In conducting my earlier research on Pentecostals and the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (that has since gone viral around the world through Influence Magazine ), I had wondered if there was anything about the epidemic tied to Tulsa. At that point, my searches had come up empty. However, I decided to look back on some early Pentecostal magazine articles that I had saved that mentioned Tulsa. What I found is amazing.
Right in the middle of the ‘Spanish Influenza’ epidemic, around January 1919, a young up-and-coming evangelist by the name of Aimee Semple McPherson came to Tulsa. She was invited by S. A. Jamieson, the pastor of 5th and Peoria Assembly, to come to Tulsa on her way to Los Angeles to conduct a meeting.
The sudden onset of the influenza in Tulsa prompted Jamieson to try to postpone the meeting since Tulsa city officials closed all public meetings. But, McPherson testified that the Spirit urged her to come to Tulsa anyway and “Start immediately,” Turns out, the same day she arrived the ban on church gatherings was lifted and immediately she started holding services!
The meeting went 22 days and was wildly successful as the Assembly of God church doubled in size. McPherson was a rising star in the Pentecostal circles and her ministry lived up to her reputation. Many came to the Lord and were healed. One of McPherson’s strategies was to drive her “Gospel Car” around town in between meetings to pass out tracts and minister to people.
According to her own account, while she was in Tulsa, she traveled the streets ministering to “epidemic victims.” Afternoons and evenings, McPherson and her band of workers would roll through the streets and stop to minister to people on the street corners. Men and women came to Christ right on the sidewalk, as many as 20 at a time.
Throughout her two weeks in Tulsa, she testifies the that the calls to come minister to those who were sick with the influenza were “ceaseless.” She says,
“The epidemic still raging, and many having been weakened and afflicted, we stood hours at a time praying of the sick, and Jesus helped those who came to him.”
While there were no testimonies of healing reported, the fact that McPherson ministered to so many in Tulsa is a great delight to discover.
From Tulsa, McPherson stopped in Stroud and Oklahoma City on her way back to LA. McPherson agreed to return to Tulsa in May of 1919 to hold another revival. This time she would return to a packed 3000 seat Tulsa Convention Center. This became one of the most important meetings that built the Pentecostal community in Tulsa.
As I said in my last blog, I think it is right for churches to close and to obey current regulations to protect people. However, I am also thankful that McPherson listened to the Spirit to come, not knowing what would happen. Turns out the Spirit’s timing was perfect. Had she not listened and the epidemic deterred her from coming in January of 1919, Tulsa may have missed out on one the of the greatest events that established the Pentecostal community in Tulsa.