Brass Heavens: Life for William Seymour before Azusa Street Revival
A lot of people have rosy views of Azusa Street and think that William Seymour got off the train and revival fire feel on the spot. This is not true at all. The real story of what happen in Los Angeles is much more human and very painful.
The facts are that William Seymour was living in Houston, Texas building a relationship with Charles F. Parham. Rev. Parham came from the Topeka Outpouring. Outside the classroom in the hallway, Seymour learned as much as he could about the Holy Spirit.
The truth is he was asked to come to Los Angeles to pastor a church but Parham believed it would not work out and that he should not go. However, Seymour was dead set on going to the developing city and preaching Pentecost.
It could be said that if William Seymour would have followed the leadership of his pastor, there would not have been the greatest revival since Pentecost. What we see here is sometimes following God is not the same as following a spiritual leader.
However, it was what happened in Los Angeles that really set things on course for the Holy Ghost revival that would rock the world. The events that enfolded there changed everything for him, the church, and the Pentecostal movement.
What really happened to WIlliam Seymour?
He came to preach at a small storefront church that was led by a woman named Julia Hutchins. After his arrival on February 22, he preached about the power of the Holy Spirit. By March 4, there was no interest in him being the pastor anymore.
The story that people really miss here is not that he was forbidden to preach at the woman’s church but that he was in a city that he knew no one, had an upset leader, and have no money to get back to Houston. Every relationship the man had in California was a broken one that was useless at this point.
He didn’t have much of a choice but to see what God would do in Los Angeles. He was homeless, broke and emotionally hurt. However, he was faithful to God and trusted that the Lord to do something in the new city. It is logical to believe that there was more faithfulness than being full of faith at the time.
The moral of the story is that everything seemed to be going wrong for William Seymour. He was dealing with depression and disappointment. He did not have many connections in the city. All his life contacts were back in Texas and Louisiana. The main person he knew in California just betrayed him.
It is very reasonable to assume that the month of March 1906 was a very dark month for him. He did not even know where he would live, eat or pretty much anything. He has to completely depend of the release from Heaven. The emotional state could not have been very healthy in the natural. By all accounts, it was the dark night of the soul for a failed pastor.
Compassion of the Brethren
Shortly after this, a couple by the name of Edward and Mattie Lee had pity on him and supplied a room to stay in until he could figure out what was next. The interesting thing is there is nothing in the records that leads me to believe the family actually believed in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit or modern miracles. They did it out of the leading of the Lord even if they seemed to disagree with Seymour personally.
Every evening, they would gather with some friends and pray together. It is unclear if this was a common practice of the family, something that William asked to do or they would meeting to pray with him about what is next. Whatever the case was, the meetings grew daily. In fact, they were getting so many people coming they had to look for a new location.
Two blocks away, they gathered at the Bonnie Brae house owned by Richard and Ruth Asberry. It was here that on April 9, 1906 that Heaven came down and the beginning of the Azusa Street revival was realized. So many people began to gather at the meetings that they had to find a bigger place to pray for people.
A former slave came to Los Angeles two decades before and tried starting a church on Azusa Street. Seymour and others was able to get access to the old Stevens AME church for meetings that become the Azusa Street Revival.
Embracing the Struggle of revival
It is important to that we understand the things that was happening around William Seymour leading up to the revival. The reason is we have glorified the details to the point that we have lost our history… and replaced it with a “cleaned up” version. A lot of history has been lost in that clean up. We need to restore the raw details of the days before the fire of God came down.
This is important because if someone is crying out for revival but everything is falling apart in their lives; they have some great company. The truth is most revivals happened right after a very dark session in the leader’s personal lives. Revival being the response to great faith is the exception, not the rule.
Seeing the revival was led by a former homeless guy that had his heart ripped out for believing for more of the Holy Spirit puts things in perspective. It also reminds us of the reason why early Pentecostal leaders had an emphasis on ministry to the poor. They valued to the poor because their leader only knew poverty all his life. They were poor in materials but rich in blessings.
I hope this article is a strong reminder to us that if you are in pain contending for revival and don’t know if you ever will see it happen; press on because William Seymour was right where you are. The other purpose of this article to state that the roots of our Pentecostal convictions had nothing to do with prosperity or “name it claim it.”