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Ever since January 20, Christians have been traveling long distances to a modest warehouse in an industrial district near Toronto's Lester B. Pearson Airport. In a local Indian dialect, Toronto means "meeting place"—exactly what Airport Vineyard has become. Here people seek "the Toronto blessing."

Yet this phenomenon—marked by "holy laughter"—has prompted Christian leaders and scholars to question whether it is a genuine movement of God or merely controversial hysteria that should soon be forgotten.

For now, the movement has blossomed such that its advocates include a wide span: from dispensationalists to Presbyterians to Roman Catholics. Vigorous debate about the Toronto phenomenon has spilled onto the Internet, the global information highway. News of Ontarian exports of spiritual outpouring has been reported by churches in Atlanta, Anaheim, Saint Louis, several Canadian sites, Cambodia, and Albania. So many Britons have come in recent months that direct flights from London to Toronto are sometimes sold out for days.

Since January, meetings at the Airport Vineyard, which has nearly tripled in size to 1,000 members, have been held every night except Mondays. The hallmark manifestation of the movement, "holy laughter," traces its modern roots to two Pentecostal ministers, from South Africa and Argentina.

Last year, Saint Louis pastor Randy Clark attended a Tulsa conference conducted by South African Pentecostal minister Rodney Howard-Browne, whose name has become most closely linked with the "holy laughter" phenomenon. Airport Vineyard pastor John Arnott similarly encountered Argentine pastor Claudio Freidzen.

Last November, during a Vineyard ...

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In the Magazine

October 24, 1994

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