100 years of faith

Pentecostal Assemblies to mark a century in Newfoundland and Labrador

Lillian Simmons lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on April 16, 2011
The first Sunday school was held in Bethesda Mission on New Gower Street in St. John’s about 1915. — Photos courtesy of Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador Archives

This Easter, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL) is celebrating 100 years in the province.

The very first Pentecostal meeting in Newfoundland was held at Bethesda Mission in St. John’s on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1911.

Since then, the denomination has grown to include specific ministries led by about 400 pastors in 124 churches throughout the province.

The church offers several annual events at its Emmanuel Convention Centre in Lewisporte and operates two senior citizens’ homes, one in Clarke’s Beach, the other in Summerford.

David Newman is working on a documentary about the church, which he’s hoping to have completed by Easter. It gives the history of the Pentecostal faith in the province and takes a look at the life of founder Alice Belle Garrigus (1858-1949), the Bethesda Mission as a single entity and the Bethesda Pentecostal Church.

Newman is one of six chaplains of mixed faiths at Memorial University Chaplaincy. He’s also served as a youth pastor, was lead pastor at Cornerstone Mission in downtown St. John’s, and spent time working with the church ministry in Bay Roberts.

“I enjoy the academic environment at the university, the cross-pollination of ideas between philosophy and religion,” he says, while taking a few moments to chat Tuesday during an event called 10,000 Villages.

This is the third year 10,000 Villages has been held at the university. Hosted by the chaplaincy, profits from the sale of fair-trade arts and craft items go back to artisans from more than 30 developing countries.

Newman says he finds there’s a lot more interest in spirituality on campus today than when he was a student back in the 1980s.

“The young people have a lot of energy. They have no problem being scientific and yet open to spiritual things.”

He gets great enjoyment from  the university culture, working with young adults both intellectually and spiritually.

“I don’t believe in being forceful or arrogant,” he says. “There are many wonderful professors very strong in their faith, whatever it is. I find it’s an incredible and very satisfying place to work.”

He hosts services at the Mosaic University Chapel where, with an “unplugged” band, contemporary worship songs and poetry in a coffee house setting, “there’s always lots of opportunity for people to engage with each other.”

“Some folks may think if everyone was educated no one would believe in God or spirituality,” he reflects. “On campus, there are many academics in various disciplines that are outstanding in their field and yet very dedicated to their Christian or other beliefs, not only on a student level, but many professors as well.”

MUN has a student population of 18,000 encompassing any number of religions.

“We do everything we can to help them access resources to assist in their spiritual needs.”

A brief history

Burton Janes of Bay Roberts served for 15 years as historian/archivist with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In an email interview, he explains how the movement first got its start in the United States.

“The Pentecostal movement, as it was known in its earliest days, emerged in 1901,” he says.

“Charles Fox Parham, along with his Bible school students in Kansas and Texas, taught that the experience of personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is to be followed by a second experience known as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

The baptism is accompanied by speaking in tongues, which is called the “initial physical evidence” of spirit baptism.

According to Janes, it’s this primary teaching that has traditionally distinguished Pentecostals from other Christians.

The teaching gained momentum through William Joseph Seymour, an African-American minister, at a mission in Los Angeles in 1906. His church newspaper, The Apostolic Faith, spread news of the movement throughout the world.

First meeting

It was only 10 years after the movement emerged that the first mission meeting was held in St. John’s, conducted by another American, William D. Fowler.

However, it is Alice Belle Garrigus who is recognized as the founder of the Pentecostal Church in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Janes says Garrigus, also an American, “had come to Newfoundland in response to what she believed was a divine call. She was 52 when she arrived in Newfoundland late in December 1910.”

Garrigus was accompanied by William Fowler and his wife. But within a few years, Fowler returned home due to ill health and “Bethesda Mission became undeniably Garrigus’ domain.”

Although he cannot find exact records on how many people attended that first meeting, Janes assumes “it must have caught on fairly quickly, at least in the capital city,” because about two years later the mission required an extension to its building.

In 1922, a team from Bethesda went to Clarke’s Beach and established a mission there.

“Other communities followed,” Janes says. “One interesting tidbit of information from the very earliest days is that Joey Smallwood attended Bethesda Mission as a boy. His mother worshipped there as well. When an extension was being added to the mission, he helped as a water boy for the workers.”

Janes says it appears throughout Smallwood’s life he had a soft spot for evangelicals in general and Pentecostals in particular and regarded Garrigus as one of his religious heroines.

Meanwhile, not far from Clarke’s Beach in the community of Victoria, Eugene Vaters (1898-1984) had started an independent Pentecostal mission that later amalgamated with Garrigus’ Bethesda Mission.

“He was a Methodist minister who felt his church had become theologically liberal. Eventually he attended a Pentecostal college in New York, subsequently returning to his hometown,” Janes says, and started the mission, which merged with Bethesda in 1924.

In 1925, the Bethesda Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland was formally registered with the government as a denomination.

“Later, the word Bethesda was dropped and later still, in 2007, the denomination became known as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Two laymen, Charles L. March and Herbert Eddy, are credited with having spread Pentecostalism to western Newfoundland in 1925, and by 1927 Pentecostals in eastern and western Newfoundland had merg­ed.

The denomination’s missionaries first went overseas in 1928, when Newman and Gwendolyn LeShana were sent to India.

To Labrador

In 1932, Labrador was introduced to Pentecostalism by pastors travelling there on a boat called the Gospel Messenger.

“For pastors in the early days who enjoyed sailing, the opportunity to get aboard a vessel and travel to Labrador must have been a happy event,” says Janes.

“There is a certain sense of nostalgia when one thinks about early clergymen, of any denomination, sailing with their message to far-flung places off the beaten track.”

He recounts how the church was “accidentally” established in Griquet in 1932, when Pastors William Gillett and D. Claude Young were en route to Labrador.

“They ran out of gas off Griquet Point. So they called in at Griquet to replenish their fuel supply. While they were there, they held meetings and, in effect, established a church.”

100 years

During the Easter Weekend, the Pentecostal Assemblies will celebrate its 100th anniversary with services to be held at the St. John’s Convention Centre and Bethesda/Elim in St. John’s.

“We’ve been planning these events for some time now,” says Paul Foster, the assemblies’ general superintendent.

Easter weekend celebrations will begin with a Good Friday service at

7 p.m. on April 22. The keynote speaker will be David Wells, general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

There will be a 2 p.m. children’s service on Saturday, followed at 2:30 p.m. by a plaque ceremony at the site of the very first service on New Gower Street.

Steve Osmond, St. John’s native and lead pastor of First Assembly Church in Calgary, will be the guest speaker at the youth/young adult service at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

On Sunday, there will be a 10 a.m. celebration service where David Wells will again speak, while the 6 p.m. celebration service will feature Osmond as keynote speaker.

On June 5, another celebration is planned at Windsor Pentecostal Church in Grand Falls-Windsor.

“We are still in the planning process for other areas, but at all our functions throughout the year we will be highlighting the anniversary,” Foster says.

“After a century, our desire is to continue our confidence in the gospel of Christ, to continually realize the power of the gospel, to proclaim it with authority and passion and to live it practically in the community on a daily basis.

“Our desire is to impact our culture with a redemptive message of a loving saviour, Jesus Christ.”