Growing Pains & Vision Disharmony  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The whole of Durham Town and many from the surrounding countryside were in a state of great delight in the days after the wonderful night of praise at the cathedral. The serious Christian community were on tiptoe with expectation that things would begin to change in a gospel direction. Nowhere was that expectation more real than in the parish of St Margaret, where the idea for the evening had first been birthed in the rector’s mind and heart. The Household Community within the parish was primed to see an even greater growth of the renewal that had begun, and to do all it could to assist in that expansion. But the reality of human frailty, the ubiquity of sin, and the certain opposition of the enemy of our souls began to conspire against us all.

Looking back after nearly fifty years it is easy to see what might have helped us weather the storms that were coming, but at the time we were caught in the blindness of our joy and immaturity. We had no role models, no wise mentors, no seasoned leadership that had ever gone through such a time as we were experiencing. We were all searching the scriptures for guidance, of course, but we needed concrete assistance, and it soon came to pass that we were looking in two different directions.

Some were deeply enamored of the leadership coming from the Fisherfolk, and specifically from the Revd Graham Pulkingham, their leader. He had been the rector presiding over the renewal experienced by the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, TX, and he was having an initial impact in England that was quite strong. Given to a very directive style of oversight, he was able to exert considerable influence in the days and weeks after the cathedral experience. Some of the leadership were ready to look to him as – in effect – the spiritual overseer of the parish, and consequently to easily and generally accept his guidance. With very little seasoned maturity in discerning the Holy Spirit from other spirits, many were confusing Graham’s advice with the will of God.

At the same time, others in leadership were increasingly looking to the Revd David Watson, then leading a vibrant church in York, for counsel and guidance. David was then probably the single most trusted leader in the renewal that was sweeping through the Church of England. A classically trained Evangelical, he brought a deep grasp of the Holy Scriptures to his ministry, and this generally balanced the various extremes that were surfacing in the wake of the renewal. Because so many of those coming into the unfolding revival in Durham had an Evangelical background, it was easy for them to see David’s way as the better one.

For many months the differences were not that clear, but slowly two factions were forming in the parish. The rector was seeking Graham Pulkingham’s counsel, and the Curate was seeking David Watson’s. Key leaders in the parish were thus looking to men with two different visions of where the life of the parish should go. For several years a unity of understanding had prevailed in the parish. Now vision disharmony began to be a regular discussion point, and soon spilled over into disagreement and distrust.


Next Week: The Unity of the Spirit?

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