The Pentecostal movement in the UK had small beginnings in an Anglican Church
The incredible growth of the Pentecostal movement is one of the most significant events in the church in the
20th century. The modern 'tongues' movement began in Topeka, Kansas, on the last day of 1900, and now numbers hundreds of millions.
In 1906 a revival had broken out in Los Angeles, at a converted livery stable in Azusa Street. There had been many other spectacular revivals over the years, one was going on in Wales at the same time. But what marked this out as unusual was that people were speaking in tongues. Many believers came to Azusa Street to receive this 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit', and from these small beginnings the Pentecostal movement began to grow.
In 1906, Thomas Barratt, a British born and educated Methodist minister from Norway who was in America, began to hear stories about the happenings at Azusa Street. He never actually went to the meetings himself, God dealt with him in his room in New York as he fasted and prayed. He wrote: "I was seized by the Holy Power of God throughout my whole being and it swept through my whole body as well." He had to hide his face in a towel to avoid disturbing his neighbours as he shouted his praise.
Barratt returned to Norway, and was soon seeing many people speaking in tongues. Word of what was taking place began to spread and before long invitations were coming in to speak in a number of different countries. One of the invitations was from Alexander Boddy, an Anglican minister from Sunderland. In March, 1907, Boddy travelled to Norway and saw scenes of which excited him even more than those he had seen in Wales during the revival there.
Boddy was not new to seeing the Spirit at work; he had previously written a book on the laying on of hands and had conducted healing crusades. He was also a leading figure in the Pentecostal League, a holiness movement which was very strong in Sunderland, regularly holding meetings in the vast auditorium of the Victoria Hall.
At the end of August, Barratt came to Sunderland to start a campaign of meetings in the church hall at All Saints, Monkwearmouth. The meetings were quite small and were overlooked by many for a while. The Sunderland Echo was giving plenty of coverage of Pentecostal League meetings, at which Alexander Boddy was still speaking in September, along with its founder, Reader Harris and leading light, Graham Scroggie. Gradually, word began to filter out that something strange was occurring. The first report in the Sunderland Echo on the meetings was highly descriptive: "It is no uncommon spectacle for one of them [ie the people present] to throw themselves on the ground in a paroxysm of weeping, while others gabble and utter what appear to be unintelligible sounds."
The reporter comments that the meetings are the one theme of conversation in the neighbourhood.
Although the meetings have become known for speaking in tongues, they were also tremendous times of prayer and praise, with solid Biblical preaching. The meetings were conducted in two sections - the second was intended just for people who were pursuing the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and onlookers were discouraged from attending this meeting, which often went on late into the night. Speaking in tongues was actually quite rare in the meetings. Thomas Barratt reckoned he had only heard about 25 or 26 people speak in tongues in the Sunderland meetings during the first month. Even more surprisingly, he claimed that he had only spoken in tongues four or five times himself.
It is interesting that Boddy began to receive letters from people who had spoken in tongues in earlier years, but found that they had been accused of being mad and thrown out of their churches.
The publicity in the paper served to attract more people to the meetings. Within a few days other newspaper reporters were beating a path to the little hall, wanting to investigate reports that the vicar's daughter had been speaking Chinese. One incidental effect of all these visitors was that the offerings were increased sufficiently to pay off the outstanding amount still owing on the recently constructed church hall.
Afterwards, a much quoted inscription was placed on the wall of the hall: September 1907 When The fire of the Lord Fell It burned up the debt.
Among those who came to Sunderland were Smith Wigglesworth (he spoke in tongues for the first time on October 29 after being prayed for by Mrs Boddy), Stephen and George Jeffreys, John and Howard Carter and numerous other people who would become leaders of the Pentecostal movement which would later sweep the world.
Boddy began to host a regular Pentecostal convention in Sunderland and publish a magazine Confidence.
After the war Boddy's influence began to wane as the Pentecostals were squeezed out of the existing denominations and began to organise their own. In 1922, Boddy retired from Monkwearmouth to take on the much more sedate country parish of Pittington in County Durham where he continued to minister until his death in 1930.