Parham's Visit to Azusa

Cartoon mocking fanatics and holy rollers

A political cartoon lampooning "Holy Rollers."

Prior to his trip to Los Angeles, Parham received reports from newspapers describing the Los Angeles revival “as a wild, fanatical affair which flaunted social custom and threatened public security” (Goff 128). Wanting to separate himself from such claims, Parham published a scathing denunciation of fanatical “Holy Rollers” in the Topeka Daily State Journal. He saw the Apostolic Faith movement as dignified and not subject to overt emotional displays. It is unknown exactly what Parham expected to find in Azusa, but he did make clear he intended to restore order and exert his authority as a leader of the movement.

Parham's Reaction to Azusa

Parham arrived in late October of 1907. He immediately tried to crack down on what he felt were overly emotional displays of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. However, many members of the Azusa Street ministry took offense to Parham’s authoritative attitude. Without waiting to be introduced, Parham walked to the front of the congregation and declared, “God is sick to his stomach!” (Shumway 178-179). This was insulting to the Azusa Street followers who felt they were divinely inspired. They had been in operation for over a year, thus they quickly saw Parham as an “outsider” who wanted to come in and “correct” their revival. Seymour saw himself as continuing Parham's legacy, but many of the congregants saw the movement as their own.

In addition to the emotional displays, Parham was severely disturbed by the level of racial equality shown by participants. “Parham had demonstrated sensitivity to the spiritual needs of blacks; however he was hardly an advocate for racial equality" (Goff 131). As was typical of the majority of whites at the turn of the century, Parham held an assumption of white superiority and a fear of miscegenation, which would diminish the purity of their bloodlines. The Anglo-Israel theory convinced Parham white Anglo-Saxons had a unique position in God’s plan and thus racial purity needed to be protected. He favored race mixing only under controlled conditions. What he saw at Azusa transformed his paternalistic racism into a harsher and more blatant variety. Parham would go on to be a fierce segregationist and a supporter of the KKK.

Parham’s other major concern with Azusa was the lack of verifiable xenoglossia. He accused some of the participants of “babbling” or using other methods of trickery. Because speaking in tongues was believed by Parham to serve a direct missionary purpose, anything failing to resemble a foreign language was deemed suspicious. 

Azusa Street Group Photo

Azusa Street Group Photograph, circa 1908. William Seymour is seated in the middle of the group.

The Rejection of Parham

After preaching only two or three sermons, Parham was rejected by the Azusa community and forced to leave. He set up a rival mission in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union building on the corner of Broadway and Temple street. This endeavor claimed two to three hundred former Azusa participants. Still, this was a pale imitation of what Parham had envisioned when he came to Los Angeles. Feeling his work in the city was at a standstill, he asked Warren Faye Carothers, a prominent follower from Texas to assume leadership in California while he returned to Zion City.

Seymour severed all ties with Parham and the parent organization, establishing Azusa as the independent Apostolic Faith Mission.

The new Apostolic Faith Mission began issuing credentials and recognized the ordination of many ministers. According to Larry Martin,  while "these early Pentecostal ministers were highly suspect of any organization and especially hierarchical authority, they gladly accepted ordination because it gave them a discount with the railroads" (Martin 271). A majority of Pentecostal leaders were trained directly by or had some connection to the Apostolic Faith Mission.

A Leaderless Movement

Seymour specifically declared that Parham was "not the leader of this movement of Azusa mission" (Hayford and Moore 86). He argued they were a movement without a human fonder and it was The Holy Spirit who was the true founder and Projector of the movement. Seymore saw himself as the humble pastor of the flock. The interpretation of Pentecostalism as being "a movement without a man" (Gee 27), shaped early Pentecostals and continues today.

Under Seymour, the Azusa Street revival continued for three years, though the number of participants rose and fell significantly over time. There were always considerably more visitors than core members, which never reached greater than 50-60 members. As other centers of Pentecostalism were established, Azusa began to fade in both importance and memory.  

In an effort to combat claims he craved power, Parham resigned his position as Projector of the Apostolic Faith. Instead, he situated himself as a general evangelist. However, it is clear from his writings, Parham desired leadership, was frustrated at losing it, and hoped to gain it back. Seymore was content to not be seen as the leader of this movement, but Parham craved recognition.

Gee, Donald. “Movement Without a Man,” Christian Life 28 (July 1966): 27–29.

Goff, James R. Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

Hayford, Jack W., and David S. Moore. The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival. New York: Warner Faith, 2006.

Martin, Larry Jay. The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour: And a History of the Azusa Street Revival. Joplin, MO: Christian Life Books, 1999.

Shumway, Charles William. “The Gift of Tongues.” University of Southern California, 1914.

Topeka Daily State Journal July 25, 1906.

The Fall of Parham
Parham's Visit to Azusa