Life & Soul

Heretic of the week: William J Seymour

William J Seymour

William J Seymour (1870-1922) was born in Franklin, Louisiana, to a former slave couple. Although baptised Catholic in his home town’s Assumption Church, as a child he followed his parents out of the faith into the Baptist Church.

At the time the federal government’s Freedmen’s Bureau – in addition to teaching the newly emancipated African Americans skills necessary to live after slavery – was attempting to seduce the Catholics among them into the Protestant faith of their choice (the Bureau of Indian Affairs was attempting the same).

In 1895, Seymour moved north to Indianapolis, joined a Methodist Church, and underwent a born-again experience. He joined the Holiness Movement that was sweeping American Methodism. It held that Christian perfection was possible in this world through belief in non-sectarianism, faith-healing, foot-washing, the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and plain living.

Moving to various cities and picking up different views from different Holiness-oriented ministers and Bible students, Seymour ended up in Houston in 1905, working with Rev Charles Parham, who had come to believe that the Holy Spirit was about to deliver the gift of tongues to those who were ready. After being trained for the ministry by the white Parham, Seymour accepted a call the following year to minister in Los Angeles. As with Parham’s flock, Seymour’s was integrated – something that raised eyebrows in those days. Initially, he preached at various houses and churches in LA, all the while leading his flock in praying for the baptism with the Spirit, from whence would come the tongues and various other gifts the Apostles had known.

On April 12, 1906, Seymour began to speak in tongues, and moved his services to a former stable on Azusa Street. Thus the Pentecostalist faith was born. Seymour remained pastor there until his death.