March 1, 2014

​Pentecostal Groups Agree to Bridge a Century-old Racial Divide

 ©2014 Religion News Service

When he was a boy, the Pastor Thomas Barclay
noticed a difference between the worshippers of his small Pentecostal
denomination and churches he visited of the larger Assemblies of God.

“Why are they all white and we’re all black?” he
asked his father.

After a racial divide that lasted for nearly a
century, the two denominations, the Assemblies of God and the United
Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God (UPCAG), have agreed to a new

Four years ago, after Barclay was elected as head
of the UPCAG, he wrote a letter to George O. Wood, the general superintendent
of the 65 million-member Assemblies of God. “I felt the Lord saying to me,
‘I’ve put you in this office to do a job,’” Barclay recalled. “I asked Him what
it was, and he told me to write this letter to the Assemblies of God.”

At a Feb. 11 service at the Assemblies of God headquarters
in Springfield, Missouri, Barclay and Wood signed a 12-point agreement to build
cooperation that includes introducing their churches to each other and sharing
resources, including the Assemblies of God Credit Union.

Wood said he didn’t even know the group existed
until he received Barclay’s letter. That’s when he learned that in 1917, a
missionary couple who had sought support to travel to Liberia were refused by
the Assemblies of God — which had started three years earlier — because they
were “colored.”

In 1919, a group of black New England churches
started the UPCAG and sent that missionary couple to Africa. Learning that
history “pained me a great deal,” said Wood, who said he “apologized several
times” to the UPCAG leaders.

“It’s just tragic that there was that epoch in
America where the church caved in to the culture rather than transforming the
culture,” he said.

Now, after leaders spent time getting to know
each other, the much larger Assemblies of God hopes to learn more about urban
ministry from the UPCAG and welcome its members to join in youth Bible quiz
competitions, fine arts festivals, and missions outreach.

The UPCAG has about 70 predominantly black
churches in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Liberia. The Assemblies of God has
360,000 churches worldwide; about 300 Assemblies congregations in the U.S. are
predominantly black.

In recent decades, there have been other signs of
improved race relations among Pentecostals — who came together for the
interracial Azusa Street Revival in 1906 and then mostly went their separate
ways. In 1994, black and white Pentecostals met together for the so-called
Memphis Miracle. Last November, officials of the predominantly black Church of
God in Christ met with leaders of the Assemblies of God in Springfield in their
first official dialogue.

Both Barclay and Wood agreed that the new
cooperation would be something short of a merger. But the memo of understanding
between the two sides states their hopes that it will allow “the body of Christ
to become more united and effective before a watching world.”

“I believe that something wonderful and powerful
is going to happen as a result of us coming together, working together for the
kingdom,” said Barclay, his church’s international presiding elder.

Added Wood: “It’s very healing to us that they
come with such a gracious attitude and even initiated the action when we were
the ones that did the wrong.”