Churchmen at odds over `waves of faith'Churchmen at odds over `waves of faith'

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The Independent Online
A bitter row has broken out in the Church of England over the "Toronto Blessing", in which evangelical congregations are swept by waves of laughter, weeping and animal noises.

The Dean of Worcester, the Very Rev Robert Jeffery, has dismissed it as "an expression of mass hysteria".

"There is a danger that it will lead to a ghetto mentality, and the undermining of an intellectually respectable expression of faith," Dean Jeffery wrote in the preface to the official Church of England Yearbook.

He was immediately counter-attacked by the man who has done more than any other to popularise the Toronto Blessing (TB) in England, the Rev Sandy Millar, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, in central London.

"For the Dean of Worcester to make these sort of blanket comments is mischievous," Mr Millar said.

"Our experience of the so-called Toronto Blessing is that it is a work of the Holy Spirit, bringing many hundreds of people to renewed faith in Jesus Christ, a greater depth of repentance, and a fresh desire to pray and read the Bible.

"A large number of leading churchmen brought together by the EA [Evangelical Alliance] have conducted a detailed study of the TB recently and published a clear response.

"For the Dean of Worcester to make these sort of blanket comments without reference to their report - or any other which has considered the evidence - is mischievous."

The EA statement concluded: "Some have grave reservations about the value and significance of the recent events in many churches; others speak of 1994 as a year of remarkable spiritual refreshing."

A spokesman for Holy Trinity Brompton said that the outward manifestations of the Toronto Blessing were now diminishing after their peak in the summer and autumn when the church became so popular it had to ration admittance to the evening service by ticket.

"The change we have seen seems to be almost greater now than before, although the more obvious manifestations aren't to an observer so great.

"We are not interested in the outward manifestations in the slightest, because what matters to us is the change in people's lives," he said.

Thousands of evangelical churches nationwide have experienced the phenomena.

Dean Jeffery devoted the main part of his preface to considering the general state of the Church of England. "It is very questionable whether the C of E can actually cope with the amount of change at the speed at which it needs to make it.

"Is the church in a fit state, spiritually and psychologically? There must be a risk that the whole institutional structure will implode," he wrote.