Crossing the Line - part 21
At the same time as being the youth worker in Haddenham I was also employed by a group working for national change in the Church of England. Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM) was set up to encourage Charismatic Renewal in the Church of England.
Charismatics often have a rather a mixed press in the UK. They are often dismissed as happy-clappy, superficial or dumbed-down Christians, but beneath the joyful expression of most charismatic churches there is a profound longing for deep and life-changing encounters with God. At the heart of the Charismatic movement is a rediscovery of the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit.
Christians have always believed in one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Fatherhood of God is recognised in prayer every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father who art in heaven. The Son is, of course, Jesus Christ the Son of God. But the Holy Spirit had been relegated over many centuries to something vague and mysterious, unknown and unknowable. The Prayer Book didn’t help, referring to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost. As a child this had always sounded rather spooky to me! Often referred to as ‘it’rather than he or she, the Holy Spirit was little understood and rarely mentioned except in blessings or collects, when listed with the Father and the Son.
Yet the Holy Spirit is an integral and powerful part of the New Testament. The Virgin Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus left his disciples at the ascension with the words, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Book of Acts which follows the Gospels, is full of stories of the Holy Spirit empowering Christians with signs and wonders, as well as teaching and guiding the early Church. For them The Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Jesus, sent by the Father to be with them when Jesus could no longer walk alongside them on the road, yet just as real.
By the 20th Century however, one inspirational preacher, AW Tozer remarked that “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop and everybody would know the difference”.
Anglo-Catholics limited the Holy Spirit’s work to the sacraments. Liberal theologians dismissed Bible stories of miracles and healings as merely inspirational stories. Conservative Evangelicals believed in the truth of the Bible miracles, but argued that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer needed after the Bible reached its final form. This prompted one preacher from the Charismatic movement to say “That’s like having a car and saying that we don’t need petrol because we’ve found the owners handbook!”
In a nutshell, the Charismatic movement was one of those times in history when people were rediscovering the person of the Holy Spirit together with the love and power which he/she brings to the Church. This was often controversial as it appeared to be rather threatening to some traditional Anglican values, like playing everything safe and not getting too excited!
By the 1970s, the Charismatic movement in the UK was established and growing, inspired by accounts of amazing things happening in other parts of the world. Finding and promoting an Anglican way of being Charismatic was at the heart of ARM.
My job was mostly office work. Responding to letters and phone enquiries; sending off orders for the courses we published and recordings of conference talks; publicising books and organising conferences. It was good experience, learning the nuts and bolts of administration but part of my work with ARM was going to the conferences and parish weekends we organised. This sometimes involved leading prayer and worship, looking after the guest speakers and even preaching occasionally.
The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick began to feel like my second home that year. Some of the conferences were small with local preachers; some were large and had speakers from all over the world. During the year, I met and talked with most of the Charismatic leaders of the 80’s, both from the UK and the USA and I heard enough sermons to last a lifetime! I also assisted with the prayer ministry for people at the end of meetings.
I learned a great deal, from the nuts and bolts of admin to the sometimes delicate task of managing church celebrities. Most of all, I learned that people who speak at conferences and write books are just people, even if some have an ego the size of a house! In all walks of life there is a tendency to put people on pedestals. Someone might be a great preacher, a celebrity or a successful politician – but beneath it all they are people just like you and me. They have their good days and their off-days, their strengths and weaknesses. On stage they may be larger than life, but they all have their grumpy days and sometimes even suffer depression, despite everything appearing fine on the surface.
Lawrence, the leader of ARM and my boss, was a case in point. He was a big Yorkshireman with a big heart but also a big temper. On some days the slightest thing could send him into a rage and when we were out on the road I was often the person who was sent in to calm him down. It wasn’t quite like Daniel in the lions’ den, but more like the young boy David being sent to soothe King Saul’s temper by playing the harp! (1 Samuel 16)
A deanery weekend we held in Devon is a good example. We arrived on the Friday afternoon ready for the first event which was a Youth Night. We had booked an up and coming musician and preacher as the main attraction, but as 7:30pm approached we began to realise that he wasn’t going to show up. After some frantic phone calls, it emerged that he had the dates mixed up and thought it was the following weekend. As the only member of the team under the age of 50, I was asked to stand in for him, singing and preaching to the gathering of 80-100 young people who had arrived. I had about 5 minutes to work out what to do! It would be fair to say that they got a raw deal that night, but were very gracious about it.
The young preacher/musician then arrived somewhat shamefaced on the Saturday for the rest of the weekend meetings, but left before the final service on the Sunday evening. Lawrence was furious, and I got a phone call over tea from a rather bewildered vicar who had witnessed the full force of his rage. He had left him alone in a room to calm down before getting on the phone to me. I went straight over and was greeted by a very relieved clergyman who ushered me into the sitting room where Lawrence was sat, seething. After about an hour, normality was restored and Lawrence preached a wonderful sermon at the service that evening.
I saw the numerous heated arguments that Christian celebrities can have with each other, especially when they aren’t getting their own way. I don’t say this to demean them, but rather to show that we are all human. Those of us who who read books by great preachers can assume that they are so much more Christ-like than we ever could be. In truth, they are just as fallible, just as human, just as capable of getting things right or wrong. Learning this was a very good lesson. It taught me to always look inside the people I meet, to see their needs and concerns rather than just the persona they project.
Of all the people I heard preach that year, the one who impressed me most will be almost unheard of today. It was a man called David Smith who was the manager of a food warehouse as well as being a local preacher. He was wonderfully down to earth and real.
People used to ask him why he didn’t get ordained. His reply was short and sweet. “I don’t need a dog collar” he would say, “Just like when I’m at work, I don’t need to wear a badge which says manager.” When people looked a bit puzzled, he would explain that everyone knows he is the manager at the warehouse by the way he conducts himself, adding, “If I need a badge saying manager, I shouldn’t be the manager!”
While I think there is a separate conversation to have here about the nature of God’s calling, what David taught me was priceless – that we should never assume that trust and authority simply come from a uniform, badge or dog collar. Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them”, not by the shininess of their dog collar, vestments, or guitar!
Towards the end of my time with ARM I was sent to the United States to be a ghost writer for a Youth Pastor in an Anglican church in Nashville, Tennessee. He had been recognised for his ministry among young people, and I was sent to collate his teaching material and turn it into courses for teenagers in the UK.
I had some great experiences there…
Soon after I arrived I surprized my hosts by wanting to go for a walk around their neighbourhood. Despite their incredulity I pressed on until I was stopped by a police squad car, suspicious of this lone figure waking the streets. After a tense moment, I spoke and the tension evaporated. “Aha! You’re English!” one of the officers said, before patiently explaining to me that people don’t walk in Nashville, they drive.
Then it was my turn to be shocked when I was taken out to a meal in a very respectable restaurant. Before being taken to our table we were asked to check all guns into the cloakroom as naturally as being asked whether we had a coat or umbrella. Seeing all the firearms stacked in numbered lockers behind the counter made me look at my fellow diners in a whole new way.
After a couple of weeks I had everything I needed. I came back to the UK, spent a couple of months writing it up and we published Crash Christianity and Discipleship Training. It was a good note on which to leave.
Many of us who were involved in Charismatic Renewal expected it to take the CofE by storm and revolutionise the entire Church. Looking back, it didn’t, but it did have a significant impact. In the Church of England today there are many experienced priests of all traditions who count the charismatic movement as influential in discovering their vocation. In recent years I was surprised to find that almost all the clergy in a sleepy deanery chapter in rural Dorset cited Charismatic Renewal as a major factor in hearing God’s call.
It also led to the creation of a number of networks which are still highly active today. New Wine is the biggest Anglican one, but there are also others. Many members of the early House Churches were disaffected Anglicans from churches where they felt that Charismatic Renewal had been rejected. As these grew, this led to the success of groups like New Frontiers.
No single reforming movement in the Church can ever claim to be the answer to all the church’s needs. Life is much more complex than that. We each have a piece of the jigsaw and we are all needed to make the picture complete. Not everyone is made to be a raving charismatic, just as not everyone is made to be some other part of the church’s story. Working for ARM for that year was an opportunity to encourage others to cross the line from a safe predictable faith into the unknown. Many were blessed by that and the Church of England would be the poorer without it.
Today, ARM is known as ‘ReSource’ and is still active in encouraging churches and individuals.
But my time there was coming to an end and soon I was ready to move on to my next adventure – with a motorbike and a London A-Z.