Worlds collide at Azusa Now: Catholics, Pentecostals, Evangelicals together

On Saturday April 9th, 2016 – the 110th Anniversary of the Pentecostal Azusa Street Rival in Los Angeles –  Pastor Lou Engle of TheCall ministry (Pasadena, Calif.) gathered an estimated 70,000-90,000 Christians and church leaders from all over the United States to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for what may soon be called the beginning of a new wave of spiritual renewal and reconciliation in the Body of Christ – U.S.A.  By 4 am, thousands were lined up outside the Coliseum waiting for the best free seats to view the opening ceremonial prayer, which started at 7 am.

In 1999, from his then home-base in Kansas City, Missouri, the Charismatic-Evangelical Pastor began to organize the first of these large gatherings that would grow into a series of stadium-events hosted with the hope of unleashing a “Joel 2 outpouring” of the Holy Spirit, that would become known as TheCall.

Blow the horn in Zion,
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming!
Yes, it approaches,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of thick clouds!
Like dawn spreading over the mountains,
a vast and mighty army!
Nothing like it has ever happened in ages past,
nor will the future hold anything like it,
even to the most distant generations.” – Book of Joel, Chapter Two: verses 1-2

With the weather not cooperating in typical sunny Southern California fashion, it was indeed “a day of thick clouds” and intermittent showers falling on the hungry crowds that sounded just like a “vast and mighty army”. Their hunger was spiritual, evident from the excitement onstage, to the testimonials of miraculous faith-healings, to the bathroom and concession-line politeness that you can only expect from a stadium full of some 70,000 Christians,  who refused to leave in the rain.

Can we call them the “best of the best?” Well maybe that is my opinion, but it is safe to conclude they were the hungry, the determined, and the thirsty – longing for the manifestation of God’s Spirit in their own lives and on our nation.

Shalom World Media was there to broadcast the event to the Catholic world, along with God TV and other Christian media channels. “It was the first time ever that a [mostly] Protestant-Christian event would be broadcasted on Catholic television”, remarked Mark Mc Elrath of Orange County Catholics at Work, who emceed the broadcast along with Kevin Kast formerly of the L.A. Archdiocese Office of Life, Justice and Peace, who is now an independent media producer.

Keith Major, co-founder of Major Change in Steubenville, Ohio, worked in tandem with McElrath to invite Southern California Catholic leaders to the anniversary revival, which included Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, auxiliary bishop of the San Gabriel Region.

Major worked with Engle’s ministry, TheCall, after serving for a decade on the mission field in Russia, Poland and Middle East, establishing communities in other countries with Vineyard. The Majors reverted to Catholic-Christianity in 2010 and Keith worked for the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Now, they hope to mobilize Catholics in collaborative efforts for ministry with Protestant-Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics. In December 2015, MajorChange joined Onething 2015 conference, organized by Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri and presented the first ever Catholic Ecumenical Track during their annual Onething Conference.

Mike Bickle enthusiastically shared his testimony with me while dodging heavy rain drops by standing under the cover of an outdoor kitchen canopy by the green-room tent. “My father was a rough-and-tumble champion boxer”, reminisced Bickle. “When I was fourteen years old, I came to him and told him I wanted to be part of a religion. I would look up in the sky at the stars and think that God, the creator of all that, was just amazing. My dad gave me the choice of becoming Jewish or Catholic because ‘the Jews had a lot of money and the Catholics were the biggest’, in Dad’s opinion,” he said. Mike eventually chose Catholic, and in his youth attended other denomination’s youth groups.

“When I was in my twenties I was asked to pastor a church and I never officially went back to the Catholic Church, but I also don’t feel like I intentionally left it either. At the House of Prayer, I encourage people to learn the teachings of the Catholic saints, as the experts on contemplative prayer, such as Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. In fact, the idea for 24-hour prayer and musical praise comes from the writings of King David; however, it was first done in the Christian church by the Catholics!” Pastor Bickle joyously expressed with his famously contagious grin.

bickle

One of the most moving moments of the day was the call for forgiveness from the uncle of Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Missouri, African-American youth who was fatally shot by Darrel Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9, 2014. Leading the crowd in a chant-like yell “FOR-GIVE-NESS” from the stage, an intense prayer was led by African-American church leaders who traveled from all over the U.S. to join with Pastors Fred and Wilma Berry of the Azusa Street Mission. After remembering the African-American preacher, William Seymour, the organizer of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, which was the origin of the American Pentecostal movement, Lou Engle then led the entire stadium to get on their knees and ask for the grace of forgiveness for all of our un-healed relationships in need of reconciliation.

Standing on stage at noon with Father Ed Benioff of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese Office of Evangelization and Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, official spokesperson for the Archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gomez, on Ecumenical Relations, this Charismatic-Evangelical-Catholic was given a most astounding view of the thousands in attendance and the behind-the-scenes, cross-denominational comradery. The highlight of my day was when Father Ed grabbed Father Alexei to turn him around fast, 180 degrees and raised his hands for him in blessing to the south (the Coliseum front gate) during a prayer for the nation, and then, turned the right reverend right back around again 180 degrees, grabbing his shoulders to force him to sway and sing like a good charismatic. Father Alexei, who is my former professor, a surfer, and an Eastern-rite, Russian Catholic pastor, turned to me and laughed whole-heartedly declaring “I like it, but it’s just not my usual style!” And this was just their warm-up.

Fathers

When the Catholic delegation moved out on front-stage for their time to lead prayer, I quickly ran behind them from the comforting fellowship of my nurturing hostess –  Lou’s wife Therese Engle (named after St. Therese) and weaved around the worship band equipment, precariously jumping sound cables to move from far stage-left to far stage right in about six seconds flat, with sincere determination to record with my cell phone the extraordinary sight. The music quieted while the constantly boisterous crowd fell to a noticeable hush as the “men-in-black”, collared Catholic priests and their friends, who were incidentally wearing black, took center-stage. Standing with my right foot about one inch from the stage drop, I looked out on the crowd to see trepidation on faces and looks of curiosity, and even a noticeable pause of breath.

Matteo Calisi, former president of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal was introduced and began to address the crowd in Italian with Dr. Bruno Ierullo of United in Christ translating:

“We are a delegation, a Catholic delegation… I come from Italy. And, I bring you a salute from 150 million Charismatic Catholics.” As the crowd cheered, Mr. Calisi then spoke about the influence of the Asuza Street Revival on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Following these remarks, he ceremoniously laid prostrate on the stage and kissed Lou Engle’s feet in an act of reconciliatory love. “We are just in a holy moment right here,” Engle emotionally cried out. Then he continued to call out the other church elders onto the stage while he fell to his knees reciprocally kissing Matteo’s feet.

AzusaNowFeet

“Jesus, I thank you! cried out Calisi while Engle kneeled before his feet, “because you are breaking the spirit of division! You are preparing a great revival in the event of this call, like you did a hundred years ago. Do it again! Do it again! Holy Spirit let your Spirit come again for a billion Catholics…”

Following his prayer, Engle introduced Father Ed Benioff, “We have a brother here who is over the effort for evangelization in this archdiocese. I want you to stretch out your hands and pray for the evangelization – the mighty evangelization of the peoples of Los Angeles.” Father Benioff came to center stage and kneeled while praying:

“Heavenly Father, you taught us through the words of St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians that the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I do not need you’. Nor can the head say to the foot ‘I do not need you’, but the truth is, we all need each other! he said.  “And Lord, we know that you want to bring revival in our world and in our nation, but we will not have revival until we have reconciliation… and as Elijah prepared Elisha and Israel for revival, first, they had to be reconciled, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and hearts of the sons to the fathers. So, Heavenly Father, it is my prayer that going forward from this historic day, we can all forgive each other. We have to forgive each other… so I say this to every person here with absolute sincerity and authenticity – I need you.”

Screenshot_2016-04-11-20-14-07

Then Father Benioff paraphrased the words of Jesus in John 17:21, “Father, Abba, Daddy, let them be one as you and I are one.” He continued, “So let us pray and work for unity, so the witness of Christ will be most powerful in our troubled world.

In the conclusion of his prayer he said, “Let us make a covenant to work together as a united family in Christ, so we can have love and reconciliation in our own, Christian family. Amen.”

On Sunday, April 10th, the day after Azusa Now, and after another gathering at the original Azusa Street site, approximately 2,000 people gathered in a Pasadena, Calif. auditorium of the William Cary International University to hear TheCall founder Lou Engle reflect on the significance of the weekend’s events. Engle commented on the historical significance of the stadium itself, the only sports arena in the United States to have held both the World Series and the Olympics, named in memorial for the good and sometimes evil sportsmanship history of the Coliseum in Rome, where Christians were martyred, and their blood was shed for their testimony of Jesus Christ.

Azusa Now_n

“Fifty nations were joined with us yesterday on God TV, commanding spiritual awakening, praying for unreached people groups. We’ve got to believe that light is breaking out. When the ecclesia of God comes together in unity around the throne, Christ, at the right hand of the Father stretches forth His rod out of Zion and rules in the midst of His enemies. I believe that enemies were falling back every place we stretched that rod out yesterday!” exclaimed Engle.

Later in the day I called Father Alexei Smith for his reflections. After we shared our mutual excitement for the events that had just transpired, I asked him this:

“Father Alexei, I know you are the official representative of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese on ecumenical events (efforts for Christian unity), so what do you see as the most significant fruits of the Catholic-Protestant interaction at Azusa Now?”

“There are two things”, he answered.  “First, this is very much in line with Pope Francis’ thinking. In his book The Joy of the Gospel, he writes about our relationship with fellow Christians and he writes these words:

‘We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust and turn our gaze to what we are seeking.’

And, that is exactly what we did in the Coliseum on Saturday”, reflected Reverend Smith.

“The other significance is the forgivingness factor: at the end of the week for Christian unity, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the ‘un-Gospel-like behavior on the part of Catholics against Christians of other churches. ‘”

Father Smith concluded, “The mutual exchange of forgiveness between Catholic and Evangelical-Christians on Saturday wondrously reflected this forgiveness.”

#Azusanow  #maywebeone  #sothattheworldwillbelieve

If you like this article, please “like” and share. Thank you.

© Copyright 2016 by Jennifer Wing Atencio, all rights reserved.

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