In 1995 during a church family weekend an attempt was made by a visiting group of Baptists from Bedford to introduce Dereham Road Baptist church to the Toronto Blessing. A couple of years later in 1997 I wrote three essays in response to this weekend entitled respectively “High Pulpits”, “High Priests”, and “The Bedford Blessing”. The first essay, which was an analysis of the pulpit-centric architecture of Dereham Baptist Church, was circulated in 2000. However, the other two essays which concerned the actual “Blessing” at Dereham Road remained in my private collection ..... until now. I intend releasing the contents of these two essays in parts. Here is the first part.
History can be ruthless. The 70 year quantum of human life ensures that no one person's experience is measured in centuries, and so experience is constantly being destroyed and remade and old themes return as if they are new discoveries. In the sea of faith new spiritual life forms appear in response to changing spiritual environments and they are likely to have different attitudes to hi-pulpits and what they stand for. I saw one of these newer life forms one day in the early spring of AD 1995 when the Church on Dereham road had invited a Baptist minister from Bedford to speak for the day. This warm mannered bearded Bedford Baptist spoke intimately, if not profoundly on his theme, the "Father heart of God". He did not use the pulpit at any time during the day, but instead used the lectern at the side and below it, a position not unlike that of mediaeval times. At one point he indicated he would not be so presumptuous as to use the pulpit "up there", and his voice may have held a hint of contempt. Perhaps he knew that he needed nothing to stand on, because he stood for something else, for as the day developed a feeling grew on me, as it has done on other occasions, that I was seeing before my very eyes the formation and modern rediscovery of a spiritual ministry that recurs down the ages. Gone was the didactic logic and reason of the pulpit to be replaced by patriarchal expressions of feeling and warmth; one did not grapple with this stuff with the mind so much as with the emotions. In comparison to this “voice of the heart”, the sound of pulpit polemic would, to some, seem distant, and without the the ability to touch the inner most being. But the owner of that voice wasn't here primarily to talk, and a ministry of words was not what he was here to give; the purpose of his visit was to confer a blessing; a blessing that had its origins in a church in Toronto, Canada. The Baptist minister had recently visited this far flung church, and this visit no doubt made him better qualified to supervise the conferring of this blessing. Thus, in due time the assistants of the Baptist Minister moved amongst the congregation, praying over them for this strange blessing to come. It was as if they were custodians of some hidden spiritual power, holders of a mysterious gnosis that could not be imparted by expository logic, but only through their hands and upon those of sufficiently submissive and expectant attitude. I had seen it before; they were those kinds of believers who, apparently initiated into the inexpressible secrets of the Holy Spirit, are often sought out by those anxious for some deep experience of God, and those who fear divine disapproval if blessing is not claimed or taken. The ostensive qualities of the Bedford Baptist’s demeanour, their apparent agency to some mysterious blessing, the submissive, expectant, and dependent attitude required of those who were to receive the blessing were all things that were highly reminiscent. The members of religious cultures from the neolithic period to Salt Lake City would probably have been able to identify which class in their own communities this Bedford group most resembled and would have had little trouble finding a title for them: The Priesthood.