In November, the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center honored Dr. Estrelda Y. Alexander with the Spirit of Azusa Award. The Research Center presented the award during its Sixteenth Annual Azusa Lecture held at North Cleveland Church of God’s Dixon Chapel. Both the presentation of the Spirit of Azusa Award and the Azusa Lecture highlighted the significance of ethnic minorities in the Pentecostal Movement.
The Research Center presents the Spirit of Azusa Award in recognition of a person whose lifetime of ministry reflects the Pentecostal Movement’s spirit of renewal. Together, the Azusa Lecture and Spirit of Azusa Award celebrate the rich heritage of the global Pentecostal movement.
In honoring Alexander, Dixon Pentecostal Research Center Director David G. Roebuck began his comments, “First, and foremost, Dr. Alexander is a preacher of the Gospel. The Church of God has recognized the call of God on her life and has ordained her as a minister. She has served as pastor of congregations in Virginia and Maryland. She is a God-called preacher who has persevered in a world that too often closes rather than opens doors for women and for people of color. Yet, when doors were closed, God opened other doors.”
Roebuck described Alexander as a champion for minority voices; a leader among scholars, having served as president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and having received the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award; and, an entrepreneur serving small businesses and non-profit organizations. Roebuck also highlighted Alexander’s attention to preserving historical and cultural documents, records, and artifacts of the Pentecostal Movement through the Seymour Pan-African Pentecostal Archives as well as her developing opportunities for Pentecostal scholars to publish through her establishment of Seymour Press and the forthcoming Journal of Pan-African Pentecostalism.
Dr. David E. Ramírez, third assistant general overseer of the Church of God and liaison to Church of God educational ministries, also applauded Dr. Alexander’s life and ministry during the Spirit of Azusa Award presentation. “I commend you for your extraordinary effort and personal sacrifices to earn a superlative education,” Dr Ramirez stated, referring to her degrees from Howard University, Columbia University (New York), Wesley Theological Seminary, and The Catholic University of America.
Ramírez pointed to Alexander’s numerous publications including Women of Azusa Street, Dictionary of Pan-African Pentecostalism, The Letter to the Seven Churches, Black Fire: 100 Years of African American Pentecostalism, which won the Society for Pentecostal Studies Book of the Year Award, and Black Fire Reader: African American Pentecostal History in their Own Voice.
Ramírez emphasized Alexander’s service to the academy as a Professor of Theology at Regent University and adjunct professor at numerous universities and seminaries such as Virginia Union University, Seattle Pacific University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Trinity College, and Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee. He also underscored her commitment to provide educational opportunities to underserved communities as president of the William Joseph Seymour Foundation. Finally, he thanked Alexander for her service as a member of the Church of God General Board of Education.
Prior to the Spirit of Azusa Award presentation, Dr. Dale M. Coulter presented “The Azusa Street Revival and William Seymour’s Pentecostal Vision” as the Sixteenth Annual Azusa Lecture. Coulter’s lecture focused on the theological development and vision of William Joseph Seymour, pastor of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles where many see a revival lasting from 1906 to 1909 as the beginning of the contemporary Pentecostal Movement. Coulter traced the historical and theological journey of Seymour from his native Louisiana to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Houston, and Los Angeles. Along the way, the holiness preacher transformed into a Pentecostal pioneer with an emphasis on love transcending racial divisions and barriers. Crucial to the history of the Church of God, is the account of G. B. Cashwell, who traveled to Los Angeles and later preached the Pentecostal Message at North Cleveland Church of God. During Cashwell’s ministry at North Cleveland, A. J. Tomlinson, pastor and soon-to-be Church of God general overseer, received his Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
In introducing Coulter, Assistant General Overseer Dr. J. David Stephens noted his years as an educator at Lee University, Regent University, and Pentecostal Theological Seminary, where he now serves as Professor of Historical Theology. At both Lee University and Regent University, Coulter received the Excellence in Scholarship Award. A prolific author, Coulter published Holiness: The Beauty of Perfection, and he co-edited The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition and Trinity and Creation. In addition to serving as president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Coulter was co-editor of Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. With numerous articles in popular and academic journals, he contributes regularly to the online publications First Things and Firebrand Magazine. Coulter is an ordained bishop in the Church of God.
The Azusa Lecture program included worship led by Lee University’s Evangelistic Singers and a benediction by Church of God Intercultural Advancement Ministries Director Bishop Doyle P. Scott. Roebuck also acknowledged the generosity of contributors who made the lecture and award presentation possible, particularly the Lead Sponsor, Pastor Niko Njotorahardjo and the Gereja Bethel Indonesia “Jalan Gatot Subroto” congregation in Jakarta. Founded in 1988, today this ministry includes 300,000 members, 8,200 Community of Love groups, and 1,200 branch congregations in 19 nations.
The Dixon Pentecostal Research Center launched the annual lecture and award in 2006 on the centennial of the renowned Azusa Street revival in Lost Angeles. What started as a home prayer meeting attracted throngs of seekers as hundreds traveled to the Azusa Street Mission, received a personal baptism with the Holy Spirit, and took that message to their homes, churches, and communities. The Pentecostal Movement quickly became a great missionary movement, and the twentieth century came to be called the “Century of the Holy Spirit.”
Founded as a research library by Charles W. Conn on the campus of Lee University, the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center is one of the world’s premier collections of Pentecostal resources as well as the archives of the Church of God. Numerous students and scholars use the center’s holdings related to the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement. Roebuck serves as director, and the Reverend David “Gene” Mills, Jr. is archivist.
August 19 is the birthday of the Church of God. On this day in 1886, a small group gathered at a gristmill along Barney Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee—not far from the Coker Creek stop on the well-traveled Unicoi Turnpike.
According to Dr. David Roebuck, director of the Pentecostal Research Center and Church of God historian, on that summer Thursday, 135 years ago, Richard Green Spurling, “preached a sermon on God’s church and invited his hearers to set aside man-made creeds and traditions, to adopt the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice, to give equal rights to interpret Scripture according to one’s own conscience, and to sit together as the church of God.”
Eight responded to Spurling’s invitation, including his father, Richard Spurling, who as an ordained Baptist elder had the ecclesial authority to set a church in order and to moderate their business meeting. They called themselves Christian Union—signaling a rejection of separatism and exclusivism they had experienced in other churches.
A few days later, Elder Spurling ordained his son as their first pastor, and over the following decade or so, Richard Green Spurling organized other Christian Union congregations in nearby communities.
Although none of those original mountain congregations have survived until 2021, Richard Green Spurling’s vision, first proclaimed alongside an Appalachian mountain creek, now reaches more than 7,600,000 members globally, who worship in more than 40,000 congregations, in 185 nations and territories of the world.
For the earliest publication of this account, see A. J. Tomlinson, “The Last Great Conflict” (Cleveland, Tenn.: Press of Walter E. Rodgers, 1913; reprinted White Wing Publishing House, 1984 and 2011).
Church Historian, David G. Roebuck, posted this video. Church of God General Overseer Tim Hill also posted a greeting about the birthday of the Church of God and it can be viewed by clicking here.