Azusa Street revival

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

From Azusa Street to Memphis: Sometimes reporters have to tell old stories to new readers

I do not go out of my way, as a rule, to praise the religion-beat work of one of my former students in the old Washington Journalism Center (which has now evolved into the New York City Journalism semester at The King’s College).

But it’s time to break that rule.

I say that because of a feature story by Katherine Burgess — a name to watch on the religion beat — that ran at The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The headline: “Bishop Mason built COGIC out of revival, the faith of former slaves.

In roughly 40 years of religion-beat work, I know of no organization that is harder to cover than the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). As a result, this massive Pentecostal flock receives way less coverage than it deserves. I don’t think the denomination’s leaders are hostile to the press (although I have encountered one or two who were), but they certainly do not seek out the attention.

How many news-consumers in West Tennessee, white and black, know the history of this important institution or even know that it is based in their region? Thus, Burgess needed to start at the beginning, with the story of one man:

He preached in living rooms, in the woods and in a cotton gin.

When he returned from the Azusa Street Revival speaking in unknown tongues, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason was followed by just 10 churches out of more than 100 in the split over the theological disagreement.

Today, the denomination founded by Mason, the son of former slaves, is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, with more than 6.5 million members.

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Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Certainly we have all heard of the philosophical conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does.

Here’s similar one: If a large, symbolic religious event occurs but there’s little-to-no mainstream press around to cover it, did it have an impact?

Last Saturday, thousands of Christians filled the Los Angeles Coliseum for Azusa Now, a 110th anniversary gathering for Los Angeles' famed 1906 Azusa Street revival that birthed the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Saturday's event was organized by Lou Engle, head of a youth revival movement known as The Call. Early PR for the April 9 event suggested 100,000 people would show up -- a neat trick in that the stadium only fits 93,000 -- but hopes were high. Some 50,000 were said to be registered; not a small number.

I was researching an article on a related event, so was checking around the Los Angeles mediascape to see if there was so much as an advance news story. The only thing I found was an offhand mention of the event in the Los Angeles Times in relation to the newspaper’s Festival of Books. Odd, I thought.

During the weekend, I scoured the Times, the Orange County Register, even the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Nothing. OK -- maybe the Christian Broadcasting Network? Nothing. Christianity Today? Nada. Local TV? Nope. Now on Sunday, the Register did have something on a gathering of beach corgis.

And the Times naturally talked up the “thousands” that attended its book festival. It was even doing live updates of the event.

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