The Centennial of the Assemblies of God in Springfield
One hundred years ago, the Assemblies of God (AG) relocated its national office and publishing house to Springfield, Missouri. The decision in 1918 to purchase the former meat market on 434 West Pacific Street to house the national ministries of the AG resulted in Springfield becoming a ministry hub within the Fellowship. Numerous national ministries developed, including educational institutions, missions agencies, a retirement community, and various church and para-church ministries.
Could the 1918 move to Springfield have been a fulfillment of a vision from God? Five years earlier, in 1913, Pentecostal evangelist Rachel Sizelove had a vision of a “sparkling fountain” in the heart of Springfield. At the time, Pentecostals in the Ozarks city were struggling to establish a church, but Sizelove’s vision foresaw rivers of living water that would flow from Springfield and bless all the earth.
Looking back at the history of the Pentecostal movement in Springfield, early AG leaders could see the hand of God. They sensed that the history unfolding before them would be important to future generations.
1907: From Azusa Street to the Ozarks
Like many revivals throughout Christian history, the Pentecostal movement in Springfield did not originate with prominent people or in gilded edifices, but with humble, devout people who desired to be fully committed to Christ and His mission. James and Lillie Corum and their family were such people.
The Corum family moved from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Springfield in 1905. They lived in a white clapboard farmhouse, located on East Division Street. James initially worked as a telegraph operator for the Frisco railroad and later as a freight office supervisor. Lillie cared for their four children — Hazel (Bakewell), Artemus, Fred, and Paul.
The Corum family had their first taste of Pentecost on a rainy day in late May 1907. Fred and Hazel were playing on the front porch when they saw their aunt, Rachel Sizelove, pull up to the house in a taxi. Rachel and her husband, Joseph, lived in California and had become active in the interracial Azusa Street Mission, which was a focal point in the emerging Pentecostal revival.
What happened next was burned into young Fred’s memory: “From behind Mother’s apron, I saw Aunt Rachel step through our doorway. Her face was aglow and her countenance was radiant. Her hands were uplifted, and she was speaking in a heavenly language.”
Sizelove and the other family members sat down in the parlor. Fred remembered that they talked about a single topic: “What was God doing in Los Angeles at Azusa Street?”
The Sizeloves were baptized in the Holy Spirit at the Azusa Street Mission in July 1906. They had served as Free Methodist evangelists since the 1890s. However, this Pentecostal experience changed their lives and ministries. At Azusa Street, they joined black and white Pentecostals who tarried at the makeshift altar and prayed for each other. An intense sense of God’s presence and love prevailed. Rachel described how the baptism in the Holy Spirit gave her a new sense of “the holy presence of God” and how the voice of the Lord grew clearer while the voices of the world grew distant. The Sizeloves found spiritual depth and vitality, and they encouraged others to likewise seek all that God had for them.
In May 1907, Rachel sensed God call her to visit her siblings and mother in the Midwest and tell them about her experience. Rachel was only in Springfield for a brief time before she returned to Los Angeles, where she had committed to work at an upcoming camp meeting. But she succeeded in sowing a Pentecostal seed. Early in the morning, on June 1, 1907, in an all-night prayer meeting, Lillie Corum became the first known person to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Springfield.
The Corum family formed the nucleus of what became the first Pentecostal congregation in Springfield (now Central Assembly of God). When Lillie Corum received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, she discovered that she had a newfound empowerment to share her Christian faith.
Lillie told her neighbors and friends about her Pentecostal experience and, one by one, others also received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For the next several years the small but growing band of Pentecostals held cottage meetings in the Corum home and, on occasion, held special evangelistic meetings in tents and rented halls. Lillie gathered the flock and served as its unofficial leader. In 1914, the congregation elected its first pastor, a Sister Sloan (her first name has been lost to history).
1918: The AG Moves to Springfield
As World War I came to a close, the small band of Pentecostals in Springfield remained united in purpose, yet without a permanent church building of their own. All this changed in 1918 when reinforcements came. The national office of the AG, then located in downtown St. Louis, needed a larger place for its ministries and printing operation.
AG leaders began looking for a new location. Having received a gift for expansion purposes in the spring of 1918, AG leaders searched for a building in St. Louis but found nothing suitable.
Having learned of low real estate values in Springfield, Chairman J. W. Welch and E. N. Bell went to investigate the possibilities. With the assistance of a local police officer, Harley A. Hinkley, they found several buildings which had promise for future development. Officer Hinkley personally escorted the men as they looked at several buildings on or near Commercial Street. The men finally settled on a building at the corner of Pacific and Lyon, which housed a wholesale grocery company.
Welch and Bell were impressed with the building, and the policeman referred them to the owner, C. O. Sperry, who offered the building for sale for $3,200 — which was $200 more than the men were willing to pay. They were adamant that they would not pay more, and the owner stayed firm on his offer. Amazingly, when members of the Commercial Club heard about the situation, a number of the local businessmen pitched in money to help the AG be able to purchase the building. They seemed to feel the AG would be good for the city. After Welch and Bell conferred with the Executive Presbytery, J. Roswell Flower was authorized to oversee the move which was completed in June 1918.
The original two-story building had 45-by-65 square feet of floor space. The ground floor was used for the printing operation. Rooms on the second floor were readily adapted for offices without the need for remodeling. Adjoining property was purchased later to permit expansion of the plant. Growth came so rapidly that additions were made to the original building on five occasions until by the late 1940s it became apparent that larger facilities were needed.
Fulfillment of Two Prophetic Events
Early AG leaders recounted two events that seemed to prophesy that the Assemblies of God would relocate its national office to Springfield.
The first prophetic event happened toward the middle of August 1913, when Rachel Sizelove returned to visit the Corum family. While in prayer one afternoon, she saw a vision of a “beautiful, bubbling, sparkling fountain in the heart of the City of Springfield.” The fountain sprang up gradually and began to flow to the east, west, north, and south until soon “the whole land was deluged with living water.”
Afterwards, she came into the dining room, and the Corum children later recalled seeing “a holy glow upon her countenance.” “I’ve been in the presence of the Lord,” she declared, “and I saw the Lord sounding a bugle for the angels of heaven to go and do battle for the city of Springfield.” She reported that she then saw the angels come down to battle and conquer. She said the Lord spoke to her: “I’m going to do a mighty work in Springfield that will astound the world.”
This vision occurred a year before the brethren met together in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to form the AG in April 1914, and five years before the AG moved to Springfield.
After Rachel Sizelove identified with the Pentecostal movement, she initially was opposed to church structure and organization such as was found in the AG. Her views changed as she saw the fulfillment of this vision: “But when I think of the vision the Lord brought before me of the waters flowing out from Springfield I have to say surely the General Council at Springfield, Missouri, is of God.”
The second prophetic event centers around the prayers of five boys who claimed two blocks of property for God.
After a New Year’s Eve watchnight service that concluded on Jan. 1, 1915, Fred and Paul Corum and three other boys started walking home toward the Corum farmhouse. One boy suggested they could save time if they took a shortcut and went across White City Park.
White City Park was a large, fenced-in amusement park that took up one city block, bounded by Boonville and Campbell Avenues and Lynn and Division Streets. It was similar to a carnival and included a large roller coaster and was not being used at the time. It had a bad reputation because of burlesque performances, vaudeville acts, a pool hall, and ballroom dancing. The boys knew it was a wicked place, and they felt like they were crossing into the devil’s territory.
Fred Corum recounted the following narrative:
One of the boys in the group said, “This place is unclean.”
Another asked, “Do you suppose it could ever belong to God?”
Then Laurel Taliaferro, the oldest of the boys, said in faith, “Let’s claim it for the Lord.”
So the boys agreed, and there beneath the stars, they knelt and started praying.
One boy said, “How much shall we claim?” Another said, “Let’s claim the whole block.”
Paul Corum said, “Let’s claim the other block too—from Boonville to Campbell and from Division to Calhoun.”
Fred Corum spoke up and said, “We shouldn’t take the greenhouse at the corner of Boonville and Calhoun. We sold
peaches to the people living there, and they are nice people.”
Laurel said, “Why not? God will take care of them. Let’s claim it all.”
In the early morning hours of the New Year, the boys prayed fervently that the two blocks of land would be used for God’s purposes.
The property did not change hands overnight. Several years later the first property was turned into a baseball park called White City Park. During the 1930s and early 1940s, White City Park was the scene of minor league baseball. Some of baseball’s greats such as Joe Garagiola, Stan Musial, and Mickey Owen played on this field. The home team, the Springfield Cardinals, was a minor league team owned by the St. Louis Cardinals. White City Park closed during World War II since eligible men were needed for the war cause.
At the 1945 General Council, the AG fellowship, recognizing the growing needs of the national office, unanimously authorized the construction of a new publishing plant and an office building to house administrative offices. As it turned out, the old White City Park, a choice site of five acres on Boonville Avenue, was available, and the AG purchased it for $35,000.
New printing facilities for the Gospel Publishing House were erected on the former White City Park property with the construction completed in 1949. A new four-story administration building, almost as long as a city block, attached to the printing facilities and facing Boonville Avenue, was completed in January 1962. A six-story distribution center was added to the Campbell side of the complex in 1972, followed by a shipping warehouse in 1980. For a period of time, the Southern Missouri District Council office also was located in that same block on a building at the northeast corner of Campbell and Lynn.
Lessons from History
Several themes emerge from these vignettes about the early Pentecostal movement in Springfield. First, the Holy Spirit empowered women to serve in leadership roles. Rachel Sizelove brought the Pentecostal message from Azusa Street to Springfield. The first person to be Spirit-baptized in Springfield under her ministry, Lillie Corum, gathered a flock and served as the first unofficial pastor of what became Central Assembly of God. The first elected pastor, Sister Sloan, was also a woman, although little is known about her.
Second, early Pentecostals in Springfield sensed that they were part of God’s unfolding divine plan. They witnessed the fulfillment of two highly improbable visions — that a sparkling fountain of living water would flow from Springfield to the ends of the earth, and that White City Park would be dedicated to God’s work.
Third, the intensity of the spiritual lives of the early Springfield Pentecostals set them apart from the world and from other Christians. They encouraged full consecration to Christ and His mission, they practiced biblical spiritual gifts in a way that pointed people to Christ, they viewed prayer as an essential part of their lives, and they learned to become dependent on God.
When Rachel Sizelove visited the Corum family in 1907, she knew that she was following God’s leading. However, she could not have imagined that she was helping to lay the foundation for the national offices, schools, and countless ministries of the Assemblies of God, a fellowship that would play a significant role in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.