'Feast of fire' revival still burns


Ministry: After five years, the "Pensacola Outpouring" continues to draw people from afar to have thier faith renewed.

June 25, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Five years ago, during a regular Sunday service on Father's Day morning, the members of Brownsville Assembly of God Church were visited by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, they believe.

As a visiting evangelist prayed over members of the congregation, people swayed and swooned under 'the influence of the Spirit.

Some wept. Some danced. Some lay prostrate. The pastor, the Rev. John Kilpatrick, says he fell to the ground, unable to move for 3 hours.

Revival had come to Brownsville, a seedy neighborhood on the west side of this Gulf Coast city.

Five years later, what has become known as the "Pensacola Outpouring" is still going. There are no overflow crowds, as there were in the first years, and the line 'to get in doesn't stretch to the Bingo Bonanza hall down the street.

But the revival is still drawing people from across the country and around the world -- the devout, the curious, the desperate --all eager to feel what Kilpatrick calls the "feast of fire."

"It revives us in the spirit. It builds our faith up," says Morris Gaines of Fitzgerald, Ga., making his 12th trip to Brownsville.

"We feel we receive impartations we can take back and share with people who haven't experienced this," he said.

The Pensacola revival is at a crossroads. The evangelist who preached at its beginning, the Rev. Steve Hill, helped shepherd it through what became six services a week, each of which usually lasts more than five hours.

Hill is moving to Dallas, saying he feels called to start a television evangelistic ministry.

"I have a burden forgetting the gospel on the airwaves," Hill told a packed congregation during his final revival sermon last week.

The Pensacola Outpouring is part of a tradition of revivalism that stretches back to the 1700s and the Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is recognized as a revival preacher.

Among Pentecostal Christians, revival is defined specifically as a profound and sustained religious awakening, often accompanied by some manifestation or "gift" of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, healings or a fainting known as being "slain in the spirit."

In this century, the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which lasted for three years beginning in 1906, started modern Pentecostalism, one of the largest and fastest-growing Christian religious movements in the world.

The Pensacola revival is one of a number of such religious phenomena sweeping the continent, including churches in Toronto and Smithton, Mo., and Baltimore's Rock City Church. But none has had the intensity and the influence of Pensacola.

After members of the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church were seized by bouts of uncontrollable laughter at the start of their revival in January 1994, leaders in the Vineyard Church movement were troubled by the strange manifestation.

The congregation was eventually expelled from the fellowship.

The Pensacola Revival has been embraced by its denomination, the 2.5 million-member Assemblies of God. Its influence is be-ing spread by Awake America pro-grams, in which Brownsville minis-ters take the revival on the road.

"The effect I've seen in Brownsville is to breathe a breath of fresh air into the Pentecostal movement in the United States," says Vinson Synan, dean of the Regent University divinity school in Virginia Beach, Va., and a historian of Pentecostalism.

"It's been accepted within the mainstream of Pentecostalism, which is unusual," he says. "The focus is more on repentance and deliverance from sin in Pensacola, while exotic manifestations were emphasized in Toronto."

That move to repentance is in full force on a Friday night, as former prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts and thieves come forward to testify about their deliverance from sin and to be immersed in a pool of water for baptism.

A woman from Dallas, tells the congregation that she accepted Jesus as her savior two years ago after she came to the revival in Pensacola.

"I have been clean and sober for two years, which is the longest time since I was 16 years old," Debbie says to whoops, clapping and shouts of "Praise Jesus" from the congregation.

Kirkland, from Pensacola, says he had been angry with God for 17 years and "pretty much medicated myself with alcohol and drugs."

But he found God in this sanctuary eight months ago, he says.

"The Holy Spirit is at work here. I know it is. I can feel it," he says. "My sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb."

Then Hill begins to preach. A drug addict and petty thief before he professed to find Jesus, Hill prowls at the altar and walks the aisles as he delivers what he calls "the hard-core Gospel."

"There has never been a time when false doctrine was more sub-tle and the devil was so busy corrupting the faith of the children of God," he says in a sermon titled "Cry Wolf," warning of false proph-ets and false doctrines.

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