The international movement of the Toronto Blessing has celebrated its 20th anniversary with a European conference in South London.
Around 370 people gathered at Oasis Church, Colliers Wood, South London for the Partners in Harvest (PIH) event.
The birth of PIH can be traced back to spring 1994 when Rick Oldland, minister at Oasis Baptist Church (not connected with Steve Chalke), heard about notable goings on at a small Vineyard Church near Toronto Airport. Nightly meetings were being held in which people were falling on the floor, laughing fit to burst, crying, groaning, yelling spontaneously, occasionally making animal noises or making animal impressions. The Vineyard Pastor encouraged Rick to understand this as a possible move of God and to go and see for himself.
Rick went to Toronto, experienced it for himself and brought the movement back to the UK. Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) did the same and interest spread. Church leaders of various churches, including Pentecostals and Roman Catholics found that they and their congregations were significantly re-enthused through connection with the Toronto Church. British Airways had to lay on extra flights to Toronto.
John Wimber, the senior leader of the Vineyard movement gave his blessing to this move of the Holy Spirit. By December 1995 however, Wimber had strong reservations and withdrew his endorsement. John and Carol Arnott, leaders of the Toronto Church carried on, determined not to quench the Spirit.
The Arnotts did not want to be lone pioneers. They looked for a fellowship with other churches. On a visit to the UK for the Pioneer Church Leaders Conference in early 1996, they heard about the Pioneer ‘Partnership’ structure and decided to use the model. Partners in Harvest began later that year.
Some may question whether the Toronto Blessing is still going on? Well, it is.
Speaking at the conference in Colliers Wood earlier this month, John and Carol Arnott (Carol is pictured above) described a recent conference in Toronto which had a stronger sense of the Holy Spirit moving among people, touching bodies and hearts, than ever.
Partners in Harvest is now rooted in 42 nations. 370 is not a large number for a European conference, with over 50 from Oasis Church itself, but the group is perhaps like the Toronto church itself - in being small but bringing large blessings to many other churches.
Why that church in Toronto?
At the conference John and Carol Arnott explained what led up to the Blessing. They had made a priority of focusing on what they call the 'upward' and 'inward' journeys – to God as Father and into the heart to bring healing. They had learnt to hear the intimate loving voice of Jesus. They had started resisting the urge to get out there and do stuff for people while still retaining a love for the lost. They had made a vow never to quieten down what the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing among people. They had travelled to Argentina to ‘catch’ the revival there. They had invited a fellow Vineyard pastor, with connections to South Africa, to come to Toronto. All of this was important preparation.
What’s the message now?
Remarkably the same. Most of those present in Oasis Church, have heard for years about allowing the Holy Spirit to do whatever he wants to renew you as a child of the Father, about having your heart healed through repentance and forgiveness, about quietly listening to the still small voice of Jesus. Carol and John Arnott, and others, reinforced this teaching.
So it’s all quiet and intimate?
Somewhat strangely, no. There are still loud reactions, laughter, yells, as the Holy Spirit touches people. Great delight when someone reports a healing. And a slightly incongruous emphasis on loud, long and enthusiastic worship. People were encouraged by worship leaders to "jump into the river" in worship, making human effort more than being open to what comes. It makes for a heartfelt atmosphere but isn’t as intimate or as Father-focused as the teaching. There was more than five hours of worship over two and a half days with not one song crying out, according to the Holy Spirit within us, "Abba, Father."
It doesn’t sound like a church seeking to serve and save the lost?
That desire is definitely still there. The numbers of people who have come to Christian faith through the Toronto movement, through many different churches, are impressive. Thousands in Mozambique, for instance. In the UK, Alpha in Prisons would not have started without the Toronto Blessing, according to Sandy Millar, Vicar of Holy Trinity at the time. Spirit Café, pioneered by a Partners in Harvest Church in Birmingham, is currently seeing many with New Age interests coming to Christian faith.
Is Partners in Harvest a new denomination?
Yes and no. There is a distinct and growing central organisation with training for new leaders starting. Yet many PIH churches remain part of their original denomination. Oasis Church continues to be part of the Baptist Union. Alongside PIH is Friends in Harvest for people who want to be connected but remain firmly in their home denomination.
John and Carol Arnott are joined by many others leaders (including Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, California who "caught the fire" from Toronto) who seek to facilitate the river of the Holy Spirit to flow in every church. Their next engagement after Colliers Wood was to 2000 French Roman Catholics, who will hear the same message, and, they hope, receive the same blessing.