St. Petersburg Times Online: Floridian
 Devil Rays Forums

printer version

A moving ministry

The moon shines on the tent where about 30 people gathered to worship on July 12 with the Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson, who took over the tent ministry from his father. The 21st Century Tent Revival began July 1 and is scheduled to run through Aug. 31 on the corner of 34th Street and 26th Avenue S in St. Petersburg.

Times photos by Dirk Shadd
Text by Twila Decker, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 2, 2000

The Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson preaches to the poor and any other souls who find their way to his blue and white tent.

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Sweet Jesus," a woman sings, and the Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson calls up people, one by one, for healing.

"I just feel God here tonight," Wilson tells the modest crowd of about 30 people gathered in a big blue and white tent on the corner of 34th Street and 26th Avenue S.

Wilson, 37, a non-denominational minister of International Missions Inc., plans to preach here as long as people come.

A few weeks ago, he was near the Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park.

Before that, he was in the Bahamas. Before that, Hickory, N.C.

For nine months out of the year, Wilson, his wife, Priscilla, and their 6-month-old daughter, Destiny, go from town to town, carrying their tent and the word of God. They usually sleep in a camper parked outside their tent. Their revival begins each night at 7:30.

"I'm part of a dying breed," Wilson says. "I'm a second-generation tent evangelist."

When Stephen was just 4, his father, R.D., sold everything he had and began traveling and preaching. They have been to nearly every state in the country.

But a few years ago, the elder Wilson grew tired of the road, opened a construction company near Jacksonville and turned the ministry over to his son, who had been preaching beside his father since he was 19.

This visit to St. Petersburg, Wilson says, has been difficult.

The crowds have been small, and so are the donations. But he and Priscilla say things are beginning to change.

"I could tell the difference last night," she says.

Stephen Wilson says he likes to target poor neighborhoods where prostitution and drug dealing are problems.

"I'll stick with the poor. It doesn't matter who they are or what they've done, a soul is a soul to me."

photoThe Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson waves the Bible while preaching to his captivated audience during worship at his 21st Century Tent Revival on July 15. It had rained heavily that day, and Wilson spent the day digging trenches to keep the water out of the tent, not knowing if any of the faithful would come out. But nine people came to worship, and he heeded the call to lead them.

Pat Almert lies peacefully on the floor after the laying on of hands by Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson, as he invites the other people in attendance to come forward during the closing of services on July 15. Almert, of Gulfport, attends Without Walls Church in Tampa. In the background at far right is R.D. Wilson, Stephen Paul’s father, who has retired from the ministry and now lives near Jacksonville.

photo Wilson lays his hand upon the head of Carol Carr during worship at the 21st Century Tent Revival. Carr, who attended on July 12, is the wife of Apostle Ledell Carr, who is a bishop at Bethlehem Temple Church of Christ in St. Petersburg.

photo Ada Davis speaks in tongues during a service on July 12. Davis is a pastor with Greater Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa.

photoAnne Cooper dances, jumps and sings during the closing of services on July 27. She is a minister in dance with the Holy of Holies Ministry from Tallahassee, pastored by Stanley J. Kmet, which was helping with the services that night when more than 80 people gathered to worship.

photo Natalee Kennedy, 11, a minister in dance with Holy of Holies Ministry, worships while resting against the laver, a basin used for ceremonial washing, toward the end of services on July 27.

The Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson lies on the ground while hands are laid upon him during the service on July 27. photo

Back to Floridian

Back to Top
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.