PATROLLING the Northern Ireland border village of Warren-point, soldiers were surprised to hear singing from a pub recently bombed by terrorists. On investigation, their officer found more than 6o people with hymn-books assembled in the burnt-out bar. When the startled officer asked if the bar was open, he was told, “We’re open for prayer—why not join us ?”
What the army patrol stumbled on could provide a ray of hope in the agony of Ireland. In the past two years growing numbers of Christians of all denominations have been meeting throughout Ulster in prayer-groups dedicated to forgiveness and reconciliation. The gathering in the burnt-out bar is typical of more than 50 regular
another his grocery shop car-bombed. “I have no bitterness,” he told me simply. “The greatest weapon the Christian has is love.”
The Reverend Cecil Kerr, Church of Ireland minister who leads the Rostrevor prayer-group, says, “Here, on the border, we are in a good place for Catholics and Protestants to learn that the other side hasn’t got horns. Whatever political solution comes, we need something deeper in the realm of prayer and trust. The reconciling love of God must replace the bitterness of the bombers.” Adds peace-walk organizer Mrs Attracta Murphy, “When Irish eyes do smile again, it will largely be thanks to the God-given inspiration of these meetings.”
Not Alone. Those responsible for this wave of hope in Ulster are part of a religious revival that is kindling enthusiasm throughout Britain. Known as the Charismatic Renewal, the revival is claimed to involve one church in ten in some areas. Touching all denominations from Methodists to Roman Catholics, it has filled hundreds of congregations with a new zest which its followers compare to the intense religious craving of the early Christian church.
Charismatics point to many examples where the revival—they call it the “new wine” of the Spirit—has motivated whole congregations. Eighteen months ago Woking Baptist Church had a building debt of 80,000 punds. “We felt the debt was dishonouring to God,” says its minister, the Reverend Harold Owen. “So we had a ‘giving’ morning. People gave cheques, sold property, brought cameras, jewellery and valuables to the communion table. We received £42,000 by lunchtime.”
Parishioners of St. Andrew’s, Chorleywood, raised 10,000 in two years for a new church and other buildings to replace the corrugated iron mission-hall where they worshipped. Their numbers seldom fall below 450 on Sunday mornings, and 300in the evenings. A third of the congregation attend one of 25 prayer-groups held in church members’ homes during the week, and last year more than 100 joined in faith-sharing teams on missions to other parishes.
The basis of this across-the-board revival—viewed sceptically by some churchmen and hailed by others as the most significant revolution in the life of the Church since John Wesley—lies with the supernatural gifts conferred by the Holy Spirit. As listed by Saint Paul, the gifts, for which his Greek word was “charismata,” include healing, miracles, powers of prophecy, the casting-out of evil spirits, and the power to speak in unknown languages.
Charismatics experience a spiritual renewal often known as “baptism in the Spirit,” which they describe as the complete acceptance of a belief previously held in their minds, not in their hearts. Although
the experience may be gradual—”like a flower gently opening,” says one minister—many describe it as immediate and dramatic. Declared the Most Reverend Bill Burnett, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, at a London conference : “The Holy Spirit hit me for six and became for me a living experience, and no longer merely theology.”
Spirited Approach. In most Charismatically inclined Anglican churches services follow tradition but are marked by an intense, unrestrained style of worship. During hymns or prayers, members of the congregation will raise their arms, palms upwards, often with closed eyes and rapt expressions. In other Charismatic churches—and especially in the more hothouse atmosphere of private prayer-groups—some of the congregation will lead off with a hymn or a prayer as the spirit moves them, while others express spiritual yearning with cries of “Hallelujah !”, “Praise the Lord !”
At most Charismatic services these “Hallelujah Christians” are asked to greet their neighbours—who may be total strangers—while others clamber out of pews, unashamedly embracing old friends. Said one Chorleywood parishioner, a neurosurgeon, “My first feeling was, I can’t do this. That soon changed when I became aware of the love around me.”
Today in Britain there are estimated to be around 100,000 Charismatics. Although under-thirty-fives
form a majority, they come from all
ages and professions I found po-
licemen, accountants, students and car-workers. And some 500 Anglican priests—one in 50—are reckoned to be Charismatics.
How meaningful is this new wave of enthusiasm for Christian teaching? Many churchmen distrust what they regard as its crudely emotional aspects, fearing that these could unleash a one-sided, evangelistic style of worship running counter to the Church’s traditionally broad and moderate wisdom.
“Ecstatic religion never lasts long —nor is there anything particularly Christian about it,” the Reverend Don Cupitt, Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, told television audiences last July. “Possession, trance states, automatic speech and so on crop up in many religions. They cannot be taken as proofs of the activity of the Holy Spirit of Christian teaching.”
With Many Voices. Among their more extreme beliefs, Charismatics claim that, they can speak or pray in tongues of which they have no knowledge. This, they declare, is —like other tenets of their faith—firmly rooted in the Bible, “dating from the first Pentecost, when the Apostles spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Today, undaunted by criticism that their words are mere self-deluding mumblings, Charismatic Christians of all denominations have revived this ancient precept by
weekly meetings now held in houses, flats and church halls.
At the Christian Renewal Centre in Rostrevor, within sight of the Republic, I joined the exuberant Monday evening meeting of an
8o-strong prayer-group whose
members include one-time diehard loyalists and former IRA sympathizers, some of whom were till recently engaged in terrorist activities.
To take part in the service—a joyous, heartfelt experience that ended with all joining hands for the clos- ing hymn many worshippers had
travelled the lonely roads of South Armagh, where gunmen lurk in the hills, while others risked suspicion or even revenge from zealots on their own side. One man recently had his car seized at gunpoint,praying — and singing —in what they call a “spiritual love-language.”
Claims that the tongues can be identifiable languages are highly controversial. One Charismatic who told me that she had spoken in tongues is the Reverend Jean Darnall, an American woman minister now working in the diocese of Southwark. It happened when she was preaching a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Sydney, Australia. At the end she was approached by a young man who said he was a stu-
dent of ancient Aramaic a Syrian
language of which Jean Darnall knew not a word. “He said that I had spoken in the Aramaic tongue and that my interpretation was correct,” she explains.