A Living Pentecostal Legacy
Interview with Joseph, David, Adele, and Suzanne Flower.
To those who knew them, the names J. Roswell and Alice Reynolds Flower were synonymous with the Assemblies of God. They were pioneer leaders in the beginning years of this church. As a delegate at the organizational meeting of the Assemblies of God in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1914, J. Roswell Flower was elected as the first general secretary and later selected to serve as the first missionary secretary-treasurer. The significance of their combined contribution to the Assemblies of God over the years has touched many lives. Those who benefited most were their six children, five of whom were ordained in the Assemblies of God. While George E. and Roswell S. Flower have gone on to be with the Lord, Joseph, David, Adele, and Suzanne live to carry on the Pentecostal legacy left by their parents. In this interview, Rick Knoth, managing editor of Enrichment, talked with the children of J. Roswell and Alice Flower about their parents, their ministry, and what it was like growing up in the early years of the Assemblies of God.
What was it like growing up in the home of J.R. and Alice Flower?
SUZANNE: It was great. We had a tremendously warm and loving family. Even now when the siblings get together it is like old-home week.
ADELE: Our children and grandchildren have adopted the same attitude toward the family. Also, part of our missionary vision stems from the time we lived on Main Street. Because there were no missionary homes for missionaries, they stayed at our home. When missionaries came, we children slept on pallets on the floor.
SUZANNE: In this way we had an exposure to the mission field. I caught the missionary vision, and it carried over into my ministry. When my husband and I pastored in Newark, New Jersey, Bethel Assembly became the top giver in missions that year. Our house became like a second home for missionaries. We pastored in Newark for 16 years, and many of the missionaries going overseas stopped at our place.
DAVID: Not only the missionaries, the evangelists. Jack Saunders, Charles Price, and Zelma Arguemissionaries and evangelists alikewould come to our home. Dad and Mother would welcome them, and that made an impression on all of us. By having these guests in our home, Mom and Dad widened our vision for ministry. Donald Gee and others were in our home. We were exposed to that kind of influence, which has been invaluable over the years.
Reflect on memories of your parents in the formative years of the Assemblies of God.
JOSEPH: I was too young to remember the first General Council; I was just 1 year old. But I have heard Mom and Dad tell the story. We were living in Indianapolis when my father left for the General Council in Hot Springs. He gathered information at the General Council at the very beginning, and sent it back by railroad to my mother. She collaborated with the editor of the newspaper in Indianapolis and printed the first Christian Evangel. She sent it back to the General Council before it adjourned.
ADELE: I remember when the leaders asked Dad to come to Springfield because they had decided to make Springfield their headquarters. He came in 1918. The Assemblies of God owned the building at 434 West Pacific Street for their headquarters; it had been a meat market. At that time Dad was the foreign missions secretary.
After we moved to Springfield, someone in the family contracted smallpox, and we were quarantined since they didn't have vaccinations for smallpox. Daddy took a cot and stayed in the headquarters building because he had to look after the missionaries. He couldn't be at home because we were quarantined, but he did come home on Christmas morning to see us. But we didn't celebrate Christmas until January.
DAVID: In those early days the headquarters was basically a receiving and distribution office for missionaries. We weren't highly organized in other areas.
JOSEPH: Those were pioneer days. There was a fairly good Assemblies of God church here in Springfield at that time. As a matter of fact, Mother held a revival at Central Assembly. I remember the flyer they circulated through the community with her picture on it. It said something about a little mother with a burning heart. Dad was also Sunday school superintendent for a short time.
Your father attended the first general council in hot springs, arkansas. what do you recall about that meeting from his conversations with you?
SUZANNE: One time Dad mentioned that there were several little independent groups over the country that were experiencing the same phenomenon in their spiritual experiencethe baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some of them came from different backgrounds, so naturally they had absorbed other teachings. Many pastors and leaders felt a need to get together to support one another and to speak the same thing. Just like the Word says in 1 Corinthians 1:10: speak the same thing. This had an influence on bringing people together at Hot Springs. They wanted to support each other in what God was doing and to create an interchange of thought so they all spoke the same thing concerning the baptism in the Holy Spiritthis scriptural experience and phenomenon that had taken place.
Your parents were key leaders in the early years of the assemblies of god. How would you like them to be remembered?
DAVID: I would like them to be remembered as godly, consistent, honest, and dedicated parents who loved and cared for people. They were people who gave of themselves. Mother was known to hundreds all over the nation as Mother Flower. This name was born out of relationships that were built over the years. And of course, much of her influence was in the home. She wrote the books, Building Her House Well, Divine Sanctuary, and other pamphlets. Many of her poems related to family. I think we all appreciate that emphasis from our parents.
ADELE: Foreign missions was important to our parents. When we came to Scranton, Pennsylvania, the anthracite strike had been going on for 18 months. We were having a difficult time making ends meet because we were only getting $50 a week. Mama said, OK, what we'll do is go off of a salary and establish a heavy foreign missions program. And here was the miracle. When we gave to missions, in about a year we had paid off the whole debt on the church, in spite of the fact there was a strike.
After Dad had accepted the pastorate in Scranton, the leaders at the church in Springfield asked him to be their pastor. Dad told them, I have already given my word that I would go to Scranton.
They replied, Well, go and stay for just a year. Then come back.
Dad responded, No, I won't do that. They have asked me to come in full faith, and I have accepted. I have to go and be a proper pastor. I cannot go with the understanding that I am going to leave in a year. Dad's honesty and integrity led to 10 wonderful years in the East.
SUZANNE: They lived what they preached. My folks lived at home exactly what they proclaimed from the pulpit. They cared for people. We had people come through our home from the top echelon of the Movement to people from the bottom strata of society. And each one got the same treatment. They were fair and down to earth. They could appreciate a funny story, and they could weep in the next few minutes with someone who had a deep problem. Just ordinary people that God picked and anointed for special service.
What was your parents most significant contribution to 20th-century Pentecost?
JOSEPH: I believe the most important thing to remember was the fact our father was a stalwart for Pentecostal doctrine, Assemblies of God doctrine. He stood steadfast when the General Council was going through a time of great testing along doctrinal lines. Not only the Jesus Only doctrine or the Oneness doctrine, but also in regard to the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I think that he, as much as anyone, took a solid stand along that line.
SUZANNE: I remember Mother telling how, when the Oneness issue surfaced, some of the top people in the Movement were swayed by the issue. Mother told how she went to her room with her Bible and said, Lord, I have to have this question settled once and for all. The Lord led her to the Book of John. At that one sitting she read through the Book of John. I think she said she read it through three times. By the time she had finished, she said there was no question in her mind but that there was a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That was a little sample of how they lived. It had to conform to the Word.
JOSEPH: There was another scriptural term that was particularly precious to Mother and that was the term maranatha. And as a matter of fact, when we were in the East and our father was superintendent, she was the one that gave the name Maranatha to the campground. And of course maranatha means our Lord cometh.
When you were growing up, who had the greatest influence on your life and ministry other than your parents?
DAVID: Dr. Charles Price. I received a mighty touch of God when he was in the camp meetings at Maranatha. As a young man, I was deeply impressed by the impact of his preaching and of the prayer for the sick, casting out devils. I vividly remember one night when a child was delivered. They took him back to the prayer room, and I was sitting on the front seat in the large tabernacle. Dr. Price turned to the crowd and said, Everyone of you get under the Blood or else that demon will come on you. Those kinds of experiences make an impression on you. You don't get away from that.
JOSEPH: Charles Price also influenced me. He not only had the camp meeting at Maranatha, he also had a meeting at the Ebenezer Camp near Buffalo. I had spent 2 years in college preparing for a teaching profession. At the Buffalo camp meeting, I knelt down on my knees at a pew crying out to God. My life was changed at that camp meeting. After that experience, I went to Central Bible Institute. I attribute it to the influence of Dr. Charles Price.
SUZANNE: We were a camp familyfrom the time it opened on Memorial Day to its closing on Labor Day.
I received the Baptism under the ministry of Jack Saunders, who had come from Canada. He was an ex-prizefighter who had a tremendous testimony. Although I had been brought up in Pentecost, one day when he preached on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I thought, Well, I need that too. I was 8 years old. That was the first night I ever tarried before the Lord to be filled with the Spirit. I wasn't filled that night, but the next afternoon Jack Saunders came and spoke to our children's church, and he gave an altar call. I went forward and was slain in the Spirit, and I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
In just a few months this church will enter a new century and millennium. what concluding thoughts would you like to share with our present and future leaders as we approach this critical time in our church's history?
ADELE: The most important thing is to keep your priorities right. What are we here for? There are many nice things you can havea new car, a new house, a good salary. Every member of our family pioneered a church and didn't have any district financial support. It would be very difficult right now to find young people who are willing to do this. They want a place with a parsonage, and they want a place with a good salary. Every member of our family pioneered at least one church, and maybe more. We need to keep the pioneering spirit alive.
DAVID: Mother used to say, The spirit of sacrifice is the order of heaven. I think that is the challenge to the upcoming millennial people. A fresh sense of the spirit of sacrifice needs to grip their heartsthat God is not a sugar daddybut we can pray it down. The blessing of God will come as we give ourselves wholly to the Word and to the Holy Spirit.
JOSEPH: The pioneer spirit built something into the character of the early ministers in our Fellowship. I can remember being influenced by our father, as far as ministry was concerned. One time I went with him to a church in Pennsylvania where he had to settle a problem. There was friction between the pastor and some of the people in the church. He dealt not just with the congregation, but with the pastor also. He said, When you point your finger, remember there are three fingers pointing back at you.
SUZANNE: I firmly believe that God has a plan for every life concerning the decisions and moves we make in ministry and in life in general. It is up to us to find what that plan is. It might take a little while, but God will reveal it to us. It might not have anything to do with increasing one's salary or pastoring a larger congregation or other benefits that go along with being in the ministry. But it has everything to do with what is God's will. That's the place to be. That is where God will bless.
A pastor came to my father when he was superintendent in the Eastern District. He said, Brother Flower, I am concerned. We are a Pentecostal church, but no one has received the Baptism in our church for months. What's wrong?
My father asked, What have you been preaching? Have you been preaching about the Holy Spirit? Have you been preaching what the Word says?
He said, Well, occasionally.
Dad responded, Preach about the Holy Spirit, and God will give you the fruit.
This pastor began a series on the Holy Spiritthe necessity for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, what the Holy Spirit does for you, and the fruit of the Spirit. This pastor began having revival in his church. People who had been in the church for a long time began receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In that regard, we can never get away from the Word. If you preach the Word, God will give the increase.
DAVID: Dad said, Whatever you preach is what you are going to see. If you preach salvation, you are going to have salvation. If you preach healing, you are going to have healing. I feel there is a real need across the Fellowship to preach the whole gospel. Series sermons, series preaching, just proclaim the Word. That was Dad's philosophy.