Archive for December, 2009

West Side Story: the Heritage of One Indianapolis Congregation

14 December, 2009

West Side Pentecostal Church is one of the oldest Apostolic assemblies in the city of Indianapolis, beginning in 1912, just a few short years after the Pentecostal message was introduced to the city. In January 1907, Bro. Glenn Cook, an evangelist from the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, began holding Pentecostal meetings in the on Shelby Street in the Fountain Square area of Indianapolis. Another evangelistic party arrived from Azusa in March, including Thomas Hezmalhalch, Fred Dexheimer, Celia Smock, and Lenora Hall. These early workers helped spread the revival, and congregations began to form throughout the city (Flower 5-6).

The roots of West Side Pentecostal Church begin with Bro. Joseph Rodgers, who opened a mission in 1912 on the corners of West Ohio and Minker Street (now Reisner Street). A Bro. Edwards served as Assistant Pastor of the fledgling congregation, and the work was called Apostolic Faith Helping Hands Mission. It is interesting to note that Bro. Rodgers chose to name the mission. Many Pentecostal assemblies were simply known only by their location, a nomenclative tradition, which grew out of early Pentecostal suspicions about denominationalism and formal organization. Bishop G.T. Haywood’s large Indianapolis church was simply known as 11th and Senate. Additionally, in August 1912, E.N. Bell published an article in Word and Witness, a widely-read Pentecostal circular, asking ministers not to use the terms “mission” or “Apostolic Faith” in their church names: “Nowhere in the Bible is a congregation of believers in Christ called a ‘mission’ nor an ‘Apostolic mission’ but we read of the ‘Church of God at Corinth.’” Bell favored “Church of God in Christ” as a suitable name, which undoubtedly reflects some of the early ministerial connections with the organization of that name (Bell 2).

Bro. Rodgers continued to lead the church that he started, and the congregation steadily grew under his leadership. Unfortunately, the pastor, who was an interior decorator by trade, was tragically killed while working on a church. The scaffolding collapsed, and he fell to his death.

Part of the church’s history is rather nebulous, but it is likely that the church joined the Assemblies of God at its formation in 1914. Following naming conventions of that fellowship, the church name became West Side Assembly Church. However, Bro. Jim Jackson, who succeeded Bro. Rodgers, must have been a key figure in moving the church into the Oneness camp when the message came to Indianapolis in 1915.

Bro. Jackson’s pastorate was followed by the ministry of Bro. Hedges, who was saved at West Side Assembly. After only a few years at the church, Bro. Hedges became ill and called on the help of Bro. Delbert Spall, a young minister from Christian Tabernacle, one of the most well-established Apostolic assemblies in Indianapolis. When Bro. Hedges went to be with the Lord on 15 July 1954, Bro. Spall became the pastor. Bro. Spall recalled that the last time Bro. Hedges ministered in the West Side pulpit, he felt the spiritual mantle from Bro. Hedges pass to him.

Bro. Delbert Spall was born in Carothersville, Indiana in 1919. As a child, Bro. Spall had attended Christian Tabernacle with his parents Freeman and Freda, a dynamic Apostolic church led by Sis. Lena Spillman. At the age of 17, Bro. Spall had an attack that brought him near to death. His family called for Sis. Spillman to come and pray. The young man received the Holy Ghost and was healed and became a faithful member of Christian Tabernacle. In 1950, Bro. Spall recognized his call to the ministry.

Bro. Spall’s wife, Mary Ellen (McMorris) also has a wonderful Pentecostal heritage. As a baby, her first trip outside of the house was to Oak Hill Tabernacle, one of the oldest Pentecostal works in Indianapolis led by Bro. L.V. Roberts. Sis. Spall’s mother, Dora McMorris, was purportedly amongst the first group of Indianapolis Pentecostals to be immersed in the Name of Jesus by Bro. Glenn Cook on 6 March 1915.

This wonderful couple led West Side Pentecostal through decades of Holy Ghost revival, completing a new sanctuary in 1959. In May of 1989, they retired from full-time ministry, but both are still living and are wholly committed to the Lord.

Bro. Donald Winters became the pastor of West Side at the Spalls’ retirement. Recently, his son, Donald Jo Winters assumed the pastorate, and Bro. Anthony Oliver is his Assistant Pastor.

The West Side Pentecostal Church continues to stand strong on its historic foundations of faith and service. From its most humble beginnings as a small Apostolic Faith mission to a well-established Pentecostal congregation, West Side Pentecostal Church is undoubtedly the oldest Indianapolis congregation in the fellowship of the United Pentecostal Church International. Their unwavering commitment to the cherished doctrines of Bible salvation, holiness, and the mighty God in Christ are a testament to generations of solid, anointed leadership as they continue to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jud. 1.3).

Sources:

Bell, Eudorus N. “Not Missions, but Churches of God in Christ.” Word & Witness Vol. 8, Is. 6. 20 August 1912, p. 2.

Flower, Alice Reynolds. “When Pentecost Came to Indianapolis, a First-Hand Report of the Revival which Began in 1907.” Heritage 5 (4) Winter 1985/1986, pp. 5-6.

*Special thanks to the Spall family for conducting this interview at a difficult time.