William’s death, she would pastor the church until its eventual phasing out. 

**Main Banner image credit to https://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/black-history-month-spotlight-rev-william-joseph-seymour/.

Jul 31, 2023

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