Reading Nine O’Clock in the Morning seems like a distant memory at times. I was a student in the late 1960’s. The author, Dennis Bennett, was an Episcopalian rector who had been filled with the Holy Spirit while serving a parish church in southern California. His bishop wanted to move him, at Bennett’s request really, so he would not bring about schism in his church. The bishop was also fearful that another John Wesley might arise and challenge the church and thus, like Wesley, face ecclesiastical rejection.
Bennett was sent to a dying parish church in Seattle. His story gripped multitudes through his book and eventually impacted thousands of lay people and ministers alike. People came from all over the world to meet Father Bennett. They prayed for healing, and they spoke in tongues, but most of all they came to seek the fullness of the Spirit. This quiet, mild-mannered man poured himself out into the lives of all who came. He sent large numbers of them back to their own churches, never wishing to build his own ministry so much as to encourage blessing upon the places and ministries from which they came.
I had almost forgotten this man and his story until yesterday. My host, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, asked me as we drove along in his Jeep, "Would you like to see the place where Dennis Bennett pastored in Seattle?" When I said, "Yes, of course," we pulled up beside St. Luke Episcopal Church within minutes. I was amazed at how unimpressve the facility really was. A sanctuary that might seat 250 people, and a prayer room that would hold a dozen or so people, were about all there was, besides a few offices and educational facilities and a modern chapel. No one would ever imagine much would happen in a place like this in Seattle, America’s most unchurched major city. But this was the place where Bennett preached, prayed, wrote, and touched the world between 1960 and 1981. (He died in 1991.)
Soon we found the rector, Dr. John Roddam, a friendly, evangelical, personable and engaging man. He asked, "Would you like a tour?" I have taken lots of church tours over the past forty years but none quite so unimpressive as this one. I have seen huge production centers, massive recreational buildings, and educational facilities to knock your eyes out. I’m talking Willow Creek, Saddleback, the Crystal Cathedral, and sundry ancient cathedrals in Europe, Asia and Latin America. No one, I mean no one, would be impressed by St. Luke’s, either its building or its geographical significance. But as I sat in the little blue prayer room, after climbing the most narrow and difficult stairs to the loft, I was struck that here a man knelt before God and literally impacted the world. And while we climbed, and I thought about the National Day of Prayer unfolding across America, and even downstairs in St. Luke’s sanctuary, I was struck again by the power of prayer. Yes, I thought, prayer still matters! Spirit-filled servants of God, praying in human weakness in small and unimportant places, can and do make a huge difference.
I was "sleepless in Seattle" this morning, thinking about my full day on Thursday. I thanked God this early morning for Dennis Bennett. I hope my visit to his prayer room will make me hungrier for God. I know I need more of what God gave to him even if I do not follow the road he followed to get it. My sense of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church allowed me to appreciate, in a wholly new way, what I saw and heard yesterday. (It has also allowed me to profoundly appreciate the amazing ministry of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church this week. Mars Hill, of which I will say more later, is one of the fifty largest churches in America and sits right in the middle of the most ungodly and unchurched city in the country. And the church is still not ten years old!) Some of my very conservative friends think all of this appreciation for Emergent churches, and mainline strugglers, is bad. It is just too touchy, feely. It invites charismatic nonsense. I humbly beg to differ. I am thankful for Dennis Bennett and St. Luke’s parish church. I’ll also pray for John Roddam, who pastors the only ethically faithful (i.e., non-affirming of homosexual practice) Episcopal church in the Seattle diocese. I deeply love and admire men like John. Such brothers combine courage, with love, in unusual ways. Who knows, maybe God will visit St. Luke’s again, with renewing grace and power, and touch the world.
By the way, witnessing how John Roddam and Mark Driscoll loved one another as friends yesterday was an added blessing. A young man, seeing staggering and phenomenal church growth through amazing conversions, and a man my age serving a struggling Episcopal parish church, showed genuine love and respect for one another, a sight not commonly seen in my generation. My hearts burns for seeing the lost won and the church loved by men just like John and Mark. I am filled with hope this morning!