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?

A Rekindled Flame       (by Jon Shuler​​)

John Wimber was not a Pentecostal. His coming to faith occurred in an evangelical Quaker congregation, and his ministry expanded when they prayed for him to take the “Quaker Blessing” to the wider church. Within his lifetime the Vineyard Movement he led would expand around the world. Nowhere did it’s impact leave such lasting imprint as in England, and Stephen Davis wanted the blessing for St Margarets in Durham.

Embracing central tenants of Wimber’s philosophy of ministry was easy for him. David Watson’s recommendation of course hastened it. The era in which Graham Pulkingham guided Fr Stephen ended when he returned to the United States, and Watson’s calm voice and encouragement had taken principle place as an external counselor.

Prayer for healing had been a part of the ministry at St Margarets as long as Stephen had been there. Praying during services for people to be healed, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, or to come to saving faith had become normal in the early waves of renewal, so there was little that was new. Ministry time was already a normal part of every gathering before Wimber arrived in Britain. But a spirit of excitement and expectation was accompanying the arrival of Wimber’s message, and with it came a new burst of anointed songs of praise and worship. That too had been part of St Margarets for more than a decade, but the fresh sounds gave birth to a whole new generation of Christ worshippers. Many students in the University were swept up in the new movement, and a good number settled in to the parish for their time in Durham.

The “Household Community” had never ceased to be a part of the work, though largely centered in the latter years only at the Rectory, and it too experienced a resurgence. In the last years of Davis’ ministry in Durham, he was thus blessed to see yet more dozens of young men and women pass through the parish who would leave after three years and go throughout the world. Not least of these would be his succession of curates, or assistant clergy.

In many ways the Church of England was greatly changed by the Wimber phenomena. Parish after parish would remove their pews and carpet the nave in order to facilitate “ministry time.” Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London would become the flagship of this change, and with the inauguration of the Alpha Course in the early 1990s would become known throughout the world. Yet nearly all that would subsequently characterize what has sometimes been called “the Wimberization of the Church of England” had been a part of life of St Margarets since 1972.

Stephen Davis remained a liturgical churchman to the end of his days, however, and no attempt was ever made to alter the Norman building or to cease the sacramental undergirding that shaped his ministry. The hope of renewal, that the church of Jesus Christ – by the bold jpreaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit – would once again boldly transform lives in England, never died while he was rector.


Next Week: The Final Chapter

Establishment Order & Dying Embers of Revival     (by Jon Shuler​​)

When Fr. Stephen Davis took on the Bishop of Durham in 1984, it was not about small things. The new diocesan overseer had publicly written and spoken that he did not believe in the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Stephen knew that this denial of the central truth of the Christian Faith, was not something that could be tolerated. This would be the last of those battles that the rector of St Margaret’s would enter into, but it was not the first.

Years before he had been forced to leave South Africa when, as a missionary priest, he challenged the government’s treatment of the black community in the parish in which he was serving. Leading a poor community in Leicester after returning to England, he had caused no little headache to the city authorities there as he advocated for his parishioners. Amused ridicule as he embraced the Charismatic Renewal had not daunted him, and now he was unafraid of taking on the church establishment by opposing the bishop. Sadly, as many a priest who has taken a prophetic stand against the establishment can recount, this battle would not damage Stephen but it would leave the parish very vulnerable when he left. Still there was yet one more wave of renewal that would come to the parish under his leadership.

There had been an earlier crisis that nearly broke him. During the late 1970’s a growing wing of the Charismatic Renewal was increasingly separating from the established Church of England. At first, because of the small size of most of these groups, the movement came to be called the House Church Movement. In time some of these groups organized and grew into much larger congregations, however, with their own buildings, and one such gathering grew up in Durham. It was led by a group of lay people who had for years worshipped at St Margaret’s, and several of the key leadership couples had been very close to the rector and his family. In fact, one of the wives had experienced a miraculous cure from cancer after Fr Stephen’s ministry to her. The loss of so many families and people at one time devastated him. So much so that he seriously considered resigning. The personal intervention of David Watson restrained him, and he renewed his resolve to serve the Lord and his people in Durham.

David Watson, mentioned in an earlier post, was the single most esteemed leader of the renewal in England, and had begun to teach a course in renewal ministry annually at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. There he met and befriended the Rev. John Wimber, who also taught a course at Fuller called “Signs and Wonders.” Wimber was the founding leader of a church planting movement in America that was rapidly growing into a new denomination called the Vineyard, and David wanted to bring him to England. Because of Watson’s reputation, the first reception that John Wimber received was almost universal among the churches. What no one could have known but God, was how deeply John Wimber and the ministry patterns and music of his movement would sweep through the churches of that land.


Next Week: A Rekindled Flame

A New Arrival in Town     (by Jon Shuler​​)

The termination of the Curate’s Role disrupted the Eldership as a functioning body for the next few months, though the desire for unity and much charity kept the life of the parish functioning well, at least on the surface. A season of change was beginning to unfold that would see most of the old leadership moving on to new work in other parts of the world. The repetitive change that comes to any University town also saw those much involved while students graduating, and a new influx arriving to take their place. Outwardly, the parish continued to flourish, and numbers attending stayed high. The Eldership was reconstituted with the addition of a Medical Doctor, the rector’s wife, and a professor from one of the University Departments. Then a new clergyman came to town.

The Revd George Carey would later be known worldwide as the Archbishop of Canterbury, but when he first arrived in Durham his fame lay in the future. He was called to be Vicar of St Nicholas Church, in the heart of Durham. This parish was the long standing home of all those who were determinedly Evangelical, and had been suffering a slow decline for some years, and it was hoped that his energy and vision would bring new life. Before he arrived, he had heard of St Margarets and its renewal, and soon after taking the reins in his parish he went up to see for himself. He attended one of the vibrant renewal Evensongs that had become so central to the revival there, and he came home determined to see it spread to his parish too. He told his wife Eileen: “I don’t know exactly what that is, but I want it for St Nicholas.”

George Carey would later tell the details in his book, The Church in the Marketplace, and the story would spread the fame of what was happening in Durham far and wide in the British Isles and beyond. Wonderful things began to happen at St Nichols, and for a season the hopes of widespread revival in the whole city grew, The United Reformed Church began to join the movement, and several other parishes in the diocese as well. In time, the excitement and energy that had first burst forth at St Margarets moved more and more to St Nicholas. Simultaneously, the reputation of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Durham continued to get stronger and stronger, and the particular fame of St John’s College – the Evangelical College in Durham – was increasing as well. For the better part of the next several decades many of the Church of England’s future leaders of distinction would pass though Durham. Carey would be called to take over Bristol Theological College in 1982, when the fires of revival were dying down. Two years later  a new Bishop of Durham was announced. Fr Davis stepped back into the limelight.

The bishop elect was a notoriously radical theologian, and his appointment seemed to all concerned with renewal in the Church of England to be designed to stop the spread of biblical renewal in the Diocese of Durham and the Northeast. The rector of St Margaret’s wrote to the bishop-elect privately and implored him to decline the appointment, but to no avail. He then went public in opposing the new bishop, and quickly became the public leader of the opposition. It was a battle he would never win.


Next Week: Establishment Order & Dying Embers of Revival

Confusion & Uncertainty   (by Jon Shuler​​)

Looking back after nearly fifty years it is plain that the next few months would have been a time of confusion and uncertainty in the parish. When there is a confusion about vision and direction there will always be difficulties in any organization. Most especially in a family of people that make up a Christian congregation. For many months, the epicenter of relational ministry and excitement had centered around the flat and family of the curate. Public liturgical life centered around the rector and his family. When the two were not in one accord the fabric of the renewal began to unravel.

At first there was an uneasy truce. Superficial order and agreement was maintained, and the renewal life of the parish seemed to go on as usual. But everything had changed in the – at first – unseen realm of relationships. Where there had been laughter and free flowing joy in decision making and ministry, things began to have a certain edge. Politeness and English decorum started to characterize the meetings of the leadership team, and there began to be less and less eagerness to meet together. Gradually the decision making apparatus that had emerged in the early days of the revival returned to a very top down style. Decisions were made and announced, when they had earlier been discussed and prayed through until a general agreement was reached. With every such occurrence, the underground disturbance grew.

The Lord Jesus taught his disciples that when there is ought against another, the one perceiving the problem must go and seek to resolve it. Or when there has been a sin committed, the one who erred is to go and seek forgiveness and restoration. But in the circumstances of that day, these lessons were hard to live. Face to face meetings were held, and opposing positions and understandings were aired, but the situation only seemed to get worse. The rector was experiencing disagreement as rebellion, and the majority of the leadership community were experiencing his behavior as un-pastoral. Without competent outside help, the leadership was unsure what to do. As before, the two sides looked to two different sources for help. But there was only rector, one ruler, as centuries of church life had long decreed, and his voice was primary.

Fr. Stephen turned to Graham Pulkingham, the American clergyman stirring up a great deal of new life, new worship, and new ministry practices throughout the British Isles. His fame was widespread at that season, and he seemed to many to have been sent by God for the renewal that was occurring inside parts of the Church of England. And the rector had been seeing his counsel for quite some time. Asked for his opinion about what to do in the situation he gave it: the young curate should be sent home to his own country. This “younger’s” time of learning and supporting the renewal was over.

Telling these things now still reminds the writer of the pain of it. A season of wonder and grace, filled with love and learning was suddenly brought to its conclusion for him and his family, and those closest to them. Yet nothing learned since suggests that this was a mistake. It was clearly the right thing to do.


Next Week: A New Arrival in Town


The Unity of the Spirit?  (by Jon Shuler​​)

From the first days of the new beginning that had come to the parish of St Margaret, the joy that some felt was not shared by all. There was a deeply traditional part of the parish  community which mistrusted the changes that were being made. The parish had existed for well over one thousand years, and it’s building for over eight hundred. Patterns of worship last changed in the upheaval of the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the nineteenth century were not easily altered. Those whose preferences were for the liturgical order of the Book of Common Prayer, or its centrally authorized alternatives, were not eager to arrive at a service where the rector might spontaneously change things. Even so, reason and careful pastoral attention had bridged most of the internal divisions in the early days. Perhaps most of all the rapid growth in attendance had a dampening effect on criticism. In a time of general church decline St Margarets was growing, which made almost everyone pleased. But leadership was the issue that would not go away.

Historically, the rector of an English Parish had great authority and power. For centuries he had been allowed the freedom to shape the life and ministry according to his own understanding. So long as no serious charges were brought against him, his decisions went unchecked. Change was in the air, however, and a national reorganization had created a new system that involved an elected Parochial Church Council, or PCC. The existing PCC (when the renewal first began) was the center of resistance to the future the rector desired. With the efforts of a strong rector, a new system was put in place.

The Eldership, as it was called, comprised four persons chosen by the rector to share with him the spiritual leadership of the parish. The PCC would still have its legal place in the life of the parish, but the Elders would collectively guide the pastoral affairs of the community. And the rector would choose the initial group. Fr. Davis chose his Warden (called in England “the Rector’s” Warden) who held a senior position in the University of Durham, a theologian from one of the Durham Colleges, a registered nurse who was widowed and raising two children, and the young American Curate. Weekly times of prayer and counsel were set, and hope was high.

Many things went well for a season, but little by little the hoped for blessings eluded the new leadership group. The rector never stopped thinking he was the key decision maker, and the other four never stopped believing they had been raised to a position which gave them not only voice but authority. When differences mounted, the rector more and more took decisions outside of the Elder’s meetings, and tensions grew.

Things finally came to a head when a rising chorus of parish complaints began to be entertained by the naive young Curate. With others, he thought the way forward for the parish demanded a shared leadership style. The rector thought otherwise, though he wanted the Curate to be at his side, and asked him to immediately give up his post graduate studies to become a full time priestly leader. When the Curate demurred, with two other of the Elders agreeing, the rector promptly ended the meeting.


Next Week: Confusion & Uncertainty

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?