BALTIMORE -- Robert McGoings admits he's a pack rat, but at age 83he's proud that his habit has proven beneficial for scholars ofPentecostalism.
The retired railroad worker was honored during the recent annualmeeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies in Kirkland, Wash.
Little did he know when he started collecting materials sevendecades ago that his Sunday bulletins, convention programs and songbookswould help scholars tracing the history of the Pentecostal faith ofAfrican-Americans.
"At that time, Pentecostalism wasn't fully accepted," he recalled."Some people called it a cult."
Pentecostalism, a religious movement stressing direct inspiration bythe Holy Spirit and often associated with such "gifts" of the Spirit ashealing and speaking in tongues, now has gained wider acceptance.
At the society's 29th annual meeting, McGoings was presented with abound set of papers that were read during the conference, an honorbestowed on those who have made significant contributions to members ofthe organization.
"He's not a member of our society but has been a very significantinfluence on a number of the young African-American scholars in thesociety," said Bill Faupel, executive secretary of the group. "It'sbeing presented in recognition of his mentoring these scholars."
McGoings, who studied history for two years at what was thenBaltimore's Morgan State College but never earned a degree himself, saidhe's "excited" about being recognized by the scholarly group.
As a regular attender of an annual meeting of Pentecostal"old-timers" in New York, he realizes his knowledge and memories arehard to come by.
"There's just a few of us left who can recall much of the historywithout getting it mixed up," said McGoings, a member of First UnitedChurch of Jesus Christ (Apostolic) in Baltimore since 1968. "And so farI'm satisfied that I can still tell some history."
In recent decades, he's helped researchers track the educationalbackgrounds and theological beliefs of Pentecostal leaders as well asthe growth of particular congregations.
Growing up in Baltimore, McGoings was a member of First ApostolicFaith Baptist Church, which was part of the Pentecostal Assemblies ofthe World organization.
"As a child, quite a number of the preachers coming through to visitmy church would come to my house ... for dinner or even to stay," hesaid. "In those days, the African-Americans could not stay in a hotel."
McGoings' collection began mostly because he was impressed with thepersuasive preaching of Bishop R.C. Lawson, the founder of thePentecostal organization called Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of theApostolic Faith.
"I just liked his mannerism and his ability and style of delivery,even though I was only eight years old," McGoings recalled of the firsttime he heard Lawson preach at his church in 1925. "I fell in love withhim. ... I was taken. I was a follower of him until he passed and I'mcalled a Lawsonite."
McGoings, a distinguished gentleman who jumps up to refer to nearbypamphlets and booklets to answer questions more specifically, stillrecalls the past and current street addresses of Pentecostal churcheswhere the bishop preached.
After hearing Lawson again in 1932, McGoings started to keepnewspaper articles and programs related to the church official andeventually expanded his clippings to other leaders of the Oneness branchof Pentecostals.
Members of the Oneness division believe there is one person in theGodhead -- rather than the Trinity -- and baptize converts in the nameof Jesus rather than in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
McGoings explained the Oneness tradition on baptism, which occurswhen possible in the same service where converts respond to a preacher'saltar call.
"You get baptized then and there," he said. "You don't get a chanceto think about it."
By the 1940s, McGoings and his late wife, Florence, traveled to NewYork regularly to hear Lawson preach, attending the bishop's RefugeTemple more than their Baltimore church. McGoings enjoyed the anthemsand hymns at the "conventional church service," a departure from thetraditional hand-clapping, foot-stomping worship of other Pentecostalcongregations.
"Lawson and I became personal friends and that added more to it," hesaid of his collection.
Sherry DuPree, a Gainesville, Fla., author who has researchedAfrican-American Pentecostal groups, said she met McGoings in 1982through contacts at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington.
"He was just an eye-opener for Oneness groups," said DuPree.
She said McGoings took her personally to interview people sheincluded in her "Biographical Dictionary of African American HolinessPentecostals: 1880-1990."
"He spent many hours with me in the '80s, carrying me places andintroducing me to folk that I could interview," recalled DuPree.