Man with a Mission: Frank Bartleman at Eighth and Maple

by Matthew Shaw

Frank Bartleman, who was so instrumental in the advent of Pentecost in Los Angeles, was an itinerant in spirit.  He was possessed of a mild but mercurial nature, which led him hither and yon working for the cause of the Kingdom.  Bro. Bartleman seemed always to be looking for the next deeper move, a sincere body of Christians that would pray, fast, and worship with his same level of intensity and desire.  Ultimately, he was often disappointed in those who began in spiritual fervency but dulled to secular formalism.  He was terrified of denominationalism; and once he discovered Pentecostal practitioners, Frank Bartleman was even more determined to follow the Spirit, wherever He might lead.

Bro. Bartleman was an early and enthusiastic participant in the Azusa Street Revival.  Inspired by reports of the Welsh renewal, led by Evan Roberts, Bartleman had joined prayer bands throughout Los Angeles to seek a Pentecostal outpouring in the city.  He prayed diligently, though he had little notion of what Pentecost might look like when it arrived.  When William Seymour brought the newly-articulated Apostolic Faith doctrine to a small Holiness mission, it did not take long for word to reach Frank Bartleman, who began attending cottage prayer meetings on Bonnie Brae Street, where some of the first seekers in Los Angeles were filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

But, somewhat characteristically, Frank Bartleman became disenchanted with the Azusa Mission.  According to him, the Spirit revealed a dangerous pitfall for the mission—the “party” spirit, which was Bartleman’s euphemism for denominational sectarianism.  He delivered a message at Azusa, warning the saints to avoid becoming “entangled again in a yoke of (ecclesiastical) bondage.”  He firmly believed that sectarianism had “been the curse and death of every revival body sooner or later.”  If Azusa was to succeed where others had failed, she would have to contend for unity and resist organization and formalism.

Bartleman’s worst fears for the mission were realized when the day after he delivered his portentous sermon to the Azusa congregation, the words “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission” were crudely painted on the building’s clapboard side.  According to Bartleman, the Lord said to him:  “This is what I told you.”  This was enough for Bartleman to declare:  “They had done it.”  There is a sense of grave disappointment in Bartleman’s record of the change, which seemed so significant to him.  He even declared:  “The truth must be told.  ‘Azusa’ began to fail the Lord also, early in her history.”

Disillusioned by the move, Bartleman began his own Pentecostal mission in an old German Church at Eighth and Maple about a mile from Azusa in August 1906.  The Lord had led him to the building back in February of 1906, two months prior to the commencement of meetings at Azusa, but it had been occupied by the Pillar of Fire, a Holiness group led by Alma White, a fierce opponent of the spreading Pentecostal revival.  However, by August, Bro. Bartleman says “The ‘Pillar of Fire’ had gone up in smoke, not able to raise the rent.”  Bro. Fred Shephard provided Bartleman with the $50.00 for the first month’s rent, and the first service was held on 12 August.

Eighth and Maple, as the mission continued to be generically known, became another center of Pentecostal revival in the city.  Bro. Bartleman described mighty outpourings in the church:  “The atmosphere was almost too sacred and holy to attempt to minister in.  Like the priests in the Tabernacle of old we could not minister for the glory.”  Many were converted, and Bartleman said that the “atmosphere was terrible for sinners and backsliders.  One had to get right in order to remain at Eighth and Maple.”

Frank Bartleman craved Spirit control.  He had no tolerance for fleshly interruptions or the trappings of order.  In his view, a Pentecostal service constituted hours of prayer, inspired exhortations, groaning and travail, and spontaneous manifestations of humility and ecstasy.  He often remained prone on the floor throughout the services “while God ran the meetings.”

Though he had many times felt the control of the Spirit during his Christian experience, Bro. Bartleman received the Holy Ghost on 16 August 1906, while pastoring a Pentecostal work.  Like Seymour, who received his own baptism after preaching it to others, Bartleman had witnessed several seekers filled at Eighth and Maple in the first few days of services when he had yet to acquire the Spirit himself.

In September, Eighth and Maple grew exponentially when an entire Holiness congregation of about 40 members merged with Bartleman’s mission after their pastor, William Pendleton, was excommunicated from the Holiness group for speaking in tongues.  Shortly after this merger, Bro. Bartleman turned the mission over to Bro. Pendleton and resumed evangelization throughout southern California.  Eighth and Maple continued to be a significant participant in the Apostolic Faith movement in Los Angeles and worked in good fellowship with Azusa and other Pentecostal works to spread the fires of revival that emanated from Los Angeles throughout the world.

Matthew Shaw is a librarian at Ball State University. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, Brandi, and his four sons. He attends River of Life Church.

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