Throughout early Pentecostal history, we see Maria Woodworth-Etter’s footprints from coast to coast.
Biography, Life and Ministry of Maria Woodworth-Etter, “Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement”
Maria Buelah Woodworth-Etter, was born on July 22, 1844 to Samuel Lewis and Matilda (Brittain) Underwood. Her parents weren’t Christians and therefore she had no religious education until her parents joined the Disciple church in 1854. Her first loss occurred in 1857 when her father went out to the field to work but was carried back to the house with a severe case of sunstroke. Her mother was left with eight children and no support. Her mother and all the children old enough had to work to support the family.
When Maria was thirteen she heard the story of the cross at a Disciples meeting and was converted. Soon after she was converted she heard the voice of God tell her to “go to the highways and hedges and gather the lost sheep”. This was confusing to her as the Disciples did not allow women workers. She thought that perhaps if she married a Christian man they could do missions work together.
A few years later she married her Philo Horace Woodworth. They attempted to farm but it was a failure. She had a son who died at a very young age. Maria then had another boy, Fred, who died, and she herself came close to dying. Georganna (Georgie), the second girl, was seven years old and she also became ill and lingered in terrible pain for several months, before she also died. Three weeks before Georgie died a little girl named Nellie Gertrude (Gertie) was born. However she only lived four months before she also died. Maria herself struggled with poor health and many times thought that she herself would die. There was one remaining boy and girl left to the Etters. Willie, the seven year old boy, became ill and died within a few days. All told within a few years five of the six Etter children had died leaving them in great grief and sorrow. Elizabeth Cornelia (Lizzie), the oldest girl, was the only child left to them.
Recommended: Biography and Life Of Hudson Taylor, The Man Who Brought The Gospel To China
The entire time she felt that God was calling her to preach to the lost. Finally a way was opened for her to speak at a Friend’s meeting. When she got up to speak she was given a vision of the pit of hell and people not knowing their danger. She cried out for people to follow God and choose to be saved. Although she felt called to continue she did not know how to do that. She thought she would study but she had a vision where Jesus told her souls were perishing and she could not wait to get ready. Day and night she felt the need to call sinners to repentance. She finally started in her local area and began to see many conversions. The power of God would fall and sinners would run to the front in repentance. Eventually she held nine revival meetings and started two churches locally.
Evangelist Woodworth-Etter in 1880 began her dynamic ministry—despite the fact that she had little formal education and didn’t start preaching until she was age 35. She had a husband who didn’t share her call to the ministry and wanted nothing more than to stay on their Ohio farm. Even though few women were in the pulpit at the time, Maria didn’t doubt her call.
Recommended: Biography and Life of Charles G. Finney, The Father of Modern Revivalism
Maria preached wherever God called and moved through the Midwest where she gained a great reputation for the power of God coming into her meetings. Not long into her ministry she felt God calling her to pray for the sick. She was resistant to doing so because she feared that it would distract from the evangelistic call. Jesus assured her that if she prayed for the sick more people would be saved. She agreed and began praying for the sick. Her meetings were characterized by great power, healings, visions, and trances. In 1884 she was licensed as an evangelist by the Churches of God Southern Assembly, which had been founded by John Winebrenner. Some of her meetings had over 25,000 attendees. She traveled with a tent and set it up where God gave her opportunity.
She had gone coast to coast at least three times by 1894. In her earlier ministry she emphasized conversions and was very successful in meetings sponsored by Methodists, United Brethren, Churches of God (Winebrenner), and other groups.
Maria Woodworth-Etter was an outstanding preacher of the Gospel who saw amazing signs and wonders attending her ministry. By the time the Pentecostal movement was born in 1906 Maria, in her early sixties already had two-and-a-half decades of Pentecostal ministry under her belt!
Recommended: Biography, Life and Ministry of Kathryn Kuhlman, A Healing Evangelist
She was an itinerant evangelist who travelled coast–to-coast across the United States holding meetings in church halls, Gospel tents and public buildings. Though simply evangelistic in the early days it was in 1885 that supernatural signs began to accompany her service. People fell into trances, experienced visions of heaven and hell, collapsed on the floor as if they’d been shot or had died. Thousands were healed of a wide variety of sicknesses and diseases and many believers, even ministers, received mighty baptisms of the Holy Spirit.
In a huge meeting in Alexandria, Indiana, Maria reported that the power of God took control of about 500 of the 25,000 people, causing many to fall to the ground. “The Holy Ghost sat upon them,” she wrote. “I was overpowered.”
By 1885 she had developed a theology that included salvation, holiness, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, healing, and the imminent return of Christ. She was also big on prophecies—part of the excitement that helped fill an 8,000-seat tent from city to city.
Biography, Life and Ministry of William Seymour, The Catalyst of Pentecost and The Man Behind Azuza Street Revival
An 1887 newspaper quoted Maria in an Illinois meeting, giving her a powerful voice before the beginning of the Pentecostal movement.
“The power which was given to the apostles in their day had never been taken from the church. The trouble was, the churches had sunk to the level of the world and were without the unlimited faith that will heal the sick and make the lame to walk. She prayed for the return of the old days and more faith in Christ among the people.”
Recommended: List Of Books By Maria Woodworth-Etter
Pentecostals considered that many of the unusual things she’d experienced made Etter a forerunner in the works of the Holy Spirit. She was well known by John G. Lake who called her “Mother Etter” in his sermons.
At 67 she was feeling herself close to death but God gave her a vision of Himself as the conqueror of death and disease. He showed her she wasn’t done yet. By the end of January 1915 she was back on the road ministering again.
Biography of Aimee Semple McPherson
Finally in 1918 God called her to start a church in Indianapolis, she founded what is today Lakeview Church (Temple) of Indianapolis, Indiana. She used it as a conference center, and often traveled from there to minister and preach in the mid-west. Her health declined, and she died on September 16, 1924, honored as a woman of God. She is buried in a grave in Indianapolis next to her daughter and son-in-law. Her inscription reads “Thou showest unto thousands lovingkindness.” She was survived by her granddaughter Beulah and husband Earl Clark, who were also Pentecostal ministers.