AUSTIN, Texas - The Rev. Kenneth Phillips changed his appearance two years ago. To this day, he can't stand to look at himself in the mirror.

This is a man with a worldwide ministry that other pastors envy. This is a man who commands a 25-acre church complex in the heart of Austin.

This is a man who is Art Garfunkel-bald and hates it. He hates it even more than former President George Bush hates broccoli.

He hates it so much that, when his hair started retreating years ago, he filled in the gaps with fake turf. For 20 years, many churchgoers were never the wiser. Until June 4, 2000.

On that day, in the middle of a sermon, he reached up without warning and removed his hairpiece. Afterward, he looked like a tonsured monk in a business suit.

Worshipers gasped, then cheered, then broke out in prayer. They couldn't believe what had just happened. Right before their eyes, their pastor had bared his soul, then bared his head.

"It was almost like seeing your pastor naked," said Associate Pastor John Ragsdale.

The sermon had been deeply personal. Phillips spoke about vanity and the sin of pride. He confessed that his fake hair had become a barrier with God.

"Twenty years ago, I started wearing a hairpiece," he told worshippers. He was soft-spoken and conversational, nothing like the thunderous preachers who pronounce the name of Jesus as though it had 18 syllables. All eyes were on him.

"I thought it had nothing to do with pride," he said. "I thought it was just personal preference."

Now he knew better, he said.

Many who were there that night were so moved that they told their friends. More and more people turned up at PromiseLand Church. Soon, newspapers around the world were carrying the story of what was dubbed the "Toupee Revival."

People read the story and laughed. Some called it a gimmick. They joked about how there was finally a church where you could let your hair down. Even phrases like "hairsplitting theology" took on humorous overtones.

But the 62-year-old pastor wasn't laughing, and neither was his church. Those who were there that night heard an emotional sermon on the sin of pride that none have forgotten to this day.

Not a word. It changed them.

Some canceled vacations to pray about the sin of pride in their own lives. They unplugged televisions to spend more time with family. Young people vowed to stop wearing immodest clothing.

Kim Williams sold her Corvette. It was an `89 red racer that she had paid off only four months earlier. Her dream car.

"I spent a lot of time polishing it and taking care of it and driving it," she said. "I thought it was pretty special."

But after that night in June, she saw it as an idol. So she sold the car for $9,500, chipped in another $500 and gave $10,000 to the church for outreach. It wasn't easy to let go, even with prayer.

"I felt like the needs of the community were more important than that car," said Williams, 52, who now drives a Honda Accord. That's what God taught her, she said.

And that's what's bringing people to PromiseLand.

"You either understand this or you don't," Phillips said. "It's like a savior hanging naked on a cross."


The church has 3,000 members - a 25 percent increase since that June night. They worship in a new 2,200-seat auditorium with all of the latest recording technology. So many come that a second service has been added.

"Worship has become more intimate and spiritual," Ragsdale said. "Before, we were a church centered on performance. We had lights and sound and all this spectacular stuff. People would come to see our dramas."

Now they're coming because the movement of God is there, he said. Some Pentecostal circles say that the Holy Spirit is ushering in all kinds of miracles and blessings at PromiseLand. They're calling it the "Austin Awakening."

"Once I got over the shock that my pastor wore a toupee, it made me realize how superficial we Christians can be sometimes," said Frianita Wilson, 36, who was there that night. "Our pastor showed us that we couldn't just play at church. We can't just go through the motions of religion. We have to get real with Jesus."

Pentecostalism spans several denominations that emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. It has been the fastest growing Christian movement over the past 50 years.

Awakenings have long been popular in this physical form of Christianity. Some worshipers "speak in tongues," a spontaneous, often undecipherable, prayer language. Others crumple to the floor, which they call being "slain" in the Holy Spirit.

In the mid-1990s, thousands of Pentecostals headed to Canada for the Toronto Blessing. It was also known as the "laughing revival" because worshippers doubled over in fits of laughter while they prayed.

Soon after, they headed to Florida for the Brownsville Revival, where as many as 6,000 people turned out for six-hour nightly services. Then, two years ago, the "gold dust revival" swept the country. At those services, tiny gold spangles seemed to appear out of nowhere on people's clothes and hair. Now, there's Austin.

The Austin Awakening initially garnered national attention but never the spectacle of the other revivals. Pentecostal experts say that's partly because Phillips is a "oneness" Pentecostal, meaning he baptizes in the name of Jesus and not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit like other Christians.

"That's still a firewall that divides Pentecostals," said Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a popular Pentecostal magazine. "What's happening in Austin may be well-known in Pastor Phillips' orbit, but it's not that big on the larger Pentecostal radar screen."

A smaller-scale revival suits Phillips just fine.

"The American pulpit has become so commercial and so self-promoting that I want to do everything I can to bring transparency and simplicity back," he said. ISPN, the Inspirational Network, launched a 30-minute weekly program this year featuring the music of the Austin Awakening. Since then, three other networks have picked up the church's worship services - a potential audience of millions.

Eda Crumley calls PromiseLand an "outreach church" because people come, learn and reach out to others.

"Growing up, I thought Pentecostals were weird," said Crumley, 54, a former Catholic. "They were loud and racing around the aisles. Well, this church is classy and dignified. I'm not ashamed to bring anyone here."

Services at PromiseLand resemble those at other nondenominational Christian churches. The music is loud, thanks to a massive choir and band. Worshipers are on their feet clapping and singing during much of the service. Some raise their hands in the air. Others bob like pogo sticks.

Phillips is quiet in person, but in the pulpit he's a tuba in constant crescendo. He interprets the Bible literally. And he says Scriptures have foretold much of the events that he reads in newspapers.

On a recent Sunday, he railed again New Age religion and Catholics' view of the Virgin Mary. He insisted that the Bible says America won't have to attack Saddam Hussein because Israel will. And he cautioned against trusting the warm relations between the United States and Russia.

"Don't be fooled by Russia," he said. "They are godless."

Part of the draw to worship is the professional caliber of music. Phillips' son, Randy Phillips, also a pastor, is part of the famous Christian recording trio Phillips, Craig and Dean. Their music is sold in the church's bookstore, along with books, trinkets and bumper stickers that read: "Eternity: Smoking or non-smoking?"

On a short video, Randy Phillips talked about the night his dad shed the hairpiece. He said his father had been preaching about the Book of Acts. He wanted to know why his church hadn't seen the kind of miracles described there. "One of things he brought up could be pride," Randy Phillips said. "So he demonstrated in front of all of us what humility looks like. It shocked me. It changed me. It changed all of us."

The great hair story of the Bible belongs to Samson, an Arnold Schwarzenegger of a man, who owed his warrior-like strength to his hippie-like locks. But Samson lost his heart, his tresses and, tragically, his muscle to a wily woman who had his head shaved.

It does not say in the Bible that Jesus was bald. In fact, almost every statue, painting and holy-card image features a man with flowing hair almost as long as Cindy Crawford's.

Pastor Kenneth Phillips never had hair that long, but there was a time that he had hair. It was the kind of well-behaved hair that rounds the head and never, ever moves.

That old look is still visible in the portrait of him with his son, Randy, that hangs in the church's lobby. Pastor Phillips said he prayed and fasted for seven days before removing his hairpiece, at times living only "on the Lord and Gatorade." He started the fast to get closer to God.

"I'm not the most intelligent man in the world, but I am sincere," he said in a forthright voice that seem to back up his words.

He grew up in Alexandria, La., where his father was a construction worker and his mother a homemaker. He never attended college but preached his first sermon after graduating from high school.

He has been preaching ever since.

During his fast, he searched for a way to deepen his walk with God. The more he prayed, the more he realized the awful truth: His fake hair would have to go. "It was not some distracting, weird-looking thing," he said. "But it was something I knew was there. In everybody's life, there is something obvious that is distracting them from God. To some, it might be a career. To some, it may be athletics."

He could have whipped off the hairpiece in the privacy of his home. Instead, he stood before his congregation and made an intimate confession. It wasn't an easy thing for a private man to do, he said. But prayer convinced him that he had to make it public.

"I said, `God, you didn't make me like this, so evidently you didn't want me like this,''' he told his congregation that night more than two years ago. "In 20 years, I'd never thought like that. But it dawned on me for the first time that this was one area of my life that needs a commitment."

At that point, he hung his head, unable to look at the congregation. "And so I said, `OK, God. It's not a big deal to anybody but me. But I'm going to remove that from my life.'''

Then he took off his hairpiece suddenly and without provocation. No one was more shocked than his wife, Wanda. Even though she knew her husband was bald, she didn't know he planned to share it with the world.

"It wasn't funny; it was just one of those moments," she said. "Everybody fell to their knees. We all started repenting."

They're still repenting, and the spiritual movement continues, she said. "That was the best sermon I've ever heard in my life," church member John Garza, 51, said recently, "because he was really serious and wanted to show us how important it was not to let anything stand between us and God. We haven't forgotten that message."

Some people in the church have gone on 40-day fasts and given up jobs that kept them from God. But to this day, Wanda Phillips doesn't know of any other man who has cast off his hairpiece.

"We have several that wear them," she said.

Pastor Phillips said he still struggles with his new look, even after all the time that has passed.

"It's still painful to me," he said. "It was a humiliating thing to do. It still is. I still avoid mirrors."

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