'All heaven and hell were let loose'

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Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Nine O'Clock Service was conceived in an outbreak of screaming and fainting under the stage at an evangelical meeting in Sheffield in 1985.

The star of the meeting was the American John Wimber, once a drummer with the Righteous Brothers, now a successful evangelist whose church, the Vineyard Fellowship, has since been responsible for the "Toronto Blessing", which causes people to crawl around barking or giggling.

Canon Robert Warren, now the Church of England's officer for evangelism, but then vicar of St Thomas's, Crookes, South Yorkshire, where the Nine O'Clock Service started, described what happened in a book published before the scandal broke. "I found myself in the midst of a group of black-clad young people. A young Vineyard pastor from inner-city Chicago ... asked the Holy Spirit to come; and he came in incredible power.

"When the Spirit came, all heaven, and, yes, all hell, were let loose. Some were screaming in emotional release, at least one demonised person was set free, others were weeping for the pain of the city, and prophesying through their tears. Many were being knocked to the floor under the power of the Spirit. Bodies were falling all around me.

"In one of those rare moments that I know God has spoken to me, the thought 'God wants to add one or two hundred young people like this to the church in the near future' was in my head without my having put it there," Canon Warren wrote.

He also says he felt so ill-at-ease outside the church world that even entering a betting shop had rendered him almost speechless with embarrassment.

The young people then were part of a community around Tense, the rock band that Chris Brain managed. "They too were going through a time of spiritual darkness."

Relations with the rest of the congregation were fraught. But following the Wimber revival meetings "the change in them was evident, and they seemed to move into the new realm of God's action with greater ease and speed than the rest of us ... God dealt quickly with my fears and suspicions of them as a group and gave me confidence to trust that he was at work in them. Barriers fell away ... though we had no idea what would be opened up as a result. We were very soon to find out".

The group was invited to arrange services in St Thomas's at 9pm, hence the name. Only when Mr Brain adopted the "Creation Theology" of the American former Dominican, Matthew Fox, did the abuse begin, according to evangelical observers. However, diocesan investigators found Mr Brain had been abusing his followers even earlier, when God told Canon Warren that this was the future of the church.