Searching the Source of the River tells the stories of ordinary women who played key roles at the beginning of the Pentecostal Revival in Britain. The hub of this revival was the parish of All Saints, Sunderland in the north east of England where Mary Boddy played a pivotal role alongside her husband Revd. Alexander Boddy.
In Britain the 'charismatic moment' of this revival was between 1907 and 1914 and as in all revivals women, unfettered by institutionalism, seized the day. They were strong, knew their God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, 'did exploits'. They pioneered in ministry, led churches, were popular speakers and gave their lives to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
This book is a journey back to the source of the river honouring these women who have largely been forgotten and yet whose lives speak today.
It is unique in that it is largely based on original research from primary sources yet makes the inspiring stories of these remarkable women accessible to the 'armchair reader' breathing fresh life into them. Christianity Magazine has called it 'A gem of a book' which is both 'warm' and 'challenging'.
‘They tunnel through the rock; their eyes see all its treasures. They search the sources of the rivers and bring hidden things to light.’ Job 28:10-11
The Pentecostal waters flowed powerfully around the globe at the beginning of the last century erupting almost simultaneously in different countries. It has been said that this world wide revival ‘was rocked in the cradle of little Wales’, ‘bought up in India’ and became ‘full grown in Los Angeles’1. If that is the case it also had family all over the British Isles.
In this country, the ‘charismatic moment’ of the revival movement was between 1907 and 1914 and as in all revivals, women, unfettered by institutionalism, seized the day. They were strong, knew their God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, did exploits (Daniel 11:32 KJV).
We read of women who pioneered in ministry, lead churches and were popular speakers at conventions. They were often the first to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
This book is a journey back to the source of the river to bring those hidden things to light. Our eyes will see all the treasures. We will read of stories of women who have largely been forgotten and yet whose lives speak today.
Following the Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street, Los Angeles in April 1906 another well opened on these shores a year later. The hub of the outpouring in 1907 was in the parish of All Saints’, Sunderland where the Revd. Alexander Alfred Boddy and his wife Mary together hosted this move of God.
The annual Sunderland Conventions fanned the flames of revival and the magazine Confidence2 spread the Pentecostal message world wide. Its pages are full of examples of women whose lives were impacted by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to speak in tongues and fall deeper in love with their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
One can only be moved by their passion and determination to spread the Gospel message, believing as they did that they were living in the time of the latter rain and the near return of the Lord.
The Roll Call
We will remember wife and mother Catherine Price who challenges us in our pursuit of God and Mary Boddy, Mother of British Pentecostalism, greatly used of God yet cautions to keep our focus on Jesus; Margaret Cantel who opened not just her heart but her home to the Lord and Lydia Walshaw who knew that true Christianity has to be worked out in the workshops and busy places of life; American Carrie Judd Montgomery, a woman of faith who pioneered healing homes and Scottish church planter Christine Beruldsen; the eminently capable Eleanor Crisp who poured out her life into a generation of missionaries and the fiery Polly Wigglesworth, a preacher in her own right and wife of the legendary Smith. Unknown and unheralded women of the revival are represented by ‘The Secretaries’ at Sunderland, Margaret Scott and Mabel Howell who just worked hard and those intrepid Missionary Ladies who paid such a price as they took the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
This spiritual awakening was against the backdrop of Edwardian Britain. King Edward VII ruled from 1901 to 1910 and the era is sometimes extended to include the years to the end of the First World War in 1918. They were days of empire, cultural expansion and missionary endeavour. Rapid industrialization coupled with enlightenment thinking were creating an environment for social, economic and political change. Women were pushing traditional social boundaries seen most clearly in the suffrage movement.
The majority of our women would count themselves among the burgeoning middle classes and this gave them the means to travel and take full advantage of the new opportunities afforded them.
It’s Happening Again!
Two thousand years after the hundred and twenty in the upper room were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues it was happening all over again. What excitement! Tongues was a gift that had been largely lost to the church but now men and women who were caught up in this move of the Spirit saw themselves back on God’s prophetic calendar. They believed they were living in the last days and that the Holy Spirit had been given in power to enable them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth before the coming of the Lord.
The former rain had been poured out on the day of Pentecost and now two thousand years later they were living at the time of the latter rain sent by God to bring in the harvest (Deuteronomy 11:14, Joel 2:23).
The significance of Peter’s words again rang true two millennia after he had addressed the crowd in Jerusalem, ‘This is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel...’
‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-21)
The ‘Charismatic Moment’
This is a term given to the initial stages of a religious movement before institutional forces replace charisma as the driving force. Just as the above verses heralded the ‘charismatic moment’ for the early church so they ushered in a unique time for the 20th century believers. The Holy Spirit had been given equally to men and women on the day of Pentecost and in the pages of the New Testament we read of anointed women functioning alongside their brothers in Christ. The Apostle Paul called them his fellow workers. There were women leaders, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers and yes, apostles. (Paul actually affirmed women in leadership and gifting). So it’s not surprising that as women in the last century were baptised in the Holy Spirit their anointing made room for them in a variety of similar ways.
Keeping The Light Burning
Since New Testament days there had always been a remnant keeping the flames of revival alive. Down through history women have played a prominent part in revival movements. Following the Montanist revival in the 2nd and 3rd centuries noted for it prophetesses, the abbeys of Europe kept the light burning through the Dark Ages. The Protestant Reformation (1517) bought a measure of leveling with its emphasis on the Priesthood of Believers.
Then a series of revivals began to elevate women allowing their voice to be heard. Parallels have been drawn between the Anabaptists of the 16th century and modern Pentecostalism. They, too, stressed the Prophethood of Believers where the Holy Spirit had freedom to minister through men and women alike. In the 17th century Quakers were the fastest growing movement in the western world and their defining theological principle of the inner light propelled women preachers across Britain and other nations especially to the New World. Methodist women of the 18th century found an ally in John Wesley who, when asked why he encouraged women preachers said, ‘Because God owns them in the conversion of sinners and who am I that I should withstand God’3. Women were prominent in the Trans-Atlantic evangelical revivals of the 19th century and their voices rang loud and clear in a plethora of reform societies.
By the time Holiness teaching took hold in this country finding expression in the Keswick Movement and Salvation Army, a tradition of women preachers and teachers was well established providing a platform for our Pentecostal sisters.
Just prior to the 1907 outpouring in Britain women had been largely responsible for spreading the fires in the valleys of Wales in 1904. The following year, in India, a converted Brahmin woman, Pandita Ramabai, was used by God to facilitate an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit which started among girls in her orphanage. A lady, Agnes Ozman, was a forerunner of the 1906 revival in America. She spoke in tongues in 1901 some five years before the flood gates opened in Los Angeles. At Azusa Street women ministered with the men and went out across the country carrying the Pentecostal blessing with them.
Getting The Job Done
It is a well documented fact of revivals that ‘getting the job done’ becomes more important than who is doing it. Revivals are times of great urgency. This allows for women, often young women and even children to respond freely to the stirrings of the Spirit without restrictions and with great success.
At these times the prophetic nature of ministry takes ascendance over the more priestly elements. Authority is grounded in experience rather than in religious doctrine and tradition. Anointing and gifting become the important criteria for leadership and ministry rather than gender.
As revivals are ‘managed’ or become second generation or as the original leaders die (as John Wesley of the Methodist Revival) or step down for what ever reason (as Evan Roberts of the Welsh Revival) or national events loom large and overtake (as is the case of the First World War and the Pentecostal Revival), the initial stages of the revival cease and this is where there is the danger of institutionalism with its negative effect on the ministry of women.
Bad News - Good News
The question then arises, ‘How can we perpetuate what God is (or worse, was) doing?’ The answer to this question often marks the beginning of a denomination with its inherent structures and positions. Often bad news for women.
This is why in the ‘charismatic moment’ of a revival, the question needs to be addressed, ‘How can we facilitate what God is doing?’ The wind blows wherever it pleases but it can be harnessed for increased effect.
It is inevitable that structures will be put in place even in times of revival. The creation of the world shows a God of order. But built into that order is the notion of quantum change, a randomness that we see even in the natural world. We cannot box God into our thinking. If we do, we will remain in the box while the Holy Spirit is moving outside! The only institutional form that we can consider are flexible wineskins to hold the new wine coupled with an attitude of humility. This is good news for women.
One In Christ
The heady days of revival are characterized by the breaking down of barriers whether they be ethnic, social, gender or even ecclesiastical in accordance with the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28).
In racial conscious American society it was noted at Azusa that ‘the colour line was washed away by the blood’4. At gatherings of Pentecostals in Sunderland there was evident harmony and equality between nationalities, denominations, social class and men and women even in the class conscious Edwardian society.
A Precarious Pathway
As the early Pentecostal leaders in the fledgling movement walked the precarious pathway between control and anarchy the ministry of women continued to flourish. From time to time statements would be issued on doctrinal points or there would be warnings against false teachers printed in the magazine Confidence. Overseers and boards, titles and positions had no place in the early days as the Holy Spirit raised up whom He willed. Authority was validated by the anointing of God on a person’s life regardless of gender.
These early leaders, both men and women carried the anointing with them as they travelled between different centres strengthening the work and engaging in evangelism. It was noted at the time, ‘The Holy Spirit is clearly leading on very simple lines these days, more in harmony with primitive Christianity’.
All the more surprising then that in June 1914 a topic on the agenda at the Sunderland Convention was A Woman’s Place in the Church. Instead of there being a celebration of their invaluable contribution this was a discussion which focused on limiting their ministry. Although Alexander Boddy seemed to be happy with the status quo, ministerial colleague Pastor Jonathan Paul from Berlin was determined to place what he considered scriptural restrictions on women especially in the roles of teaching and leadership. For several years there had been a Pentecostal Advisory Board meeting annually at the Sunderland Conventions and now it was becoming more authoritative.
Although well meaning and sincere, it’s tragic that more credence was not given to the work of the Spirit in these ladies recognizing that it was God himself who had raised them up and was using them to great effect. Father, Son and Spirit speak with one voice. It’s impossible for the Lord to empower a woman and then restrict her with His own Word. In effect this is what they were doing. No policy statement was issued but doubts had been voiced and underlying attitudes began to surface.
This was just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and for women in the Pentecostal Movement in Britain, things were never to be the same again. The ‘charismatic moment’ was over and with it the demise of their ministries. History once again was repeating itself.
Shine, Women, Shine!
Many women had been already been involved teaching and preaching in Holiness circles. They didn’t just appear on the scene in 1907. The term ‘The Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ was initially used by John Wesley’s theologian, John Fletcher, to explain a second blessing of ‘being made holy’ or sanctification. An American Holiness teacher, Phoebe Palmer whilst on a four year speaking tour of Britain from 1859-1863 began to teach that the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit gave power for service. In the Welsh Revival a greater emphasis was on the power to testify. The verses from Acts 2:17-18 gave these women permission to prophesy whether it be in testimony, teaching, preaching or speaking out a word that the Holy Spirit had given them.
It was not until the gift of speaking in tongues was restored in greater measure to the church and seen as the sign of Baptism in the Holy Spirit that theological minds began to claim this heralded a restoration of the days of the Acts of the Apostles. The very seriousness with which early Pentecostals read the New Testament, taking everything literally, resulted in ambiguities for women. Whilst acknowledging that scripture gave permission for daughters to prophesy, it also told women to keep silent in the church. The above meeting was an attempt to reconcile verses which on face value do seem contradictory and in many cases appear to narrow a woman’s sphere of ministry.
It is not the function of this book to exegete the so called ‘difficult passages’ but to highlight the importance of having a biblical theology where there is a harmony between the Spirit and Word. As Harvey Cox observes in his book Fire From Heaven,5 ‘Wherever the original Pentecostal fire breaks through the flame extinguishing literalist theology, women shine’. Women did indeed shine in those early days of the 20th century Pentecostal revival.
Before some of you may be tempted at this point to throw this book against the wall I am not advocating some new feminist hermeneutic. My friend, Chris Forster puts it this way, ‘Once we lose the inspiration of the Spirit we start approaching Scripture looking for laws rather than life’.
Bottled At Source
In front of me as I write is a bottle of water. On the label is written, ‘Pure spring water, bottled at source’. This water was ‘captured’ before it became polluted further down stream. ‘Estuary water’ would hardy be a best seller on the supermarket shelves!
The nearer to the source of a river you go, the purer the water. So it is with the moves of God in the earth. The nearer to the source or beginnings of a movement the purer the intention of the Spirit is seen before man manages, controls or even digs his own channel.
The beginning of the Pentecostal Movement in Britain was initiated by a powerful move of God. It was a time of divine intervention in the affairs of man. It was the source of a river of blessing that has continued to flow. If we are to gain greater insight into the heart and mind of God we need to pay attention to what was happening at the source. The Holy Spirit gave permission for women to function according to their anointing and gifting and function they did! We need to take care to loose those things on earth that are loosed in heaven or we may find ourselves fighting against God.
Sapphires And Nuggets Of Gold
With all this in mind these verses from Job give a prophetic context to this book.
‘There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Miners put an end to the darkness; they search out the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness. Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft, in places untouched by human feet far from other people they dangle and sway. The earth, from which food comes, is transformed below as by fire; sapphires come from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold. No bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it, and no lion prowls there. The miner’s hands assault the flinty rock and lay bare the roots of the mountains. They tunnel through the rock; their eyes see all its treasures. They search the sources of the rivers and bring hidden things to light.’
What Is God saying?
1. There is a mine, there is a place to dig (v. 1)
2. These are forgotten places (v. 4)
3. Work is involved
Tunnel through the rock (v. 10)
Search the farthest recesses (v. 3)
Assault the flinty rock (v. 9)
Lay bare the roots of the mountains (v. 9) ‘roots’ being a poetic expression emphasizing great depth
4. Sapphires come from its rocks and its dust contains nuggets of gold (v. 6)
5. The eyes of the person who tunnels through the rock will see all the treasures (v. 10)
I’ve done the digging and my eyes have seen the sapphires and nuggets of gold. Hidden things have come to light and it is these I will share with you in the following pages.
Bones And Stones
Leonard Sweet in his book Soul Tsunami,6 a commentary on post modernity, talks about carrying the ‘bones and stones’ of memory with us, ‘the memory of our past and the memory of our ancestors’ He says that ‘to abandon the past is to forget what we know’. Understanding our roots can help us find direction, inspiration and fresh food for the journey.
As well as being rooted and grounded in God we can draw sustenance from knowing our spiritual ancestry. We are not orphans but have Spirit filled mothers (as well as fathers) of faith ready to teach us by example. Women who were confident in their beliefs, had faith in their God, were not afraid to take the road less travelled and who encourage us to do the same.
God thinks remembering, or rather not forgetting, is important. Moses took the past with him into the future when he took Joseph’s bones out of Egypt. The Israelites left piles of stones in the Promised
Land so a future generation when asking the question, ‘What do these stones mean?’ could be told the stories of deliverance. Jesus said that the story of Mary, whose devotion touched his heart, would be told wherever the Gospel was preached in memory of her (Mark 14:9).
The Psalmist says, ‘... I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation...’ (Psalm 78:2-4, NIV)
What better time to remember these forgotten women. As I write it’s the year of the centennial of the 20th century Pentecostal revival. We remember not for nostalgic reasons but to commend His works, speak of His power, tell of His deliverance, pass on revelation, encourage faith and to declare that we as Spirit filled believers stand in a line of blessing that belongs to us. But before it can belong to us we have to know about it.
We are not meant to live our lives in a 21st century vacuum, people and stories from the past are important and help shape our future.
Standing In Line
These godly women at the source of the Pentecostal river are our heritage. We stand in their generational line. We are further downstream but the flow is from the same source.
The closing verses of the Old Testament book of Malachi speak of a turning of the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents (Malachi 4:5-6). I believe that as well as referring to natural parents an application can be made to include wider generational continuity. As we turn our hearts to learn and listen we will see more than just quaint cameos from the past.
There were many women whose names and deeds have long been forgotten by man but have not been forgotten by God. They are written in His scroll of remembrance. They are His jewels (Malachi 3:16-17, NIV). They are the many ‘nursing mothers’ who kept the testimony alive in its infant years. The ones whose stories I have chosen to tell have a core theme running through their lives which is as relevant today as it was then.
Cameos Of Forgotten Women
Catherine Price has gone down in history as the first person to speak in tongues in the 20th century Pentecostal outpouring in Britain. She was a woman of prayer who, like Mary, cautions us to follow Jesus, not the blessing. Her life was given to pursuing intimacy with Christ.
Mary Boddy was a key player and deserves the title ‘The Mother of British Pentecostalism’. Not only a wife and mother she was a teacher, preacher and writer. In July 1908, Confidence reports, ‘The Vicarage was a busy place with people coming and going...with sick bodies and tired souls and all are helped’. She ministered healing and prayed for many to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit including Smith Wigglesworth. She left a legacy but more than that her life was ‘Taken up with Jesus’ and her writings challenge us to rekindle our passion to glorify Jesus over and above our spiritual experiences.
Many women opened their homes as ‘Homes of Rest’ and for meetings. One such woman was Margaret Cantel. It was said that being in her meetings one could imagine they were in similar first century meetings in Ephesus or Corinth, especially when spiritual gifts were manifested.
More down to earth was Lydia Walshaw who after experiencing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit said that the love of God enabled her to love the unlovely and ‘throw her arms around them in all their dirt and sin.’ She was a sought after speaker and a leader.
American, Carrie Judd Montgomery was a woman of faith and an influential visitor to our shores. Editor of Triumphs of Faith for sixty six years she ministered Divine Healing and pioneered healing homes where the sick could receive prayer.
A strong woman, Christina Berulsden was a church planter. She led a Pentecostal mission in the city of Edinburgh and at Leith docks, Scotland. It was written of her, ‘Her family showed to the world whose they are and whom they serve’.
Revivals need ‘behind the scenes’ workers and ‘The Secretaries’ at Sunderland, Miss Margaret Scott and Miss Mabel Howell, worked hard providing an indispensable service distributing the magazine Confidence until the Lord gave them a ministry of their own amongst the poor.
Formidable Eleanor Crisp was the principle of the Pentecostal Missionary Union Women’s Testing and Training Home and was formative in training a generation of missionaries. A notable speaker, she also had an impressive gift of interpretation of tongues.
Many women paid a high price in missionary service facing disease and death on foreign fields as they took the Gospel to the ends of the earth. They were dubbed, ‘Missionaries of the one way ticket’7 because of their belief in an imminent rapture, but it could also be said it was because some never came home.
Polly Wigglesworth was the wife of Smith, whose world wide ministry of signs and wonders is legendary. A lesser known fact is that for most of their married life, Polly was the more prominent of the two, a fiery preacher who ‘put down the net’ while Smith would be at the altar ‘landing the fish’.
As we have noted all this was taking place in Edwardian Britain. In this period, ladies, especially British ones, were more often than not referred to only by their title, Mrs. or Miss. Today we find this rather formal so I have taken the liberty of referring to them by their first name, unheard of in that era. In some cases detective work in the 1901 census was needed to even find out what they were. But I feel that this makes their lives more accessible and their personalities somehow more human.
These are women who by their example and writings are living letters. They were role models to a generation. No one would want to return to this past era but in their own unique ways they had captured something of the heartbeat of God and gave expression to that in their lives and ministries.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, God’s heartbeat for the world has not changed. Let’s brush the dust off their lives and allow these bold, godly women to be our inspiration as we are, today, one hundred years closer to the coming of our Lord.
1. Bringing Hidden Things To Light
2. Catherine Price – Pursuing The Presence Of God
3. Mary Boddy – Taken Up With Jesus
4. Margaret Cantel – Making Room For The Spirit
5. Lydia Walshaw – Down To Earth Spirituality
6. Carrie Judd Montgomery – Faith And Healing Homes
7. Christina Beruldsen – A Beautiful Work
8. The Secretaries – They Worked Hard
9. Eleanor Crisp – Training A Generation
10. Missionary Ladies – They Paid A Price
11. Polly Wigglesworth – A Fiery Preacher
12. Running With The Flame