Thomas King Leonard (1861-1946), an evangelical pastor from Ohio, was among the earliest to accept the Pentecostal message from the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909). As a Pentecostal, Leonard pioneered an interracial congregation in a former bar and brothel. Importantly, the congregation provided the first home for the newly formed Assemblies of God national office from 1914 to 1915.
Carl Brumback, in his 1961 history of the Assemblies of God, called Leonard a “truly indispensable man” at the organizational General Council in 1914. According to Revivaltime radio host C.M. Ward, Leonard “dominated the scene until his retirement in 1941 … a great man.” Yet few Assemblies of God members today probably recall the name of T.K. Leonard.
Leonard started in the ministry with a small denomination called Christian Union. A bivocational pastor, he owned a prosperous farm outside of McComb, Ohio. In September 1906, he believed that God was pressing upon him to “sell my possessions, consecrate myself, spirit, soul, and body to the ministry of the Lord Jesus.”
It was during this same time that reports began to spread about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a little mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Some Christians in Ohio who heard about the revival began to desire more of God. When Claude McKinney began to preach the Pentecostal message in Akron, Leonard went to the meetings and was convinced of the reality of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
In January 1907, Leonard took the proceeds from the sale of his farm and purchased an old hotel at 406 Sandusky in Findlay, Ohio. This two-story hotel and tavern, which had doubled as a brothel, seemed the appropriate place to begin a mission to reach those who were most in need of his message of salvation and deliverance. He renovated the building and called it “The Apostolic Temple.”
The only thing from the old tavern that seemed useful for the new church was the bar rail, which Leonard “converted” to an altar rail. The bar rail was not the last of the conversions. Before long many who used to drink at the old bar and make use of the “house of ill-repute” were kneeling in repentance at the altar rail and finding love that was pure and lasting.
Significantly, Leonard’s congregation was interracial and was committed to caring for the poor. From the church’s founding, Leonard had determined that his work would include persons of every race and economic class. Feeling that the word “church” carried a negative connotation, he searched for another word that expressed their mission to “call out” a group of people from all walks of life. He finally fell on the Greek word “ekklesia” (the called-out assembly) and changed the name of his church to “The Assembly of God” and began issuing credentials under that name in 1912.
Feeling strongly that education for those called into ministry was vital, he opened “The Gospel School” for the training of ministers. He also started up a print shop that he christened “The Gospel Publishing House.”
When the call was issued in 1914 for a gathering of Pentecostal believers in Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the purpose of bringing greater unity to this fledgling movement, Leonard served on the conference committee and was elected one of the executive presbyters. It was T.K. Leonard who wrote the constitutional preamble which established the term “Assemblies of God” as the name for the new Fellowship.
When discussion turned to the need for a headquarters for the Fellowship, Leonard offered his facilities. The newly formed Assemblies of God set up its first headquarters in his converted tavern and brothel in Findlay, Ohio, and began using Gospel Publishing House to print materials. The arrangement was short-lived due to inadequate space, and the headquarters moved to St. Louis in 1915.
By 1916, the Assemblies of God was facing doctrinal challenges, and the need became apparent for a formal statement of faith. Leonard served on the committee that drafted the Statement of Fundamental Truths, which remains the authoritative theological statement for the Assemblies of God to this day.
Leonard settled into his pastoral role at the Findlay church, which he led until his retirement in 1941 at age 80. He intended to continue preaching and teaching; however, his health deteriorated and he spent his last years in quiet retirement.
A death notice printed in the March 2, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel stated, “Brother Leonard will be remembered as the author of the original declaration on constitution which was adopted at the first General Council…which declaration shaped the course of the Assemblies of God fellowship.” In fact, it was Thomas King Leonard who gave the Assemblies of God its first constitutional preamble and resolution, its official name, and the name of its publishing house, all of which form a legacy that has endured to this day.
See the notice for T.K. Leonard’s death on page 12 of the March 2, 1946, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “A Day with a Palestine Shepherd” by Frances Stephens
• “How God Provided a Christmas Dinner” by Missionary to Japan Jessie Wengler
• “Our Missionary Advance in India”
And many more!
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Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.