This is the day that … Maria Woodworth-Etter was born in Ohio, in 1844.
Roberts Liardon refers to her as “the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement” (God’s Generals, page 47).
In her autobiography she tells how she was converted whilst “going under the water” at her baptism. She was 13 years of age (page 7). Almost immediately she says she heard God’s call to preach – and this in a day when women preachers were frowned upon.
Marriage to P.H. Woodworth resulted in six children being born, five of whom died in childhood. Nor did her husband share her desire for ministry. She divorced her first husband (1891) and married Samuel Etter in 1902.
Sister Etter, as she was known, preached to thousands, sharing the gospel and praying for the sick. Significant for hundreds and even thousands in her meetings was the experience of falling in a trance, akin to the frontier meetings of an earlier time.
In her preaching ‘holiness’ was her initial emphasis. By 1885 she claimed 500 were converted every week at her meetings. Then she began to emphasise ‘tongues’ and ‘healing’. Thousands flocking to her 8000-seat tent meetings.
She wrote many books – including one that foretold the destruction of San Francisco by a tidal wave in 1890! “Thousands fled to the hills because of her prophecy” (Dictionary of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Movements, page 901). Her book, Acts of the Holy Ghost, impacted many who held it as one of their most treasured texts. One of the Cambridge Seven missionaries, Stanley Smith, gave such testimony.
And most odd were her trances. Sometimes during a service she would “stand like a statue for an hour or more with her hands raised…” (ibid, page 901). To her, “lack of physical manifestation was a sign of apostasy!” (God’s Generals, page 55).
Healing people by “punching them in the stomach” or “whacking them in the neck” was one of her methods (page 73). It is believed Smith Wigglesworth adopted this method from her. He preached in her Tabernacle in Indianapolis after her death.
Whatever one’s theological leaning, Maria Woodworth-Etter must be regarded as one of the most interesting and influential figures in the history of Christendom. She proclaimed the Pentecostal message before Azusa Street and the emergence of the organised Pentecostal groups. Her miracles, preaching and impact did much to open people’s eyes to the restoration of New Testament manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
For a more detailed account of her life and ministry visit: http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/199901/086_woodsworth_etter.cfm
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.