Alexander Boddy – 1854-1930

Alexander Boddy

A. A. Boddy

Alexander Boddy was the main pioneer of Pentecostalism in Britain during the early twentieth century. The son of an Anglican rector, he was strongly influenced by Keswick teaching and studied theology at Durham. Ordained by the godly acedemic, Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, he became vicar at Elwick before being appointed as vicar at All Saints’ Parish Church, Sunderland at the early age of thirty-two, in 1884.

A taste of the world and the Spirit

He gained notoriety and membership of the Royal Geographical Society reporting on his travels to western Canada, Egypt, North Africa, Palestine and Russia. But his real passion was the spread of the gospel. Being strongly evangelical with a passionate zeal for revival, the Welsh Revival of 1904 attracted his attention and he made a special journey to the Rhondda to meet Evan Roberts and see things first-hand.

A year or two later he heard of a new Revival in Norway, led by a fervent Methodist minister in Oslo (then Christiania) who testified to a baptism in the Holy Spirit he had received in New York. Boddy crossed the North Sea to see things for himself. In an article to several English papers Boddy wrote ‘My four days in Christiana can never be forgotten.

I stood with Evan Roberts in Tonypandy, but have never witnessed such scenes as those in Norway.’ He became so convinced that this new movement was of God, that he pleaded with T.B. Barrett to hold a brief mission in his church in Sunderland.

Advocate of Pentecost

To the Keswick Convention in 1907 he took a pamphlet he had written called ‘Pentecost for England’ and thousands were distributed. In it he claimed that 20,000 people had spoken in tongues (worldwide) but that only about six persons of these were in Great Britain. The first person to receive the gift of tongues at this time, New Year 1907, was a Mrs. Price of Brixton, London. She opened her home for prayer meetings that were, essentially, the first Pentecostal meetings in England.

Almost simultaneously other individuals in Wales, the south coast and in the north of England, also received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues before the great outpouring in Sunderland in September 1907.

Pentecost visits Sunderland

Barrett arrived in September 1907, and in the first prayer meeting on a Saturday, there was ‘great blessing.’ On Sunday Barratt preached in All Saint’s Parish Church after the regular evening service. In the vestry prayer meeting afterwards ‘many received very marked blessings, and a few came through to a scriptural baptism of the Holy Spirit for we heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.’ The meeting finished at 4. a.m. the next morning!

This commenced scenes at All Saints’ that soon attracted the attention of the Press. Besides prayer-meetings until the small hours of the morning, there was speaking with tongues, and testimonies to miracles of healing. So great was the effect that Barratt said ‘the eyes of the religious millions of Great Britain are now fixed on Sunderland.’ But the religious periodicals were strangely silent! After Barrett had returned home on October 18th the fire continued to fall.

The stone in the wall of the Parish Hall still carries the inscription “WHEN THE FIRE OF THE LORD FELL IT BURNED UP THE DEBT” (there had been a debt on the building). All Saints’ became a centre for hungry souls seeking a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal revival had begun.

The British Pentecostal Movement was born

Naturally there was much opposition of the new move of the Spirit but the saintly Handley G. Moule was then the Bishop of Durham and no ecclesiastical restrictions were placed on Boddy. At Whitsuntide, 1908 Boddy hosted an epoch-making convention, and thenceforth the history of Boddy becomes merged with the British Pentecostal Movement. Annual Conventions were held at All Saints’ for seven years until 1914, attended by young men destined to become leaders of the Movement in years to come.

Alexander Boddy’s leadership of the Pentecostal Movement

Boddy was God’s man who presided over the early British Pentecostal Conventions and for a few years was the outstanding personality in the Movement. He had the prestige, the poise, the culture, and a personal participation in the Pentecostal experience that established him as the figure-head. He soon tasted the undisciplined character of many who went to Sunderland with very mixed motives and great desires for self-expression. Admission to the 1908 Convention was by ticket, freely given to all who would sign a declaration.

One item was significant— “The Chairman’s ruling should be promptly and willingly obeyed in cases of difficulty”. There were those who rebelled wanted to take control, though talking much of “liberty”. On the whole it was freely admitted that his chairmanship of these early Conventions was truly under the touch of God. There was heavenly singing in the Spirit as by an angelic choir; there were prophecies and interpretations of tongues that were very impressive, there was a Pentecostal atmosphere charged with Divine power.

Apart from All Saints’ Church and the Convention, the vicarage also became hallowed ground where many were baptised in the Holy Spirit. Mrs. Boddy, though an invalid, was a woman of strong personality, who helped her husband greatly. The Pentecostal Missionary Union was born in the vicarage early in 1909, and Boddy’s great friend Cecil Polhill became the first chairman.

Another important step was the publication by A. A. Boddy of a magazine called “CONFIDENCE” that did much to spread and stabilise the young Movement until 1926.

The last years and decease of Alexander Boddy

In 1922 he resigned from All Saints’, and died in the pastorate of the little village church of Pittington, near Durham, in 1930. He was seventy-six.

Donald Gee writes, ‘It must always remain a moot point whether the subsequent floundering of the Pentecostal Movement in the British Isles without God-anointed national leadership, such as God manifestly gave in Norway and Sweden, was due to failure on the part of Brother Boddy to fully recognise the Divine call, and throw himself wholeheartedly into leading the young Movement which he had done so much to bring to birth. In those days it would have necessitated a break with the Anglican Church.

The inter-position of the First World War was undoubtedly a factor. A sadness fills the mind at the memory of the pale winter sunshine that marked the later years of Mr. Boddy’s life and ministry in contrast to the full blaze of glorious summer of the early Sunderland days. But speculation on what might have been should never make us ungrateful for the vital part he played, under God, in the beginning of the Movement in the British Isles.’

Bibliography: Donald Gee, ‘These Men I Knew,’ 1965 and ‘Wind and Flame,’ 1941 and 1967; D. D. Bundy art. ‘International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements’ 2002. Bibliography: Donald Gee, ‘These men I knew’ 1965 and ‘Wind and Flame’ 1941 and 1967.

Tony Cauchi

For further research:
Alexander A. Boddy
Alexander Boddy Wikipedia