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?

Dancing in the Streets  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I can only speak for myself, but the memory (mentioned last week) of the Evening of Praise in the great Norman Cathedral in Durham is such a beautiful one that it will live in my mind and heart till the day I die.

Having worshipped (mid week) in the Cathedral when less than ten people were there, and on many a Sunday when less than a hundred were there, to see the building filling up that night was breathtaking. The excitement and expectation that we were about to  share something wonderful was palpable.

When the Fisherfolk took to the stage, erected just for the night in the great crossing, and began to lead us in worship, the crowd grew more and more enthusiastic. Hymns old and songs new were sung, and the glory of the Lord seemed to fall. When finally the Revd David Watson began to preach the massive crowd grew silent. It was so still you could hear a pin drop. And in his inimitable fashion David took us into the Word of God. He spoke of the call of the gospel and the need we all had for the Holy Spirit’s power if we were to live it faithfully. He beckoned to all present, of whatever background or theological persuasion, to recommit their lives to the Lord Jesus, and ask for a new (or fresh) anointing of the Spirit. To those who were not Christians he beckoned them to receive the Lord’s love and life. Then he called us all to pray.

At once a murmuring stillness filled the great cathedral and then a symphony of prayer arose, and lasted for some time. When the Fisherfolk finally took the stage they  began a worship set of gentle and melodious grace. The great congregation was drawn into a time of heart worship unlike anything many had ever before experienced. After multiple cycles of song and praise there descended a holy silence. It went on for several minutes, and then the voice of Mimi Armstrong, as she was then, started to sing a cappella  the refrain from the Christmas Carol “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.” First a few joined her, then more, and then it was as if the whole cathedral was swaying in adoration. Over and over we sang those words. Tears of joy flowed, and healing balm descended on many, as a vision of a new dawn of faith and worship became incarnate.

Few wanted the evening to end, but a closing prayer was offered and a final blessing was pronounced. It was then then that an even more surprising thing occurred. As some people made their way to the platform to ask for prayer, or to seek guidance, others began to sing and dance spontaneously in the Nave and Transept aisles. Soon they formed a living chain, and as it grew and grew someone led it out the large doors and onto the Castle Green. The joy was unstoppable, and the chain of dancers and singers wound their way down into the Marketplace in the center of the town. It was a night and an experience that was unforgettable.

Those of us from the parish of St Margaret thought that any day the whole town would return to the Lord. We had seen a glimpse of the kingdom of God.


Next Week: Growing Pains & Vision Disharmony

Not What They Prayed For       ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

News of the dramatic changes in the first three people to experience the beginning of the revival (see last week’s blog) was soon shared at the Monday Night House Group in the Summer of 1972. Indeed it was there that the young seminarian had come under conviction, after the story of the other two had been told, and where he broke down in uncontrollable weeping. It was not what the members of the group expected, and the meeting soon came to a hurried and embarrassed end. Fr Stephen was overjoyed, however, and was eager to fan the flame. He undertook the daily discipling of the young man, and began to rethink how the parish was organized.

Early that Autumn the rector decided to use the Sunday Night Service (Evensong, or Evening Prayer) as a rallying point for those wanting to see the Lord move in a fresh way. News spread quickly through the small university town, and attendance started to grow. At the same time, the newly ordained curate and his wife began to hold a regular prayer meeting in their college flat. First a trickle, then a small stream, of students began to attend those meetings, and a number were deeply touched by God. Soon the meeting was held almost every night, and most of those attending started to go to the Sunday Night Service at St Margarets. At those services the Holy Spirit began to move, under Fr Stephen’s guiding hand, but challenges arose very quickly.

The joke among us in those days was: “When a bright light shines, it attracts the bugs.” The “light” that had begun to shine in the parish was attracting people from a distance. Some came to see what was happening, some came with a deep spiritual hunger, but some came because they believed they were needed to help us walk in the right direction. It was these latter that began to cause trouble. Evangelicals thought the theology of the Holy Spirit being shared was deficient, Pentecostals thought everything we were retaining from the Anglican helotage should be jettisoned, and strict Anglo Catholics thought the whole thing should be stopped. The diocesan establishment and the cathedral where embarrassed. We were struggling to know what to do.

By now there were a half dozen of us meeting for prayer every morning in the parish chapel. We read the daily scriptures and discussed them, then prayed and celebrated Holy Communion together. The lectionary brought us to the second chapter of Acts one day, and we all seemed to be riveted by it.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship,

the breaking of bread and the prayers…. (cf 2:42-47)

We had no other thought than to begin to imitate what we read. If that was the way the early church began, when the Holy Spirit first fell, then perhaps that is what God wants when there is a new beginning?

The Parish Church became our temple, and we met in one another’s homes. Soon we had formed several small communities, each made up of a nuclear family plus others who were single, which we called “Households,” in which we began to live our new life.


Next Week: News From Coventry

AD 1972 – One Time and Place      ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

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