When the gifts don’t seem to work… 

I’ve just been reading again the beginnings of ‘You are my God’, David Watson’s autobiography.

Talking to clergy who were around at this time you realise how difficult it was for them to get on board with the charismatic movement. They were ostracised – even blacklisted – if they talked of praying in tongues or victory over sin because of an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

For many of us in the post- modern, post-Alpha course Church of England all these ‘charismatic’ things are now quite humdrum – routine and not really contested much even by those of middle-of-the-road or catholic persuasion. Almost every new vicar in the Church of England, whatever their liturgical background, can tell you some personal encounter with God through his Spirit that was part of their call to ministry.

But what also leaps of the page is the sheer audacity of the evangelism a small group of ministers were prepared to engage in.

Watson tells of his curacy at St Mark’s Gillingham, and how he and David MacInness were prepared to live in downstairs bedrooms in the vicarage which also doubled as parish rooms for every activity you can think of, and how, whilst on a frugal stipend (that would make an intern today blush) they built up a youth group of 140 troublesome and even violent local boys, among many other evangelistic feats.

He also tells the story of his own conversion from being a convinced atheist to praying during his Univeristy freshers week with the man who would one day become his training incumbent at Gillingham. A young Revd John Collins, he describes, enticed him with the sincerity of his presentation and winsome smile, and then continue to ask him questions, about whether he really knew Jesus in his heart, that utterly offended his upper-middle-class sensibilities. Hitherto for him religion has not been a subject talked about except in brief dismissive terms and he had made his own deepening journey into atheism following the death of his father and an uninspiring Padre he met in the war.

Collins however persisted, invited him to along breakfast, explain the gospel clearly using a piece of toast at their breakfast as an illustration of his sin! He challenged him again, gave him a follow-up booklet that he had the chance to go away and read, and as soon as Watson wrote to Collins to say he had prayed the prayer in the booklet Collins arranged for another person he has led to faith some years before, the famous England cricketer David Shepherd, to drop in on David Watson and follow him up. Shepherd gave Watson up to three hours a week for some considerable time introducing a self-confessed messed person to the person of Jesus and the Christian faith.

Sacrificial, bold, disciplined ministry, unafraid to ask questions that people weren’t asking even of themselves, but in the deepest hearts wanted to be asked…

It feels like there’s a lot to be learned from the 1950s and 60s ministers. For them charismatic renewal came at a cost, but they’d already signed up to be ‘fools for Christ’ long before they spoke in tongues or saw any healing miracles.

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