The Final Chapter     (by Jon Shuler​​)

The system of determining a new minister in a parish church in England in those days will seem strange to many who read this, but it was (and still is) rooted in centuries of unchanging law in that land. Every parish has a “Patron” with rights of appointment, and for St Margaret’s, Crossgate, in the Town of Durham, those rights were held by the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedral. Three parties normally would have to agree to the appointment of a new priest: the Patron, the Diocesan Bishop, and the Parochial Church Council. When Stephen Davis retired in 1987 the forces that wanted reversion to earlier patterns were unstoppable. The rector who soon succeeded would slowly dismantle every remnant of the Davis era.

The renewal in the parish had upset every conserving faction of the institutional church for years. Alienated laity and retired clergy who lived in the parish (including by then the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey), the diocesan bishop that Stephen had opposed, and the Cathedral establishment who prided themselves on their ancient ways, all united in pushing for a direction that would end renewal in the parish completely. Most who remained and had been touched by the prior season of grace, departed for other parishes. A beautiful large red banner that had hung (since Pentecost Sunday 1974) just to the right of the Chancel, emblazoned with the ancient affirmation of the reality that occurred at the Virgin Mary’s Annunciation: “The Word of God Lept Out,” was removed in 1991. Symbolically the final chapter ended. In just a few more years, with attendance dwindling near its pre renewal levels, the rector resigned and submitted to the jurisdiction of the Roman Church.

The Revd Stephen Davis was rector of St Margaret’s from 1964 to 1987, and from 1972 he had championed the wave of change called “The Charismatic Renewal.” What can the story of those years tell us who remain? What lessons are there for those who lead in the church and long for a new day of revival in 2020? Only time will tell what God may or may not have wrought, but certain it is that many men and women who lived through some part of those years have a testimony of gratitude. Lives were touched by grace, and some were forever changed. The Lordship of Jesus Christ was reasserted in that parish for a season, and it triumphed over the traditions of men. Many received lasting healing under the Holy Spirit’s sovereign presence. The Word of God came alive.

Were there mistakes and errors? Looking back there are surely a number. But the positives seem to me to outweigh the negatives. There was an amazing upsurge though those years of men and women who came into a living faith, a faith that has sustained them to this day. There were scores of folks who discerned a call to vocational, full time, ministry in the church.There was a great reawakening to the centrality of the ministry of all the Lord’s people, not just the clergy. Worship was forever changed.


Next Week: Lasting Lessons?

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