THE HISTORY OF CHARISMATIC RENEWAL
Fr. Ian Petit O.S.B gives the historical background of the Charismatic Renewal
In this century the Holy Spirit has moved in a remarkable way, and what is so exciting is that He has moved across the denominational divide, bringing people from very different back grounds together for the first time.
During the 1800s there were a number of manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit happening here and there throughout the world. These happenings seemed to have no relationship with each other so it was not a case of one sparking off another. In England, in the 1830s, Edward Irving led a tongue-speaking group to form the "Catholic Apostolic Church". This phenomenon of speaking in tongues also appeared in the United States, among the Mormons, the Shakers, and some Methodists. There was a great thirst for a new vision, rising particularly after the end of the civil war in America. At camp meetings and revival gatherings people were praying for a new Pentecost. But not only in America. Throughout the world there was a desire for a spiritual revival.
In 1900, at Topeka, Kansas, USA a group of people in a small Bible school, founded by Charles Parham, a Methodist minister, felt that the Holy Spirit was not very active in their church life. They had a night of prayer to the Spirit, but nothing much seemed to happen. A young girl of their group, Agnes Ozman, remarked that she noticed that in the Acts of the Apostles it seems that every time the Spirit was asked for, hands were laid on the person being prayed for. She asked the group to lay hands on her while they prayed, and as they prayed, she manifested the gift of tongues. Many that day experienced other gifts of the Spirit, and soon the little group went off to Kansas City to share the good news. The main line Churches closed their doors, and the small group disbanded, but Charles Parham was certain they had found something very valuable and he continued to preach about this power. From this small beginning the Pentecostal Church was born.
Unknown to the group in Topeka, on the same night that Agnes Ozman was prayed for, December 31st 1900, Pope Leo X111 greeted that new year with singing "Come Holy Spirit" in the privacy of his chapel. A letter written by a Sister Elena Guerra in October 1900 had suggested that the Pope should greet the New Year in this way. What is God saying when a Pope prays for renewal and the Methodists get it, and a new Church is formed? The Pentecostal Church became the fastest growing denominations, but alas it soon became sharply divided from the main line Churches, and it seemed as though the Body of Christ was fragmented even further. But God had His timing.
In the 1950s, a David du Plessis, a Pentecost minister, from South Africa, was visiting the United States of America as world secretary for the Pentecostal Church. He felt, while he was in Dallas, that he was called by God to go to the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in New York. Here he met with many people and an important contact was made with the main line Churches.
At one of the meetings that came from this initial contact, David was asked "are you saying that the Pentecostals have the truth, and we other Churches do not?" He said that both had the truth and he described the difference in this way." If you take a steak out of a deep freezer, you can analyse and discuss its properties. But if you begin to cook the steak, it remains basically the same, but something does happen to it, it begins to smell good. He concluded by saying: "That is the difference between our handlings of the same truth. You have yours on ice, we have ours on fire." This was an important step because what was being said amounted to: "there is no need to come out of your denomination and join ours; what you have to do is to take the truth out of your theological deep freezers and put it on the Spirit and you will have a Pentecost". And this is what happened. The Pentecostal experience began entering into the mainline Protestant Churches and it became known as the Pentecostal movement.
In the 1960s the Catholic Church called a Council under Pope John XXX111. The Catholic population were asked to pray for the success of the Council, and the prayer they were asked to recite was "May there be a new Pentecost in our day". Whether we really understood what we were asking for is debatable, but as dutiful Catholics we prayed that prayer. If you read the book written by Cardinal Suenens, "A New Pentecost"? you will see an interesting description of how the gifts of the Spirit came to be included in the documents of Vatican 11.
Shortly afterwards in the United States of America, in February 1967, a group of faculty and students from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gathered for a weekend retreat. This weekend is often referred to as the 'Duquesne weekend', and is considered as the beginning of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. The retreat concentrated on the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. And there was an expectation that the Holy Spirit would make His presence felt. They were not disappointed. All present experienced a deep work of God within their Spirits, and charismatic gifts were manifested in the group. Once the 'Pentecostal movement' entered the Catholic Church it very quickly found a home there. Catholics have always been open to God's working in miracles and healings, though they have usually confined these happenings to Saints or shrines. The name Pentecostal, though very accurate because the renewal is concerned with everything that the Holy Spirit came to do, has had problems because the word Pentecostal has too many unfortunate associations, and in time the renewal began to be referred to as the charismatic renewal. This name also has its problems because it is too narrow, for while the renewal does have much to say about the charismatic gifts, greatly neglected in the Church of to-day, it is misleading, for it is about total renewal of Church life.
This very brief history shows God's hand working in an extraordinary way across the denominational divide. Because of this movement Christians from very differing backgrounds have been brought together and many prejudices have been dispelled. But not all has been rosy, for those not securely based in their faith, this has been very disturbing, and there have been groups who have left their church and gone off on their own. While one does not want such things to happen, it has to be faced that if we do not nourish our flocks with the gospel truth, they will go in search of it and commit themselves where they find it.
Added note (not by Fr. Petit): From Duquesne the experience spread quickly to Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Charismatic covenant communities in these cities became important centers of support as the renewal spread. National conferences were held at South Bend for many years, later moved each year to a different city. Prayer groups sprang up all over the United States and in many other parts of the world. Some evolved into covenant communites, such as the Christian Community of God's Delight in Dallas.