The story of the revival that broke out in Durham in 1972 is only known fully to God, but I was in the midst of it. I will write what I remember of a time of amazing grace. It began because one clergyman, the Revd Stephen Davis, was more a Christian than a Churchman. He had come to a living faith as an adult, without any church background at all. It marked him forever as a lover of Jesus Christ. That was his first loyalty.
When he came to the rectorship of the Parish Church of St Margaret of Antioch, Crossgate, in the cathedral town of Durham, England, he found a typical congregation of the time. It had long since had any profound effect on the surrounding population, though many still brought babies for baptism, and asked to be married in or buried from the old church. The local Boys Brigade (a type of Boy Scouts) had a regular church parade, but almost none of them or their leaders worshipped regularly. Confessions were heard every Friday and Saturday for one hour, and a small handful of parishioners would occasionally attend Holy Day Communion. Regular Sunday attendance hovered near seventy-five in the morning, and around thirty for Evensong.
Fr Stephen (as he was always called) preached with passion, and was notorious for his forceful personality. He gave directions easily, and was rarely opposed. He was what, in those days, would be called a Prayer Book Catholic, teaching what the Book of Common Prayer taught, but with a catholic slant. The one unusual exception was his conviction that the practice of Infant Baptism was a mistake. He had formed this opinion as a missionary priest in South Africa, where he saw a whole white culture of Christians, all baptized as infants, oppressing the native people he served in a way that seemed to him impossible for true believers.
After some time as rector in Durham he grew more and more discouraged that the external practice of many in the parish was not leading to inward change of any kind that could be seen. It was then that he first heard of the Jesus Movement that had begun in California. When he began to learn more about it he soon came to know of the Charismatic Movement that had preceded it, and which sprang from the ministry of the Revd Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest. Stephen bought and read his book, Nine O’Clock in the Morning, and began to pray that something similar would come to his parish. He formed a small house group, made up of his most faithful (all elderly) parishioners, and gathered them once a month to pray for revival in the parish.
After over a year of these meetings, events began to unfold in a way that turned the parish upside down. First, a young mother in the parish, while at a traditional directed prayer retreat in an Anglican Nunnery, experienced a profound coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Soon after the rector’s wife, finally and quite reluctantly, read the Bennett book, and experienced a deep work of the Holy Spirit in her life. Then within a few weeks the young soon to be curate came under deep conviction of sin, and surrendered to a new walk of grace. Unexpectedly and amazingly a local revival had begun.
Next Week: Not What They Prayed For