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Looking Back, Moving Forward

1 month ago

This week Revd Canon Felicity Lawson shares her recent reflections on charismatic renewal.

On the whole I am not someone who dwells in the past.  I prefer to live in the present and look to the future. But over the past few weeks I have found myself looking back. I blame my good friends John Finney and David MacInnes. They had lunch together in March and started reminiscing.  I should have been there but Covid got me and I missed it.  They found themselves talking about the beginnings of charismatic renewal in the 1960s and 70s. It seems that God was in their conversation.  Since then the three of us have been going back to books which have been gathering dust for decades. We have begun talking to others who lived through those early days. This was a truly remarkable time when God moved by his Spirit in extraordinary ways, touching and transforming individuals and beginning a transformation in the life of the church which has led to much that we take for granted today – like flexible worship, the gifts and ministries of lay people, the value of small groups, the importance or reaching out and sharing our faith in innovative and culturally appropriate ways. We have begun reflecting on whether there are things we discovered then, including the mistakes we made, which are important for the church today. (If your memory goes back that far, you will find a request to get in touch in the next edition of the ReSource newsletter.) 

I was baptised in the Spirit in 1971. I was reading theology at the time friends began to talk to me about the Holy Spirit. I had lots of questions and reservations but I found myself with a deep, deep longing to know God better. Eventually my thirst for God overtook my questions and I asked two friends to lay on hands and pray with me. The powerful encounter with God that ensued changed both me and the direction in which I was heading.  I am so grateful to God for all that has happened since then, even the very challenging times. And I remain deeply convinced that being baptised or filled with the Spirit is an essential part of Christian initiation, not a second blessing for those who are so inclined. Of course, 50 years has given me fresh perspectives on many things. Some things I thought fundamental then I now sit lightly to and vice versa. But as I’ve been looking back these last few weeks I have found myself asking whether I still pray as fervently or expect as confidently that God will be at work in sovereign ways through his Spirit? I rejoice when I see that happen but I’ve been asking myself, has some of my passion and expectation abated? 

I have often wondered how the first disciples felt when Jesus was taken from them and they saw him for the last time.  Had their conversations with him after his resurrection helped them to trust him more than they did prior to his crucifixion? He had warned them then about what would happen to him in Jerusalem but they either couldn’t hear him or hadn’t wanted to.  I wonder what they understood about the gift of the Spirit they were waiting for? Had they any idea how long they would have to wait? Luke tells us in his Gospel that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple worshipping together. But what were they looking forward to? Did they have a clue what would happen on the day of Pentecost? Did they begin to appreciate how much their lives would change as a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit? As the earthly life of Jesus ended, the era of the Spirit began. We live in that era today. What are our expectations?

We have discovered that Pope Francis has recently told the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, “to share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church” and run ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’ in every parish and community. Already remarkable things are happening amongst our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Using the ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’ in 1974 was one of the things that gave John Finney and myself confidence in praying for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. It led to our producing what was eventually published as ‘Saints Alive!’. It’s fantastic to know that God is still using it today!

The Church of England liturgy for Pentecost invites us to ask God to “fill us with your Spirit”. (I recognise much of that as written by Peter Craig Wild for Anglican Renewal Ministries for a service in Derby Cathedral in 2002!) I wonder what we expect as we say those words? Are we longing today for ‘a New Pentecost’? I believe that only a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit can meet the many needs within our church and equip us to share Jesus with a fresh generation. This year I am praying ‘Come Holy Spirit’ believing that it is a prayer that God delights to answer. And I’m expecting some surprises along the way!

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