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April 3 marked exactly 50 years since Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett resigned from his post as rector of St. Mark's Church in Van Nuys, California. He knew that his glowing talk about baptism in the Holy Spirit had provoked fear and resentment among some members of his congregation. He didn't know that he was about to become the central character in a new movement—the charismatic renewal of the mainline denominations. Soon, Bennett and his message were the subjects of stories in Newsweek and Time and the objects of international attention.

In April 1960, I was a seventh grader in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, culturally and religiously as distant from Southern California Episcopalians as an American could be. But by 1974, I had a newly minted M.Div. and became pastor of a church near San Diego. There I became friends with Frank Maguire, an Episcopal priest who featured prominently in Dennis Bennett's autobiographical Nine O'Clock in the Morning.

In 1959, Maguire had invited Bennett to meet members of his parish who were experiencing unusual spiritual phenomena. These folk weren't doing anything wild and crazy, Maguire told Bennett. They just glowed "like little light bulbs" and were "so loving and ready to help whenever I asked them." When I met Maguire almost 15 years later, the charismatics I met in his parish still weren't wild or crazy. And they still had the glow and the love Maguire had told Bennett about.

I had been raised in a sectarian atmosphere, trained to distrust Christianity of any stripe but my own. For me, what made the charismatic renewal remarkable was the ecumenical fellowship it created. American Baptists and Roman Catholics in our community were sharing Communion—even serving Communion at each other's ...

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Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
Previous Past Imperfect Columns:
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May 2010

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