Mary Audrey has been pastor of Equipping Ministries and Women in Ministry at Catch The Fire Toronto (formerly TACF)...
How many times have you tried to bring to mind past events? There can be a tendency to embellish them making them “larger than life” or to trivialize them into a “been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt.” But thankfully there are scenes so emblazoned on our memory that they can never be forgotten such as the initial days of revival that began for us in 1994. Amazing how the events of one evening can expose and destroy your religious box. In one extravagant puff of joy, my concepts of what the Holy Spirit would or would not do blew out the window, and I discovered that God was no longer going to anoint my predictable and comfortable patterns of “doing church.”
On Thursday, January 20, 1994, we were at the church only mildly expecting something. We had been a church which was accustomed to ministries visiting for a weekend or longer to equip the leadership team. John Arnott, our Senior Pastor, is a spiritual entrepreneur, always going after the best for his flock. He had observed some of the revival happening in Argentina, had had a brief encounter with Rodney-Howard Brown and had heard of the startling spiritual encounter that Randy Clark, a friend and Vineyard pastor from St. Louis, had experienced. John invited Randy to come to the church for a couple of days believing that our congregation would receive a fresh impartation of the Holy Spirit. On that Thursday evening about 120 gathered in the main sanctuary. It was an unusually large number for a midweek meeting which we did not usually hold.
In those days what is now TACF met in of two medium-sized rooms each holding approximately 287 people. We used one room for the sanctuary and the other for the children’s ministry, teaching seminars and fellowship dinners. As well, there were two small offices, two washrooms and a snack bar. Located in a small business plaza, our neighbors were the post office and mail sorting station, an Italian banquet hall, a sometimes furniture store, and several empty units. A small “truckers” motel was close to our entrance, behind us was a corn field and there were few parking spaces. One of Toronto airport’s main runways was only a few hundred meters away.
It still astounds me that during the first year of the revival, sometimes over 1000 people a night would pack into those two rooms.
Through the winter, spring, summer and fall, they would bring their portable barbecue grills, coolers, musical instruments and lots of chewing gum and line up outside from noon until the doors opened an hour before the service began. They met new friends from around the world there as the Holy Spirit would begin His awesome party long before the evening meetings began.
However, when the doors opened for that initial meeting on January 20, 1994, there was no line outside. Little did we realize that it would just be the first taste of a revival that would rock the religious establishment and send waves of renewal as well as controversy to practically every nation of the world. I personally had not planned to attend the meeting because I had been conducting a weekly training class in the other room entitled “Finding Your Place in the Body of Christ.” About 30 students and I met for several hours in the room adjoining the sanctuary, separated by a hallway and two doors.
That night when the class was over, the students left by an outside exit door, and none of us had any idea what was happening in the church. I thought it was unusually quiet, too early for the meeting to be over especially with a guest speaker, so I decided to slip in through a side door and see what was going on.
Suddenly I was forcefully but gently “whooshed” off my feet as the Holy Spirit was blowing around the room.
I fell to the floor in the hallway and lay on my back for what seemed like quite a long time, aware of the strangest sensation in my mouth and face, from my jaw upward to my eyelids. I was unable to make any sound. Forcing myself to my hands and knees, I finally crawled to the open doorway. Looking around the sanctuary, I wondered at first where everyone had gone.
Then I realized that most of the people including the worship team were also lying on the floor and on the chairs. At that point, one of the women on the worship team crawled over to the doorway and joined me. We held hands, incredulous at what the Lord was doing to us all as sounds of glorious laughter began to echo throughout the church. From that night on there was a sense of the Spirit wooing us into a new place of personal intimacy with God and into a corporate appreciation of His Presence we had not known before.
The 4-day visit of Randy Clark extended to many weeks as night after night the Holy Spirit drew us into childlike joy, vulnerability and wide-eyed wonder. Those of us on the small leadership team took turns overseeing the meetings which generally lasted into the wee hours of the morning while Randy spoke each night.
Very quickly, as the word spread far and wide, even to other nations, people began to arrive hungry and thirsty for an encounter with the Holy Spirit that was vital and lasting. Multitudes of people were tired of religious form. I was amazed and touched by the influx of disheartened pastors from many denominations who knew they could not carry on without drastic changes in their spiritual walks. Never before had we heard so many modern versions of the parable of the prodigal son, his “over-the-moon” father, and the welcome-home party.
Awesome as well was the anointing that rested on the other speakers who came once Randy had to leave for his church responsibilities back home. It became very clear that it was not the charisma of a particular man or woman that was the cause of a “good meeting,” but it was the Spirit of God choosing to use a variety of unknown “whosoevers,” because He was the Leader of the revival.
Night after night the crowds would come with a determination not to leave until each individual had personally received prayer, if not from the speaker then one of the ministry team which had been quickly assembled to meet the huge need. The ministry team, full of phenomenal dedication stayed each night, often until 2 or 3 A.M., until everyone had been blessed. The team would go home for a few hours of sleep before leaving for their full-time jobs. Then they would be back at the church by 6 P.M. ready to serve as the Spirit led.
In hindsight it’s easy to see that He was breaking all of us out of our religious boxes. It’s as though He was saying, “Church, I’ve given you nearly 2000 years to get your act together, and now I’ll show you what I want!” He proceeded to blow away our pre-conceived ideas of what He was like, and what He would or could do or not do, all for the purpose of drawing us into a new place of intimacy with Him, empowering us to do the works of the Kingdom with passion and fruitfulness and a unity in the church which would bring His commanded blessing. The old adage, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman; He will never offend you,” proved to be an unbiblical myth. The reactions to the Lord’s presence prompted one well-known church leader to say, “God will often offend your mind to reveal what is in your heart”.
As people responded physically, emotionally, and spiritually to His vital Presence, a variety of reactions began to occur.
Normally reserved religious men and women, boys and girls would fall to the floor, shake, jerk, laugh, cry, shout, make unusual noises, roll (sometimes under their chairs), or rest quietly under an unseen, firm but gentle weight for several hours. I remember one pastor from Texas whose legs were vibrating so ferociously that his cowboy boots flew off and sailed about 20 feet through the air!
While a number of critics chose to comment on the revival in Toronto from a safe distance, many older Pentecostal people thought the meetings resembled ones they had attended as children, and they were delighted to see the Lord move in this way once again. In time thousands of believers would be touched dramatically by the Spirit in these unusual ways and would know deep emotional and physical healing, conviction of sin and repentance, restoration of relationships, and a fresh passion for the word of God.
John Arnott frequently said in those early months, “We have no grid for this”. Each evening provided a fresh challenge for those facilitating the meetings. We had to rapidly learn to listen for the Holy Spirit’s agenda surprised at how quickly we could revert to a man-made program. We had to trust Him for the discerning of spirits to be manifested clearly, as we needed to know if what we saw and heard was really being orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, or an emotional expression, or even an attempt by the enemy to distract us from God. Curiously they often looked alike, but he Holy Spirit patiently taught us to recognize the difference.
At the beginning of each meeting, we would regularly ask the people to forgive us for shutting things down when it really was God, and also to forgive us when we let something carry on that really was not of the Him. We were on a giant learning curve, a far cry from the nice, predictable Sunday services we were used to!
Today I laugh at how the Holy Spirit rattled my comfort zone back then.
Practically everything I had taught for years had to be adjusted. Sometimes I fought the tendency to criticize as I watched what was going on night after night. I sometimes wondered, “Is there something wrong with me?” This was the standard question among those who did not have radical manifestations. I would find myself still standing alone, while scores around me would be lying prostrate on the floor.
It took some months to acknowledge that we were each “wired” uniquely, and that a quiet response did not mean we were resisting the Holy Spirit. This enabled me to encourage many to simply submit themselves to Christ without pre-conceived expectations. They would know peace, acceptance, a reassurance of His presence and His guidance in the days ahead.
Being a pastor-teacher and an exhorter, I had to learn not to take myself so seriously. There were times I slid to the floor behind the pulpit unable to communicate. Once I “rode” bareback on an invisible horse in front of thousands. Another time I kicked my left leg over a crowd and a whole section of the congregation fell from their seats. Imagine my chagrin the first time I tried to lie quietly in His presence while gentle worship music played in the background and woke myself up by my own snoring. There have been many funny times since the initial outpouring. Some even proved to be prophetic, refreshing His love and call to ministry in me.
Ten years have passed since our church was first inundated by the Spirit of God. We know we will never be the same again. The old ways of “doing church” no longer suffice. His Presence is still felt deeply as the River flows, the Wind blows and the Glory falls. Now that He has my attention, I feel Him leading me to a place of obedience, of a deeper revelation of His love for me as a part of His Bride. I now see that I’m being prepared for my Wedding Day by learning to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
This archived article was written by Mary Audrey Raycroft for release in Jan, 2004. Circumstances and situations may have changed regarding the author, locations and ministries. This content may therefore be outdated or misinformed.
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