I am engaged in a research project with John de Gruchy, a former Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, to write a history of the Charismatic Renewal in Southern African Christianity.
The purpose of this page is to describe the project, and also to appeal for help from anyone who has information relating to the Charismati Renewal or related movements. So if you have had any experience of the Charismatic Renewal, positive or negative, please contact me, and at least leave a comment in the comments section below.
The Charismatic Renewal
The charismatic renewal was a worldwide movement within Christianity that flourished mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. It involved a rediscovery of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (charismata in Greek, hence the name). Among the ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ was ‘speaking in tongues’, sometimes referred to by the Greek term glossolalia.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century manifestations of these gifts of the Spirit gave rise to the Pentecostal denominations, such as (in South Africa), the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Assemblies of God, and the Full Gospel Church of God. The Pentecostal movement was also linked to the rise of Zionism.
What distinguishes the charismatic renewal, which came about 50-60 years later than the Pentecostal movement, is that it appeared and spread in non-Pentecostal churches, such as (in South Africa) the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church and others.
It was most influential in the 1970s and 1980s, and has declined somewhat in significance since then, but in that period it had a significant impact on Southern African Christianity.
In our research project we also look at related contemporary movements within Southern African Christianity. These include Group Dynamics and the Justice and Reconciliation Movement.
Group Dynamics, also known as T-Groups or Sensitivity Training, was popular in many Christian denominations in the 1960s and 1970s. It was training in the way that small groups operate, and aimed to improve the functioning of people and their relationships within the church. It attracted the attention of the South African government (then wedded to the policy of apartheid), which feared that it would counter the effect of apartheid programming, and act as a kind of deprogramming tool. They were probably right.
In KwaZulu/Natal there were bodies called CELT (Christian Education and Leadership Training) which arranged and coordinated training events ecumenically. In Zululand, in particular, CELT was instrumental in spreading the Charismatic Renewal as well.
Justice and Reconciliation
Many non-Pentecostal denominations, especially those that belonged to the South African Council of Churches, set up departments of Justice and Reconciliation, which were concerned with Christian witness in apartheid society. In the Anglican Church this took the form of ‘Challenge Groups’, which were intended to challenge racism in the church at every level. Thei effectiveness seems to have varied from place to place.
The Research Project
Very little has been written about these three interlinked movements. In most church histories of the period they are mentioned in passing, with little or no explanation. The problem is that as time passes, fewer and fewer people will understand what these references actually refer to. Many of the people who were most actively involved in them are dead, and in another 20 years or so there will be hardly anyone who remembers them at all. Yet a fairly large part of South African Christianity was shaped by these movements, for good or ill.
So our research project is to try to describe these movements, and see what effects they had in shaping South African Christianity at the end of the 20th century.
History of the Project
John de Gruchy did some research on the project when it was at its height, in the early 1980s. He sent questionnaires to clergy of various denominations who were involved in the movement, and prepared a manuscript for publication, which was never published.
In 2007, conscious of the gap in Southern African church history, I began collecting information with a similar purpose. This project is described more fully when it was just starting at Notes from underground: Research: charismatic renewal movement in South Africa and also, when it had been going for nine months, at A conspiracy of silence – South African church history: Khanya.
John de Gruchy very kindly let me have a copy of his unpublished manuscript, and we have now agreed that I should update it, with the addition of material that I have collected, and that when it is ready we should try to publish it jointly.
In the mean time there are a lot of gaps, and so I hope people who were involved in any way with these movements, and especially with the charismatic renewal will help us to fill in some of the gaps.
How you can help
If you have any information about these three movements in southern Africa, especially the charismatic renewal in the period 1960-1995, please share it by leaving a comment. If you are willing to share more information, please let me know so I can send you a questionnaire, which you can answer and return by e-mail. If you have more still, please let me know that too.
To do this you do not necessarily have to have been deeply involved in the movement itself. Some people were not involved, though they had encountered it or knew people who were involved, and some disapproved of it; if you are one of those, we eant to hear from you too.
In some of the other pages on this topic, there is a list of people who were involved in the charismatic renewal and related movements, and we would like to make contact with them, or at least have some more information about them. So if you know any of those people, please tell us what you can, and especially how to contact them if they are still alive.