R3 Alliance | William J. Seymour (1870-1922) Initiator of the Azusa Revival
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William J. Seymour (1870-1922) Initiator of the Azusa Revival

William J. Seymour (1870-1922) Initiator of the Azusa Revival


William J. Seymour was born in Centerville, Louisiana, the eldest son of freed slaves. He grew up in extreme poverty, and spent much of his early years traveling throughout parts of the United States to obtain work. While in Ohio, he had a near-fatal bout of small pox, which scarred his face and left him blind in one eye.

Seymour was converted in a Methodist Church but later joined the Holiness movement. In 1905, the thirty-six-year-old heard of the Pentecostal movement led by Charles F. Parham in Houston, Texas. Parham liked him and allowed him to attend his state-segregated Bible school, letting him sit outside the classroom door (left purposely ajar). The two men enjoyed a brief but friendly and productive association. In mid-February before finishing the course, Seymour left for Los Angeles to pastor a small Holiness mission congregation, still without receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit he was seeking. Consumed with a passionate desire for God, Seymour said:

Before I met Parham, such a hunger to have more of God was in my heart that I prayed for five hours a day for two and a  half years. I got to Los Angeles, and there the hunger was not less but more. I prayed, “God, what can I do?” The Spirit said, “Pray more.” But Lord, I am praying five hours a day now.”  I increased my hours of prayer to seven, and prayed on for a year and a half more.  I prayed to God to give what Parham preached, the real Holy Ghost and fire with tongues, with love, and power of God like the apostles had.

And he got what he asked of God. Yet Seymour’s ministry was rejected by the congregational lay leader and founder who disapproved of his enthusiastic Pentecostal emphasis. Only a week after his arrival they padlocked the church door against him after his first sermon on Acts 2:4. Seymour was left without a mission, without acceptance, and without approval.

Undaunted, Seymour formed a predominantly Black home prayer group at Richard Asberry’s home on Bonnie Bray Street, which met regularly until Easter. During three climatic days in Holy Week from April 9-12, 1906, in the midst of a ten-day fast, Seymour and the others found what they were seeking: “More of God –glossolalia and other charismatic phenomena burst forth with unusual intensity and evident sincerity.” This was the beginning of the most influential movement for missions in the 20th Century—what we now call the Azusa Street Revival.


Resource: John G. Lake, Spiritual Hunger/The God-Men. Dallas: Christ for the Nations, 1980, 13.