The prophet Joel’s proclamation some 800 years before Christ foretold the time when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. The first of such outpourings occurred in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost. Then, periodically, throughout these intervening 20 centuries there have been occasions of additional outpourings, but none such as have come since the turn of the 20th century. Denominations experienced great revival, but many soon lost their fervor.
One Arkansas group, however, the Holiness Baptist Association, founded by Reverend W. Jethro Walthall, began receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit around 1879 with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. This deeper walk with God brought unprecedented revival to the area.
Then news came of similar outpourings: in Maine and Rhode Island, in Topeka, Kansas, areas of Oklahoma and Missouri, and then of a three-year revival at a little mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, led by a black Holiness preacher, Rev. J. W. Seymour.
By 1910, the Pentecostal message had widespread acceptance by hundreds in Arkansas. Eventually, the full gospel message was introduced to Argenta (later to be called North Little Rock), by Mary Lewis, a black woman who took in washings for a living. By the available accounts, she was the first person in Argenta to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is not known how she came to receive the infilling, but she shared her experience with all the families for whom she worked, including the family of Mrs. Nancy Lee Carmichal. Each week she would tell Mrs. Carmichal more about the Holy Spirit and at last, after shutting herself in a clothes closet to pray, Carmichal received the Baptism.
Mrs. Carmichal began to pray diligently that God would send a Pentecostal preacher to Argenta. Soon, an elderly minister, Reverend Irving, came and held a two-week revival. Immediately after evangelist Irving left, two more men came and continued the meeting. These meetings were held in late 1912 or early 1913 at 18th and Pike on the first floor of a two-story building. The evangelist, Brother Bussick, was assisted by a Brother Titus, a converted circus clown who led the singing while vigorously playing an old banjo.
A few months later, Sister Della Cook came to Argenta to help in a series of meetings which had then begun in the two story building on the corner of 9th and Parker streets. This building, called “The Crow’s Nest” by the early members, is still standing. The meeting was taken across the street to the playground of the old Baring Cross Grammar School where a large ragged tent was erected. This three-month revival brought in at least 42 people.
Soon after this time, the people began to realize their need of a permanent place of worship. A lot at 22nd and Franklin streets was obtained by paying the delinquent taxes.
The people who lived in this part of Argenta immediately began to hold services in a grove across the street from where the church was to be built. These services were held under the leadership of Brother Gus Hardcastle.
The services at 9th and Parker were also continued under the leadership of Sister Cook. However, these services were soon discontinued and the two groups were combined into one body by a common love for God and their Pentecostal experience.
On April 2-12, 1914, more than 300 persons met in the Grand Opera House at 200 Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Arkansas and formed the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Some 14 persons from Argenta attended this meeting. The delegation returned home deciding to remain independent. Eleven years later, on June 4, 1925, the congregation voted to join the Assemblies of God fellowship. Thus the church was set in order and began to be known as the 22nd Street Assembly of God.
The first church on the newly-acquired property was a crude structure called “The Sheep Shed”. It had no floor and the side walls were constructed so that they could be raised and propped up in mild weather, making an open-air tabernacle approximately 40 X 60 feet. It was heated in the winter by a large wood-burning stove, and had no electricity.
As the church grew, the second building was built in 1917, the year Argenta became North Little Rock. It had wooden floors, electricity, and was heated by natural gas. This building was used until 1929, when the third building, “The Old Rock Church” was built. Brother Gus Hardcastle was pastor all of these years until he resigned in 1920 to pastor a church in Earle, Arkansas.
In August 1933 the church, now averaging approximately 150, gave Rev. T. J. Gotcher a unanimous call as pastor. In the middle of the Great Depression, Brother Gotcher preached at the church four times a week, visited the sick, preached funerals, and worked all hours of the day and night for as little as ten dollars a week.
He started a radio broadcast in 1936 on radio station KLRA in Little Rock. It aired each Sunday morning at 8:30. Brother Gotcher broadcast continually over the next 25 years as pastor, missing only five broadcasts in that quarter century. Under his progressive ministry a 30 X 40 white frame educational building was completed in 1939, the same year the “Old Rock Church” was paid off. The older building was renovated that same year and factory-made furniture was installed.
The church experienced steady growth until the beginning of World War II when 106 men from the church left for war. Many men stationed at nearby Camp Robinson made the church their home away from home. The mothers of First Assembly met daily for special prayer for their loved ones in the Armed Forces, and all 106 men returned home safely.
Brother Gotcher later constructed another two-story educational building and the church continued to grow. A new buff brick sanctuary was built in 1954 and “The Old Rock Church” was redesigned for Sunday School use. Brother Gotcher’s health began to fail and he preached his farewell sermon on April 30, 1961. He remained Pastor Emeritus until his death in June 1965.
In May 1961, Rev. David A. Hastie accepted the church’s call. In the early 1960’s the church acquired several adjacent lots for parking. In December 1963, Brother Phinis A. Lewis accepted the call as pastor. It was under Rev. Lewis’s ministry that the Sunday school broke all previous attendance records for a given Sunday with 1, 014 present on Easter Sunday morning. In late 1965, construction was started on the new buff brick educational building. The new building, complete with office area, library, and fellowship hall, was occupied and dedicated in April 1966.
In May 1967 Brother Lewis answered a call to Austin, Texas, and the church once again invited Rev. David Hastie, who returned as pastor on July 23, 1967. Brother Hastie accentuated missions, building on a “Faith Promise” system that Brother Lewis had initiated. Under Brother Hastie’s ministry, the church helped support 47 missionaries.
In 1969, the sanctuary was remodeled with new furniture and carpeting. More properties were purchased for parking.
H. Maurice Lednicky took the pastorate in October 1975. More land surrounding the church buildings was purchased, and attendance broke all previous records, with 1, 256 in attendance on Easter, 1976. The church started three radio programs: “Coffee with the Pastor,” “Light of Life,” and “The Pastor’s Sunday School Hour.” In addition, a prime-time television program, “Transformed” was initiated in 1976, airing quarterly.
In the spring of 1980, Brother Lednicky was invited to become President of Central Bible College, and he preached his farewell sermon in April 1980. Rev. T. G. Morrow was elected as pastor in May 1980. During Brother Morrow’s tenure the church voted to relocate and purchased new property in the eastern part of town.
In July 1982, First Assembly mothered a Spanish Church with Rev. Samuel Loya as pastor. Brother Morrow resigned on September 11, 1983, and nine months later, Rev. Michael Tullos was elected, coming as pastor on June 3, 1984. After one year, Whitehaven Assembly of God in Memphis invited Tullos to return as their pastor, and he preached his farewell sermon in June 1985.
A search was made for a man with a great vision for Greater Little Rock, and eventually, the most unlikely prospect was located – a man who had never pastored a church before, Rev. Alton Garrison. Rev. Garrison had been an evangelist for 19 years. At the time of his invitation to North Little Rock, he was conducting a revival at Calvary Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. That church and pastor joined together in special prayer with him for guidance for the right decision. A meticulous observer, everywhere Rev. Garrison ministered he strove to learn all he could about the various aspects of pastoral ministry.
Rev. Alton Garrison was elected pastor in March 1986. Under his ministry, the church has undergone the greatest growth in its history, and has repeatedly broken all previous attendance and giving records. The church relocated to a new building, its present location, in 1990. The building, now valued at over $5 million, was paid off in 1995. In that same year, the parking lot was expanded to ease the parking crunch.
Pastor Garrison hosts a weekly television program, “Promise and Praise”, and continues to speak at revivals and conferences around the world on top of his pastoral duties in North Little Rock.
The church has pledged itself to worldwide missions, sponsoring orphanages, missionaries, and schools around the world.
In 1998, the church finished construction on an expansion to the church complex that houses a new administration office area, more classroom space, and a youth auditorium. This expansion also freed up space in the main building for more nursery and classroom areas.
In that same year, we also purchased 43 acres of land for future use.
Understanding our legacy of faith that has been passed down since the beginning of this century is essential to understanding the the church and its mission to reach the world with the gospel.
Adapted from the booklet “First Assembly: A Brief History”, by Rev. George Murry