PENSACOLA, Fla. – The nation’s longest-running Pentecostal revival already has seen the throngs of crying, singing and shaking believers decline from its evangelical heyday. It now will have to go on without the preacher who led it from the beginning.
The Brownsville Revival started on Father’s Day 1995 and initially continued four or five nights a week at a stretch. Today, the revival is held one night a week.
The Rev. John Kilpatrick, who had been senior pastor of the Brownsville Assembly of God since the revival began, resigned in October to focus on traveling and minstering to other clergy.
“I had realized for some time that Brownsville just needs an onsite pastor there like other churches, and I’ve just been gone so much,” Kilpatrick said. “I feel there has been a shift in my mantle.”
The revival, also known as the Pensacola Outpouring, has attracted more than 4.5 million visitors, Kilpatrick said. It will continue each Friday night in the church on the city’s west side, said the Rev. Randy Feldshau, who replaced Kilpatrick.
Brownsville has eclipsed in longevity, if not influence, the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Beginning in 1906, Azusa Street ran for three years, the previous record, and is credited with launching Pentecostalism as a worldwide movement.
Other notable revivals include the Great Awakenings of the 18th century that emphasized biblical revelation over human reasoning and those of Charles Finney, known as the father of modern evangelism, in the 19th century.
“It’s still too early to tell whether or not Brownsville will rank among the great revivals of history,” said Steven Rabey, a religion writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and author of the 1998 book “Revival in Brownsville.” “The jury’s still out as to whether that impact will prove to be as broad-based and as long-lasting.”
Brownsville’s legacy includes a ministerial school and visits by hundreds of pastors who have taken its spirit of renewal to their congregations. It also caused a spike in conversions and baptisms for The Assemblies of God, Rabey said.
Kilpatrick believes the revival has had a dual effect, first by attracting unchurched sinners to repent.
“The churched at the same time came in and saw the sinner being touched and it just ignited them. I mean, it was just like pouring gas on a fire,” he said. “The churched began to get their priorities straight again that they had to go after the sinner. Churches are not museums, you know. They should be spiritual hospitals.”
The Brownsville Assembly’s congregation grew with the revival from about 2,000 to 5,000 members but has declined in the past few years with an average attendance now of 2,200 for Sunday services, Feldshau said.
He blamed the drop on the revival’s slowdown and a 2001 split in the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry after the Rev. Michael Brown was fired as president in a dispute with Kilpatrick and the school’s board.
Brown and Kilpatrick say they have since patched up their differences over issues that included control of the school, its relationship with the Assemblies of God and Brown’s promotion of “a new Jesus revolution” that Kilpatrick deemed too rebellious.
Brown, declaring that the Brownsville Revival was over, established a new school and church, the Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism, or FIRE, both non-denominational, in Pensacola. He took most of the Brownsville faculty and students with him to the FIRE School of Ministry, which moved in mid-2003 to Concord, N.C.
The FIRE church there has more than 350 members and the school has about 140 full-time students, Brown said. The school also has a branch in New York City.
The Brownsville school had 320 students last semester, Feldshau said. Although not an Assembly of God school, it assists students in obtaining ministerial credentials or further degrees with the Assemblies of God.
Feldshau denied rumors his church has undergone another decline since Kilpatrick’s resignation. Several families have left, but Feldshau said others have joined and finances are steady.
“Any time there is a pastoral change, it’s typical there may be some departures and some returns,” Feldshau said. “We’re not having a mass exodus.”
Feldshau was an associate pastor at Brownsville until 1991 when he left to minister at churches in Austin, Texas, and later Columbus, Ohio. He returned to Brownsville as executive pastor in August.
Kilpatrick denied that he asked Feldshau back with the intent of turning the church over to him. But Elmer Melton, a Brownsville member for 49 years, said he and many others were disappointed no other candidates were presented to the congregation.
“I don’t think things were done right,” Melton said. “They should have gotten some resumes.”
He said that’s no knock on Kilpatrick or Feldshau because he likes both ministers.
Another Brownsville member, retired Army Capt. Randy Ashcraft, 47, praised Feldshau, predicting better things were in store for him than even the revival.
“I believe God’s going to use him in a greater way,” Ashcraft said.
Revival services are held on Friday nights, including live television on the Sky Angel satellite network and a local station, Feldshau said. They no longer go all night – usually three to four hours and never past midnight. Healings occur sporadically but not at every session, he said.
The revival began when a fiery evangelist, the Rev. Steve Hill, made a guest appearance. Hundreds answered a call to the altar to declare their acceptance of Christ. Kilpatrick announced he felt a wind blowing through the church and said the revival the congregation was praying for had arrived. He then fell back on the floor, not moving for nearly four hours.
Hill stayed with the revival until 2000 when he moved his ministry to Dallas. The last of the original leaders, the Rev. Lindell Cooley, who served as music minister, departed in December to start a church in Nasvhille, Tenn., Feldshau said.
Kilpatrick, who lives in nearby Seminole, Ala., plans to keep traveling with his Partners in Revival ministry, focusing on advising and comforting ministers.
“I have a call in my life to minister to other ministers because they are going through so much,” he said. “They’re just burned out, they’re stressed out, they’re worn out.”