Pentecostal Churches heal racially motivated divide

(AP)Ethnic minorities account for 40 per cent of the Assemblies of God membership in the US

After a separation that began almost a century ago, the Assemblies of God (AG) and the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God (UPCAG) are uniting once again under a single Church banner.

A special service was held at the AG's National Leadership and Resource Centre in Springfield, Missouri last Tuesday, to celebrate the 'cooperative affiliations'. The service coincides with Black History Month in the US.

"God has put us together, and there is something about to happen," said Reverend Thomas Barclay, UPCAG's International Presiding Elder. "No longer will we be separated from you. We came to lock arms with you."

The division between the two groups began in 1917 when Alexander Howard, an African-American Pentecostal from Chicago, asked the AG whether he could become a missionary for them in Liberia, the only African country to be founded by US colonisation.

AG leaders refused his request on racial grounds and an indignant Howard instead connected with a group of African-American churches based in New England.

These churches collectively organised in 1919 and founded the UPCAG in 1920, enabling Mr Howard to go on his mission.

The UPCAG currently numbers 30 congregations in the US, and 15 in Barbados. AG has around 66.4 million followers globally, with over 300,000 ministers and operations in 212 countries and territories.

More than 40 per cent of the current American AG membership is from an ethnic minority background. Dr George O Wood, the General Superintendent of the AG, called the reunification with the UPCAG "a vital forward step".

He said: "We have been on a four-year journey with the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, which was birthed in 1919 because of racism in the Assemblies of God.

"Now, the Lord has brought us together again in a more formal partnership, to hold high the name of Jesus and advance His mission in the power of the Spirit."

It was Rev Barclay who first approached the AG about reuniting, citing the spirit of First Corinthians 1:10 which says, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."

Last year, both groups approved plans for the cooperative affiliations, which allows any UPCAG church that wants to join the AG to be welcomed into local districts, as well as all national AG programmes and missions.

At the same time, the UPCAG churches will maintain their own credentialing practices and overall autonomy.