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Religion Library: Holiness and Pentecostal

Sacred Space

Written by: Arlene Sanchez Walsh

Like most non-liturgical Protestants, Pentecostals do not have a defined sense of sacred space. For Pentecostals, sacred spaces have been most evident in historic places for the movement (Azusa Street and Bonnie Brae Street), as well as in places that have healing associated with them, such as healing rooms and revival spaces. Unlike many other Christians, Pentecostals are loathe to place any significance in the material space and place itself, preferring to focus instead on the presence of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit, not wanting to give credit to any objects that may be used as channels for the supernatural.

Certain places merit a pilgrimage, but those places do not have spiritual value in themselves.  They are significant only because they represent markers of sacred historical memory for Pentecostals.  There are other places that can become "sacred" by their use, as were the rooms in houses or churches set aside for healing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The rooms themselves, however, are merely utilitarian meeting spaces and have no spiritual value.

Pilgrimages for Pentecostals do not have the same significance that they do for other Christians, though pilgrimages in Pentecostal history are common.  The most significant pilgrimage site was the original Azusa Street Mission from 1906-1909.  People gathered there from around the world to experience what many thought was the last revival before the second coming of Jesus.  When Azusa Street was torn down and eventually replaced by the Japanese American Culture and Community Center in downtown Los Angeles, pilgrimages to the spot where the church used to be continued, reaching a peak during the 100th year anniversary in 2006.  The original meeting house on Bonnie Brae Street receives fewer visitors than the Azusa Street Mission location, but it appears to be much more like a pilgrimage site. Now in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, it has become a museum of sorts as well as a place for corporate prayer.  This small house on a busy street has been the site of many prayer meetings that have spilled out into the street.  Pilgrims come from around the world to see where the Spirit was poured out.  

Pilgrimages to sacred spaces specific to denominational traditions, such as Aimee McPherson's Angelus Temple (Foursquare Gospel) or Charles H. Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ), offer followers the chance to reconnect with the early icons of the Pentecostal movement by visiting their "spiritual homes." Aimee Semple McPherson was a Canadian-born evangelist who founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in 1924 in Los Angeles.  McPherson was the one of the most important and visible leaders of the Pentecostal movement from the 1920s until her death in 1944.  Along with founding her own denomination, she also was the first woman who owned and operated a radio station in the western U.S. (KFSG).

At Angelus Temple, some of McPherson's personal items are on display in a museum located on the side of the church. There are films and photos, and the room that served as a healing room is kept intact and guarded by tour guides who are there to vouch for the veracity of the healing claims, as well as guard against inappropriate questions regarding McPherson's controversial life.  The healing room reminds one of the pictures of Lourdes, where people have left their crutches, eyeglasses, braces, and wheelchairs behind as a testament to the healing power of the place where the virgin Mary was said to have appeared in 1858 and whose waters are considered to have healing properties.

Mason Temple serves a different purpose in that it is part of the historic black church. Most of early Church of God in Christ (COGIC) history was lost in a fire in 1937, therefore reconstructing that history has become a goal of utmost importance for COGIC scholars. Today Mason Temple in Memphis (there are dozens COGIC churches with that name) is the seat of COGIC leadership and is as important to COGIC members as Azusa Street.  It  hosts the yearly "holy convocation," an installation service for new leaders, and as such is considered to be the "mother" church for the denomination. Its primary significance is due not to its history as a place of origins or healing, but to its relevance for African American Pentecostals.  Mason Temple was the last place Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before his assassination. Former President Bill Clinton addressed the convocation in 1993. Mainline African American churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Baptists, who were at the forefront of civil rights work in the 1960s, had historically viewed Black Pentecostals as insufficiently committed to an activist social justice agenda. The MLK speech helped solidify African American Pentecostals' place as a part of the mainstream civil rights movement.

Places where healing takes place, namely healing rooms and revival spaces, can be considered sacred spaces for Pentecostals.  The Toronto Revival of the 1990s revived the concept of healing rooms, and Toronto itself became a part of the Pentecostal pilgrimage circuit. The Toronto healing rooms started as places where specialized times and space for healing prayer occurred outside the confines of the often chaotic revival at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (formerly the Toronto Airport Vineyard).  Healing rooms, inspired by Toronto, grew into a network of hundreds across the U.S. and Canada.

Other healing room movements developed at the same time, and currently there is a network of International Healing Rooms that counts over 1000 affiliates and traces their heritage back to Pentecostal pioneer John. G. Lake. Lake, who received the baptism of the Spirit at Azusa Street in 1907, became a missionary in South Africa where he founded the Apostolic Faith Mission. Later he returned to the U.S. and opened healing rooms in Washington state.