1965, the year that changed my life
The “Second First Visit” to Manchester — Day One
Sunday 7th February 1965
1. It’s possible that it was before the Sunday morning meeting that Pastor Williams warned us about what we might expect: people speaking in tongues and so on. But this had already happened the previous evening, and we expected things to be “different” anyway; so the warning, if given on the Sunday morning, was not all that necessary.
 If the “warning” was given on the Sunday, it was presumably not Pastor Williams who led the previous evening’s youth-meeting at Sharon.2. We were greeted warmly at the door by Alec, one of the “deacons”, an elderly and kindly man, who shook our hand and gave us a red hymnbook, Redemption Hymnal. This was quite a thin volume and was normal-book shaped, as opposed to the then more familiar Methodist Hymn Book which was fat and square-shaped. I wondered at the word “hymnal”; I hadn’t come across it before.
We sat with Hazel and Pam, again in the left-hand block of pews, near the back under the overhanging balcony. A prayer meeting was in progress before the actual Breaking of Bread meeting proper.
There were quite a few black people there, who seemed to make a lot of noise. Their outbursts of praise to the Lord didn’t bother us, but we didn’t know what we should do. I wondered whether I would acquire such vocality with long years of Christian experience; yet Hazel and Pam were quiet in the meeting.
“We feel thy presence here, Lord!” I heard some say. But what did the presence of the Lord feel like? As we bowed there, I tried to “feel” God’s presence, but all I got was a view of pew-bottoms and floorboards. Chris’s experience was similar.
 Compare what I wrote about the previous evening: “There was something vivid about the feeling — awe of the presence of God — that we experienced in that place.” There seems to be a contradiction here, yet I can still remember both things clearly. Perhaps our experience of the “presence” of God in the place was what we perceived as being around us; but these people seemed to be experiencing something intimately near them.3. The communion bread was ordinary sliced bread cut into cubes. The wine was served in quite decent-sized “tots” (if that word can be used in this context); it came in individual glasses from trays. You took the glass out of its hole in the tray, drank, and put it back. It was non-alcoholic wine.
We took communion that morning. We were questioned by Alec, who brought the bread and wine round to us. “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour?” he asked us. We hadn’t heard that expression before; we didn’t know what it meant, but we must have answered him in the affirmative, because he gave us the bread and the wine.
Afterwards, at 69 Upper Chorlton Road, Pastor Williams happened to mention to us that “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (1Corinthians 11:29). “Now he tells us!” I thought, wishing that he had explained all this before the meeting.
4. After the meeting, or after a Sunday morning meeting soon afterwards, someone — Alec, perhaps? — took a photograph of Chris, Peter and me outside Sharon. On it I am wearing the same mac that my Mum wouldn’t let me wear on that January night when we ran away to Manchester.
5. In the afternoon we probably went out for a walk with the girls, perhaps at Mrs. Williams’s suggestion. While we were out, one of us, Chris or I, produced a packet of cigarettes, and asked them, “Do you want a fag?”, which they politely declined. He and I proceeded to “light up”. I think Peter had given up smoking by this time.
When Chris, Peter and I were alone we discussed how we should behave in front of them, and agreed that we ought to watch what we said and did. They were, after all, “pastor’s daughters”; we imagined that they might have lived sheltered lives.
 It is evident from the context that this is the British, not the U.S., usage of the word “fag”!6. One of the reasons for going for a walk may have been that we couldn’t play any records; the girls weren’t allowed to play pop music on a Sunday. I do, however, recall at some time in those days listening to a long-playing record of the evangelist T. L. Osborn, who came from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and proclaimed divine healing as part of his gospel message. I remember his lively delivery and southern American accent, particularly when referring to the Lord’s present-day power and saying, “He’s al-a-a-ve to-DAY, folks!”. I also remember him referring to people being completely healed as being made “ever’ whit whole”.
7. It may have been during this visit that we learned that the girls planned to go to the Pentecostal Fellowship Camp in Scarborough for their summer holidays. They had a big information sheet in bright colours about it, which they showed us. We probably looked a bit askance at the Camp Rules which were printed on one section of the sheet:
But since the prospect of going on holiday with Hazel and Pam seemed an attractive one, and what’s more, since the camp was enthusiastically recommended by the girls’ parents, we decided that we ourselves would send for the information and a booking form.
9. Strangely, I don’t remember much about this latter part of the meeting, apart from the fact that when people had hands laid on them they tended to fall down and were caught by a deacon standing behind them. I do recall that in one of the meetings, a man who had suffered from a bad back lifted a heavy table at the front of the church; and, again, I recall Pastor Williams whispering in the ear of someone who had previously been deaf, to test their hearing.
Nor do I remember the content of the sermon, nor indeed which of the two preached it. I do remember from Sharon a sermon about “the two ways”: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7: 13, 14). And I remember once — I think it was Pastor Barratt, who spoke about what constitutes the true person, and he said, “If I took a knife, and cut off my arm, then…” — and he went on to speak about the consequences of that: that he would lose his arm but would still be himself.
10. What I do remember from the Sunday evening meeting was the “appeal” at the end of the sermon. This, I would subsequently learn, was a regular feature of meetings in a Pentecostal church: at the end of the sermon an appeal was given for people to make a decision to receive Christ personally as their Lord and Saviour. Usually, the congregation was asked to bow in prayer, and the preacher would ask those who responded to indicate their decision by some specified act, such as the raising of the hand or coming to the front of the church. Often there was additional psychological pressure brought to bear, for example: “This could be your last chance to respond. You may never get another opportunity. The present moment is yours, but you may not have tomorrow. Each time you let the opportunity slip, your heart becomes a little bit harder; each time, it is more difficult to respond than the last.” On this particular occasion we were asked to raise our hand. And my heart started pounding. Chris must have felt the same, but the difference was — he put his hand up and I didn’t.
The fact that Chris put his hand up worried me. I didn’t put my hand up, yet I had felt anxiety burning within me during the appeal. I didn’t have that assurance of salvation which, it was maintained, I should have if I were truly in Christ, and the fact that Chris had given way to the persuasions of the preacher made me wonder if I should have done the same as he did and put my hand up.
Normally in a Pentecostal church, they take aside those who have responded to the appeal and have a word with them and pray with them. Chris can’t remember exactly what happened at Sharon, except that they didn’t do that there. Probably the pastor prayed for those who responded en masse at the close of the meeting, but they weren’t taken aside individually. So what worried Chris, looking back, was that, after he responded during the appeal, no one counselled him or “led him to Christ”. So he would sometimes think to himself, “Am I saved?”
That was the common word used, we very quickly learned; people didn’t talk about being a Christian, they talked about being “saved”, and could usually point to a date when they were saved, or “got saved.” I had never heard the word “saved” before in this context, certainly not at the Methodist church.
11. Everything at Sharon was all so new and strange and marvellous; we were intrigued and excited by everything we saw and heard; it was a completely new sphere of experience to us.
It started when Chris was prayed for, when it suddenly came to me in a new and wonderful way that God was real, and so were the things that had been passed on to me second-hand in Sunday School and called into doubt in Religious Instruction lessons at the Grammar School. The New Testament miracles actually happened, for we had witnessed one.
And now we had been brought into a new kind of church life, completely different from any “ordinary” church that I had known, be it at Wignall Memorial Methodist Church or at the various Church of England services I had to attend from time to time in connection with school — a new kind of church life, where people spoke of being saved, where they held “meetings” and not “services”, and where they sang lively choruses instead of the (what were to us then) dreary hymns at Wignall. “Church” was for the first time actually interesting, even exciting, not fidget-in-the-seat interminable tedium to be endured. (I have to admit, though, that I still sometimes got a bit bored during sermons, even at Sharon.)
The fact that we were young — still fourteen at the time — admittedly did not lessen the sense of wonder, especially in view of the manner in which we were introduced to Pastor Williams and Sharon — by seeing them on television. “We saw him on the telly!” we would exclaim to each other privately about Pastor Williams. Such things, as far as we were concerned, just didn’t happen every day.
12. I am not sure what happened immediately after the meeting, whether we went back to the Williamses’ for our things, or whether we had them with us and were taken by car to the railway station. Nor am I sure whether on this occasion we left anything behind: whenever we went to stay at the Williamses’, it seemed that one or other of us always accidentally left something behind when we departed; we commented that it gave us an excuse to go back again.
We look up the biblical references to the healing of the epileptic
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