September 1, 2010
By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
-the life and work of the Rev Canon Dennis Bennett: a tribute to his contributions to 50 years of renewal in Canada
My wife and I were privileged to hear Rita Bennett this July at the fiftieth anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal, which began in 1960 at St Luke’s Seattle. Rita and her late husband Canon Dennis Bennett were an amazing tag team sharing about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Many felt shock and disbelief in November lst, 1991 when told of Dennis Bennett’s death from a heart attack. He was known world-wide as a pioneer and seed-planter in what Archbishop Michael Peers called in 1978 “…a revival of a witness to a neglected aspect of Christian truth – the power of the Spirit.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 Yearbook records that “when in 1960, Father Dennis Bennett announced to his congregation, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at Van Nuys, California that he had experienced a new outpouring of God’s Spirit, the recent movement can be said to have begun.”
The Rev Kevin Martin, formerly with Episcopal Renewal Ministries/Acts 29, said that Dennis Bennett “…was directly responsible for the charismatic movement in the Roman (Catholic) Church that now reaches into the millions.’ As of 2010, there are an estimated 110 million Roman Catholics involved in charismatic renewal, which perhaps accounts for the wide acceptance of the Alpha Course among many Roman Catholics.
Canon Bennett wrote six best-selling books, two of which sold over half a million copies each (Nine O’Clock in the Morning and The Holy Spirit and You). During his 33 years in the Renewal, Dennis had the privilege of leading over 25,000 people into the Release or Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Dennis, The Seed-planter
In 1979, the Rev Al Reimers, an Anglican priest, published the results of a comprehensive survey of charismatic renewal in Canada. In his book, God’s Country, he wrote: “As far as I can determine, charismatic renewal came to Canada first through visits by Dennis Bennett in the early 1960′s…”
Dennis planted many seeds of renewal over the years across Canada: many have borne fruit and are still bearing fruit; others are just starting to sprout.
Shortly after moving to Seattle, Dennis began a lasting and most meaningful relationship with the Anglicans on Vancouver Island. He first spoke at St John’s Quadra Anglican Church (Victoria) in 1962. In 1974 Dennis and Rita led a very popular seminar on the Holy Spirit at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. From then on, Dennis and Rita were invited back many times by the ARC/Anglican Renewal Centre to lead seminars all over Vancouver Island.
Charles Alexander on Pioneering
The Rev Charles Alexander, the founding National Coordinator of Anglican Renewal Ministries (Canada) and author of Power to Serve, remembers Dennis well. Charles recalls going down to Dennis’ parish in Seattle, (St Luke’s) and receiving much wisdom and encouragement from him.
Charles sees Dennis as “a very self-giving man” who certainly had a foundational role in the growth of renewal in Canada. Charles, who has spent many years sharing the message of renewal across Canada, commented that Canadian Anglicans in renewal “owe Dennis a lot.’
Archdeacon Jack Major’s Reflections
Nine O’Clock in the Morning, by itself, has had life-changing effects on many Canadian Anglicans. For example, the Venerable Jack Major from the Fraser Valley, BC, was given this book by a stranger at a funeral. He reluctantly began to read the book, and before he could finish it, he experienced a life-changing Release of God’s Spirit in his life. Later Jack brought Dennis and Rita to lead seminars in 1984 and 1986 at St Matthew’s Abbotsford; over 350 people registered for the latter.
I was Jack’s Assistant Priest at the time, so I can witness to its powerful effect on St Matthew’s in terms of spiritual and rapid numerical growth. Archdeacon Jack “found Dennis to be a person of great intellectual ability but also able to convey the faith in such a beautifully simple way that one can’t miss it.’
Dennis, The Pastor
Archdeacon Jack Major said that he had never met a more humble person and both he and Charles Alexander commented that Dennis would always remember who you were. The Rev Fr Ron Barnes, former Chair of an Anglican Evangelism Unit, described Dennis as a “conservative, rational, sensible person who saw the gifts of the Spirit, not as something emotional but as genuine, rational, and normal.” Though Dennis Bennett’s teaching about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a challenging message, it was always spoken in love. As Archdeacon Patrick Tomter (from Dennis’ Diocese of Olympia) put it, Dennis “was always and forever a man of grace and, truth…He responded to criticism with warmth and humour . The Diocese has always been particularly blessed by his presence.”
I first met Dennis through his books, and began a 7-year pilgrimage which culminated in 1979, when the Rev David Watson and my wife Janice helped me open up to new life in the Spirit. But it wasn’t until I met Dennis in 1984 that he showed me by teaching and example how easy it is to lead another person to receive the Release or Baptism in the Spirit. Until then, I had believed that ‘tongues’ were just for the few, and were difficult to receive. Dennis showed me that Life in the Spirit is a free gift, and all that one had to do was ask.
Dennis Bennett’s best book
Next to Nine O’Clock in the Morning, I found
How to Pray for the Release of the Spirit his most helpful book. I recommend this book to any Anglican priest or lay person struggling with the challenge of renewing the renewal.
Lord, we thank you for the life and witness of Canon Dennis Bennett, and pray for your strength and encouragement upon his widow Rita Bennett and their family.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector, BSW, MDiv, DMin
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada) Past Chair, Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada
-previously published in the Anglicans for Renewal Canada Magazine
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail email@example.com . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide : Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada
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August 31, 2010
I will never forget how I fell in love with my future wife Janice, disagreeing with her about the Holy Spirit. Both of us were attending the University of British Columbia and took the same bus home each day. Janice told me that she had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and received her prayer language the summer of 1974 at a Christian Ashram retreat. I could see a real difference in her. Her eyes sparkled and her face lit up. I was attracted by what I saw, but was determined to improve her theology. In short, I had the books and she had the experience. In my approach/avoidance relationship to the Holy Spirit, I had read dozens of books on charismatic renewal: pro, against, and muddle-of-the-road. My attempts to solve the Holy Spirit ‘problem’ from the ‘neck up’ had ended up in a ‘paralysis of analysis’.
Trying to figure it out
Anything to do with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as I saw it, was covered by one’s personal conversion. Tongues, of course, were only intended for a few Christians. Part of the reason that I was convinced that tongues were only for a few, was because I had asked for the baptism of the Spirit & tongues many times and nothing ever seemed to happen. So, like the fable of the fox and the sour grapes, I constructed my theology to fit my own experience.
During the historic Jesus movement, I was powerfully converted to Jesus Christ in February 1972, the same year that the Rev. Dennis Bennett’s landmark book ‘Nine O’Clock in the Morning’ was published. Being a good confirmed Anglican, I didn’t have the faintest idea who the Holy Spirit was. One of the fruits of conversion was that I started to read the bible voraciously. This formerly unintelligible book suddenly felt like reading the latest news from the morning paper. My younger sister Wendy who came to Christ a week later than myself, read ahead of me and stumbled upon the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians. ‘What is the world is all this stuff about tongues and the Holy Spirit?’, Wendy asked me. Being the older mature Christian by a week, I responded by saying: ‘No idea. I haven’t read that far yet’.
Praying up a storm
That week I ran into a new friend, Christina Violini, who offered to pray with me on the girl’s field at our High School for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues. She prayed up a storm for me on two occasions but nothing seemed to happen. I then checked with my youth minister who told me that tongues were of the devil. I momentarily felt glad then that the prayers hadn’t worked! After my youth pastor was fired, the next youth minister told me that tongues weren’t of the devil after all. They were just for a few.
Having reconnected with my original home parish St. Matthias & St Luke’s Vancouver, I became good friends with the rector (Rev Ernie Eldridge) who had a real hunger for spiritual renewal. Everybody but everybody in our parish was reading Dennis Bennett’s ‘Nine O’Clock in the Morning’. We were all very excited about the book but none of us knew how to break through. We soon concluded that it just wasn’t our gift. We were still so interested though in the Holy Spirit that we had the Rev. Jim Gunn lead us in a ‘Life in the Spirit’ Seminar. As the evening came for people to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and their prayer languages, I worked behind the scenes to ensure that the evening was watered down to offend no one. As a result, no one broke through.
Two steps forward, one step back
After marrying Janice, I used to love to listen to her praying in tongues as we said our bedtime prayers. When Colin Urqhuart came to St. Margaret’s of Scotland in Burnaby, I fully expressed my approach/avoidance to renewal. Without realizing it, I had arranged it so that I would arrive at the meetings just as everyone was leaving. Janice said: ‘Let’s go home’. I said: ‘No, we’ve come all this way. I want to meet the speaker.’ So I walked into St. Margaret’s, shook Colin Urqhuart’s hand , and promptly went home!
Unable to forget about the Holy Spirit, I received a scholarship to attend the Billy Graham School of Evangelism in Seattle, Washington. I thought to myself: ‘Here is the perfect chance to settle the Holy Spirit issue once and for all. I can go anonymously to Dennis Bennett’s St. Luke Church in Seattle. That way if nothing works, I don’t have to tell anyone and I can forget about it.” Despite being deeply impressed with all that I saw at St Luke’s, I still had no breakthrough and promptly put the issue back on the shelf.
The late Canon David Watson
In the summer of 1979, our Rector the Rev. Ernie Eldridge became involved with the ‘Festival of Faith’ involving the late Rev. David Watson from St Michael’s Le-Belfrey in York. I very reluctantly attended one meeting, out of respect for Ernie Eldridge. Greatly to my surprise, David Watson wasn’t ‘swinging from the chandeliers’. Instead he was very down-to-earth and even a bit boring. This made me feel comfortable enough to come back for the rest of the meetings! Each evening, David became more and more interesting. By the end of the week, I said to myself: ‘I might as well give it another try’. So I went up and received prayer for the baptism/filling of the Holy Spirit. Once again, nothing seemed to happen. As I went home that night however, I started to hear a few words in my head. As Janice my wife prayed for me at home, I spoke out those words and began to speak in tongues.
Still suffering from paralysis of analysis, I didn’t decide for three weeks whether I would accept this new language. In the meantime, I was praying so much in tongues and receiving such a blessing that my wife the charismatic started to complain that I was ignoring her by praying too much. I soon got over that! After three weeks, through the discernment of a fellow social worker Penny Hicks, I accepted God’s gift and never looked back.
Through the release of the Holy Spirit in my life, God has been teaching me for the past 31 years that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!