In the early 1900s, the Pentecostal revival swept through the United States. The Gospel message was being spread with great zeal and many received salvation, miraculous healings, and witnessed the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit including speaking tongues and prophecy.
Milwaukee was not left out of this historic revival. Reverend Cyrus B. Fockler, an early leader in the Pentecostal Movement received an invitation from Evangelist John G. Lake to come to Milwaukee to conduct religious services. These services were held on Sunday, April 7, 1907. The following day, he and a few other brothers in Christ visited the home of an ill young woman. The supernatural events that occurred during this visit were the catalyst for the formation of the Milwaukee Gospel Tabernacle church. Alice Baumbach, a young woman crippled for four years with tuberculosis and curvature of the spine including decay of her bones was healed through the prayers of Reverend Fockler. Following this healing, she and her mother gave their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ and received salvation.
In the late 1890s, Pastor Fockler became associated with John A. Dowie of Zion, Illinois and led one of his churches in Ohio. Dowie and Fockler believed in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and miraculous healing. Pastor Fockler was noted to have said that “I’m not going to preach until I have an experience like that” (the baptism in the Holy Spirit). Fockler was one of the early founders of our denomination, the Assemblies of God, which began in Hot Springs, Arkansas in April 1914. He was one of eight men elected to the first Executive Presbytery. Reverend Fockler returned to Milwaukee on February 14, 1909 where the first Public Assembly Services were held in a free Methodist Church located on 20th and Vine.
The Tabernacle, as the church was called at that time, grew rapidly and a building project was undertaken. The Milwaukee Gospel Tabernacle was built in 1910 at 720 West Meinecke Avenue. Fockler pastored this church until his death in 1933. The congregation like their pastor was deeply committed to the Lord and embraced the gifts of the Spirit. The church grew through tent meetings, street evangelism, prayer meetings, regular weekly services, conferences, and youth ministry in impoverished areas of the city. The church fed the poor, visited those in prison, and prayed for the sick. This history of prayer, outreaches that engaged the community, and commitment to reaching people with the Gospel has marked our church from the beginning. After thirty years of ministry, Pastor Fockler died suddenly of a heart attack on March 9, 1933. A mission-minded minister he traveled around the world in 1926 and 1927.
During his absence from the church, Brother Edward A. Eggert was appointed as interim pastor. The church expanded under his leadership. Upon Fockler’s return, Brother Eggert along with a group of believers left the congregation in 1929 to form the Milwaukee Gospel Center at Fourth and Center Street. Among those who accompanied Reverend Eggert were the Laukermanns, the Bronns, the Erdmanns, the Pagels, the Riedys, and the Egelseers.
After incorporating, the Milwaukee Gospel Tabernacle church board called Roy Dunbar, a 35 year old minister to pastor the church. He graduated from Northwestern University and held a doctorate of Divinity degree. He was also the president of the International Pentecostal Assemblies for ten years, served as Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and as President of the Black Hills Bible Institute. Dunbar pastored from 1933 until 1951. Members remembered him as a man deeply committed to the Word of God who emphasized miraculous healing. He was said to have been “a tremendous preacher and scholar.”
Pastor Dunbar was small in stature, but a tiger in the pulpit. Long-term Kenya missionary Betty Kapp Turton who was encouraged by Pastor Dunbar to pursue biblical education stated in 1947 that she was “impressed by his humility and knowledge of the Word of God.” Under the leadership of Pastor Dunbar the church experienced a persistent non-spiritual problem, a lack of parking spaces. Many members had begun to drive cars instead of walking to services. As a result, the congregation was forced to begin looking for a new building site. However, before the problem could be solved, Pastor Dunbar relocated to Pasadena, California to become the Dean of the California Open Bible Institute. Unfortunately, due to ill health he returned to Milwaukee two years later. Shortly thereafter, he died of cancer at the age of 63.
Another part of the original congregation left in 1937 to form another fellowship. Most of these families were members or relatives of founding members. The new congregation held its first services on January 16, 1938 at a rented union hall located on 1012 North Third Street under the leadership of Phillip Megna. This fellowship purchased and remodeled a theater building and dedicated it on June 19, 1938 as Glad Tidings Temple. The building owned by Glad Tidings Temple in Milwaukee on North 22nd and West Center Street was sold in 1948 and the new congregation worshipped in a building located on North Fourth and Center Street.
The decision was made in 1957 while in the process of building a new facility to rename the fellowship. It became known as Parklawn Assembly of God because of its new location in the Parklawn subdivision. The new location was in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood with some German families. Under the leadership of Senior Pastor Paul Baldwin in the late 1960s and early 1970s the congregation purchased a van and began its bus ministry. As the bus ministry expanded, a 66-passenger bus was purchased to allow the ministry to pick up congregants of all races from nearby housing projects and the East side.
The embracing leadership of Pastor H. Ray Collver would see continued racial diversification and reconciliation within the membership of Parklawn. Pastor Collver is a native of Canada and was involved in the Pentecostal movement in this country. He came to Milwaukee in 1971 from a pastoral position in Madison, Wisconsin to become the pastor at Parklawn. He served in this role until 1986. He married his wife Blanche prior to his service as a Canadian bomber pilot in the Canadian military. Under Pastor Collver’s leadership, African-Americans began regularly attending and working in the ministries of Parklawn Assembly of God.
In December of 1974, the congregation received its first African-American member into the fellowship, Mary Dawson. At its 1975 Annual Business Meeting, the congregation elected its first African-American deacon, Lawrence A. Drake. Several years after completing his studies, Reverend Drake joined the pastoral staff of Parklawn. The first African-American Senior Pastor of Parklawn was Michael T. Dudley. He served in this capacity for six years prior to our current pastor’s election to this role in October 1993.
Prior to his retirement, H. Ray Collver led the congregation to make a bold faith move and purchase the former Beth El Synagogue in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee (located approximately 10 blocks from the church). When asked by some of his deacons “what he planned to do with a building so large”? Collver answered, “fill it”! God and the committed people who make Parklawn Assembly of God their spiritual oasis each week are still honoring his act of faith.
Walter Harvey was elected Senior Pastor in 1993. He has previously served the church as the Youth Pastor in 1992. Today, he also serves the Assemblies of God as an General Presbyter (Vice President of the National Black Fellowship) and the Wisconsin Northern Michigan Ministries Network as a Executive Presbyter and Ethnic Presbyter. He is a graduate of Marquette University with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and minor in Counseling. A gifted visionary, he has facilitated the growth of Parklawn, as it has become one of the fastest growing churches in Wisconsin and within the Assemblies of God. Parklawn Christian Leadership Academy (a private Christian K4 – 8th grade school) was started by the church in 1998. In 2000, Parklawn began a transition to cell groups (small groups that met in homes). In 1996, Pastor Harvey took his first world missions trip to Africa and since then has traveled over a dozen countries. He is a gifted communicator who has spoken for Promise Keepers Men’s Conferences, Honor Bound, and No Regrets Men’s Conference. He shares pastoral leadership with his wife Pastor Judy Harvey. She is the leader of the Women of Virtue Women’s Ministry Network and is also a passionate and gifted speaker.
In 2008, Parklawn completed a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion. Choosing to remain at our current location on Sherman Boulevard, this expansion allowed the congregation to accommodate and better serve the growing fellowship and the community with a new state of the art Children’s ministry, Cup of Life Café, prayer room, music wing, administrative offices, River of Life Bookstore, renovated sanctuary, and allowed more space for the needs of the Parklawn Leadership Academy.
In 2009, Parklawn celebrated its 100th church anniversary at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Tony Dungy, legendary NFL Super Bowl Championship coach was the keynote speaker.
Parklawn Assembly of God is to a multi ethnic, Pentecostal community of faith that engages the world with the light, life and love of Jesus Christ.