Services at Augusta's First Assembly of God haven't been the same since church members became regulars at ongoing charismatic revival services in Pensacola, Fla.
They started making the eighthour trip late last spring, and saw people talking in unknown or longdead languages (speaking in tongues) and other people falling out in ecstacy (being slain in the spirit). The phenomena are aspects of what are known as spiritual gifts, or physical manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Such actions are not uncommon in the Assembly of God denomination. But there was also uncontrollable twitching, laughing, wailing, jerking and bowing of bodies, which are considered by church members as more rare manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Some of the Augustans had similar experiences.
And because of these manifestations, more than 1.4 million people from a variety of denominations and countries have attended the Pensacola revival since Father's Day, 1995. An estimated 6,000 people have renewed faith in God, according to evangelist Steve Hill.
When members of First Assembly of God, and other area charismatic churches such as Lighthouse Ministries, came back to Augusta, those who were receiving spiritual gifts continued to exhibit twitching, jerking and bowing.
And that has impacted services at local churches, with members saying the spiritual gifts mark the start of an international spiritual renewal.
``It's unexplainable, wonderful. It's the greatest move this nation in this generation has ever seen,'' said the Rev. Warren Ham, pastor at Lighthouse Ministries. ``It has sparked a new life in our church.''
First Assembly began holding revival services on Monday nights. The revivals last at least three hours. They've also started intercessory prayer on Tuesday, kept the Wednesday night service and Friday night prayer time, and added services on Sunday nights, which usually run past midnight.
``I think we're birthing a revival,'' said the Rev. Stanley, who estimates that 185 people have renewed faith in God or have announced a faith in God since his church started revival services.
``The thing that I measure is the change in lives we can see.
I'm not impressed when people laugh, yell or shout. I am impressed when people are hungry for God and reading the Bible,'' he said.
Augusta resident Kirstie Mays said the revival movement has changed her.
During services, one side of her body twitches because ``the glory of God is all over me. You get so much of God, it's the way to release it. You can't sit still.''
Ms. Mays said she knew she wanted God to do something in her life when she went to the Florida revival in June. When she went to the altar, she says it felt like she was picked off her feet and thrown to the floor by God. She laid there for 45 minutes.
Now, back in Augusta, she invites people she once partied with to church.
``I've gone to get people from their house. I've never done that before,'' she said.
The Rev. Ham has seen the same eagerness among the families in his church. About 75 percent of his church have attended the Florida revival.
``I don't understand the manifestations, but I've read church history and knew that in the past moving of God, pastors restrained people and revival was stifled,'' he said, adding that he wouldn't do the same.
Evangelist Mr. Hill said pastors shouldn't try to contain what happens.
Critics say the revival movement isn't Biblical and is man-made, not God-made.
There have been articles on the Pensacola church in many publications, including the July/August edition of Good News, a magazine affiliated with the Methodist denomination.
``There's definitely something happening, whether you agree or disagree,'' said the Rev. John Fuqua of Burns Memorial United Methodist Church.
The Rev. John Page of Marvin United Methodist said a spirit of revival is sweeping all denominations, and the services in Pensacola are one example. He and several other pastors in the Martinez area are planning a week-long revival after Easter.
``What we're seeing is all over America, pastors are leaving out of here and going back to their cities. There's a personality to these services. Christians come who are dry and thirsty, and the lost come from everywhere,'' Mr. Hill said. ``God is moving mightily, there is something going on here. They can receive what's going on here and go back to their churches and wait for God to break out there.''
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