By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Laurel County and the county seat of London should be called the Jerusalem of Kentucky,” wrote Rev. Alfred Carrier in his small book “The Flight of the Dove: Roots of Pentecost in Eastern Kentucky.” (ca. 1982) “It was here that God saw fit to bring together heaven and earth, men and angels, with the advent of 20th century Pentecost in Kentucky.”
Many thanks to Kip Jervis who graciously granted me access to this book when I mentioned that I needed information on the Pentecostal movement in this area.
Rev. Carrier goes on to give a short history of how and when the Pentecostal Church got its start in Kentucky. I’ve excerpted only the part that deals with Laurel County.
Carrier wrote: “The earliest known records on Pentecost in Laurel County date back to 1907 when two men, Rev. Sam Perry and Rev. Billy Wilder, from Florida, came to London and preached revival in the old opera house.” (Carrier gives the location of this opera house as the corner of 7th and Main streets.) “Around 50 to 75 people embraced the new doctrine, or restoration of the first century Pentecostal Church,” Carrier continued.
Among the first converts were several prominent members of the London community: Dr. George F. Lucas (a dentist), Judge P. R. Pennington, W. S. Jackson, and Judge W. E. Begley. Begley and his wife, Telitha, became father and mother to many in the Pentecostal Church, Carrier wrote, and remained true to the faith until their deaths.
About 1916 land was donated for a simple frame building and, wrote Carrier, “the gospel went forth with such power that thousands were to be brought under the influence of this new spiritual awakening. . . . the Pentecostal flame ignited in the Old Farris Opera House was fast becoming a raging Inferno.”
According to Carrier, the original church in London (Manchester Street Holiness Church) outgrew its space and moved to South London and became “one of the more renowned churches in the state.” This refers to London’s First Pentecostal Church whose long-time pastor, Rev. Gene Huff, was familiar to most Laurel Countians.
Carrier listed the following surnames of some of the Laurel County families who were drawn to this movement: White, Scott, Blanton, Burke, Blackburn, Belcher, Hughes, Allen, York, Wilson, Martin, Meade, Mooneyham, Disney, Cupp, Harmon, Schell, Dyche, Hoskins, Begley, Doyle, Southerland, Hocker, O’Bannon, Sullivan, Jones, Robinson, Murphy, Williams, and Roberts. “To mention only a few,” he said.
Other churches of the Pentecostal faith in Laurel County. mentioned by Carrier, are Old Union Holiness Church; Colony Holiness Church; Lily Holiness Church and Hazel Green Holiness Church. There are many others today, of course.
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The historical society is still seeking interviews with Laurel Countians who are over the age of 80 who would be willing to leave a record of their life in the society’s archives. Subjects are only asked to answer a few questions about their childhood and youth and their connection to Laurel County.
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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jan Sparkman at email@example.com.