Roy H. Wead and the history of the Assemblies of God

June 16, 2013

Roy H. Wead, former executive presbyter, Assemblies of God

It’s Fathers’ Day and I remember an extraordinary man, Roy H. Wead, my father.  He was the first District Superintendent for the fledgling Assemblies of God in Indiana.  It was May,1946, the month I was born, and the old Central District was split into two separate organizations, one for Ohio and one for Indiana.  Dad was the youth director and then missions director for the old district so most of the pastors in the state knew him.  He was elected Superintendent on the first ballot at the District Council in Bloomington, Indiana.  He had just turned thirty years old the day before.

Roy Wead served as District Superintendent for 13 years and saw the Indiana District grow to prominence.  According to a story in the Pentecostal Evangel, the District became the fastest growing in the nation, opening a new church, every month, for 13 straight years. (March 15, 1959, Pentecostal Evangel, Triple in Twelve Years, p. 14.)

Throughout the 1950′s three of the top ten A/G churches in the country were from Indiana, South Bend Calvary Temple, Evansville Calvary Tabernacle and Fort Wayne Assembly.  When Pastor Ted Vibbert sparked growth for Abundant Life Tabernacle in Indianapolis there was one astonishing two year period when four of the top ten A/G churches in the nation were in Indiana. (Counselor.)

Dad had to find a campgrounds, which they did on Lake Placid, near Hartford City, Indiana.  And he had to raise the money to buy it and build a dining hall, dorms, cabins, a tabernacle and a baseball diamond.  Paul Davidson, a retired missionary from the Philippines took on the task of maintaining the place and every summer the Wead kids and the Davidson kids would roam the campgrounds.

The first headquarters for the Indiana District was an office in Terre Haute.  In 1952, dad moved the headquarters to the more centrally located Indianapolis.  Out in the suburbs, on 56th street, across from a cornfield, he built the first two parsonages for the Superintendent and the Secretary Treasure.  We moved into one of the limestone houses, Rev. Dale Zink and his family moved into the other. The son, Paul Zink, is now pastor of New Life Church in Jacksonville, Fl. He was my childhood playmate.

Today, although arguably in decline, the Assemblies of God, is one of the nation’s larger Protestant denominations but it was a different animal in those days, more of a dynamic fellowship and less an official organization.  Almost all of the pastors had come out of mainstream denominations, many were Methodist.  They had been persecuted for their Pentecostal beliefs and practices.  Some had been pastors who found their churches padlocked by superiors while they were thrown out on the street without salary or housing.  A “fellowship” was about all they could take.  There was a clear anti-denominational streak and anti-education streak as well.  The universities were the fountainhead of all of the new “modernist” doctrines that were undermining the faith.

Somehow, Roy Wead, had to organize a District out of chaos.  There were hundreds of independent Pentecostal churches with pastors twice his age.  Dad took his cue from them.  Thomas “Pop” Paino, Glenn Horst, William “Fletcher” Duncan, Roscoe Russell and young men like Gordon Matheny, William Van Winkle, Cecil Enochs, Vern Stoops, Bill Thornton, Wilson Shabaz and Lester Sumrall.  For years, Leroy Sanders was the Assistant Superintendent, followed by Paul Paino and then Paul Evans.  All of them would have distinguished careers as pastors and leaders in the greater evangelical world.

There were reasons for unity.  Without an official denomination their numbers would not be recognized by the federal government and there would be no army chaplains to help their young men in arms.  They experienced power when they were together and inspiration from their exchange of ideas.  So dad tread very carefully and respectfully and eventually succeeded because he genuinely agreed with the idea that decentralized power would bring more success and growth.  He was an anti-denominationalist, building a denomination.   Participating Churches could be official members or just “in fellowship” with the right to withdraw.  It worked and Indiana became a mecca for young A/G graduates.  It was growing and it was open to new ideas.

There were sometimes conflicts.  Some national denominational leaders saw Indiana as a rogue district that was too tolerant.  Healing evangelists that were banned elsewhere were welcome in Indiana.  But so too were neo-Pentecostal intellectuals.  Ward Williams, who married my aunt, became the first A/G ordained minister to earn a doctorate, as well as her first military chaplain.  He was a favorite camp teacher.  J. Robert Ashcroft, president of Evangel College and father of Attorney General John Ashcroft, was invited almost every year.

This “openness” characterized the spirit of the A/G at that time, at least in Indiana.  Dad didn’t like the idea of kicking someone out of the “fellowship” over a doctrinal or policy dispute.  He said, “If you keep kicking everybody out, you will eventually be kicking them in and YOU will be out.”  When the A/G, threatened by the new Oral Roberts University, decided to pull the papers from any minister or teacher involved, dad defended them.  He hosted Oral Roberts events in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend.

In 1959 he resigned and became pastor of South Bend, Calvary Temple.  For many years it was the largest church in the A/G and the first to have its own daily television program. All of the Christian musicians and evangelists came through, anxious to get some television experience and videotapes of themselves.

The great Catholic Pentecostal movement saw some of its beginnings in our church when a layman, Ray Bullard, hosted a prayer meeting for Kevin Ranaghan and others from Notre Dame.  When a group of the Catholic students wanted to take the movement to Ann Arbor and Michigan University, our church provided the start up money to make it happen.  Dad was called a traitor.  When Ranaghan journeyed to Springfield, Missouri to meet with the General Superintendent of the A/G he was turned away.

Roy Wead, suffering from heart disease, and in retirement, returned to his roots in North Dakota, planning to finish out his days as president of a small college.  But when the the North Dakota State University closed its campus in Ellendale and offered the multimillion facility to the organization who could come up with the best plan, dad awakened.  His plan won the day and Trinity was awarded the Ellendale University campus for a dollar bill.

The denomination must have had a love-hate relationship with my dad.  In spite of his independence and resistance to centralization and a domineering, controlling leadership, or maybe because of it, they voted him in bi-annually as an Executive Presbyter were he served for a generation on their governing board.  So I was a bit surprised when I attended the A/G General Council in Indianapolis in 2007 and the program featured a “history of the Indiana District of the Assemblies of God.”  My dad was not mentioned.

“If you do good things,” he often said, “people will challenge your motives.  If you do great things, they will challenge your methods.  But don’t let that stop you from doing good things or great things.”


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