Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

When Pentecostals encounter Anglicanism

Cameron Coombe tracks the movement of Christians from Pentecostal to Anglican churches and wonders how this may be a movement of the Spirit.

Cameron Coombe  |  24 Apr 2019

It was over ten years ago that I came to Christ in the Pentecostal church. Throughout that time, I was nurtured, challenged, and moulded in my newfound faith. I developed a passion for the things of God, forged life-long friendships, and asked many hard (and on occasion untimely) questions.

I am still a Pentecostal at heart and doubt I will quickly forget those roots. Last year, however, I started attending an Anglican Church in Dunedin and began a new journey into the world of parishes, prayer books and the peace.

I had often heard stories from Christians recently 'reborn' after decades-long sleepwalks through the 'dead churches' they grew up in. These would be people migrating from Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or Methodist churches into New Zealand’s Pentecostal movement.

But at the same time a countertrend quietly marked the landscape and I knew I was not the only one who had walked these footsteps. So in order to get a better sense of this dynamic religious exchange I sought out others who had trod the path before me.

David never intended to become Anglican and still doesn’t think of himself as Anglican, despite regularly attending an Anglican church for years.

“I wouldn’t call myself Anglican per se,” he said. “I’m just a follower of Christ who happens to fellowship in an Anglican church.”

After his kids attended a school holiday programme at the church, David and his wife decided to attend some services as a show of thanks. But if it was the holiday programme that got him, it was the expository preaching that had David “absolutely floored” and convinced him to stay.

Although David’s story could have transpired in any church setting, even a Pentecostal one, it is still noteworthy as an example of how broad Anglican identity can be.

Ian had a different experience. As a Pentecostal pastor in 1990’s Mapua, near Nelson, he was asked by Presbyterian and Anglican churches if he would look after their dwindling congregations. Ian accepted.

But because he wasn’t an ordained Anglican, Ian couldn’t preside at the Eucharist for the Anglican community. This led him to “some conversations with the Lord about being all things to all people in order to win them,” he recalls. “And I wanted to win them.”

When the bishop suggested Ian consider ordination, he eventually accepted, albeit reluctantly. But this reluctance was short-lived. Undertaking a theology degree at Otago — something treated with holy suspicion in the Pentecostal context he sprang from — Ian developed a love for learning, liturgy and all things Anglican.

He was especially impressed by the support he later received in ministry, fulfilling a deep longing for the training, purpose and accountability that he had unconsciously sought when first setting out as a Pentecostal minister.

Another person I spoke to, Ty, came to the Anglican church in a roundabout way.

For a long time, he had wanted to express his faith by working for justice and living in community. When Shane Claiborne came to town, Ty headed to the local church which was an Anglican mission unit. Initially there for Claiborne, Ty stayed for the community and its missional qualities. Consequently, the “richness of things like liturgy” grew on him, so much so that he is now contemplating ordination.

Laura’s path was different again. After attending Pentecostal churches through her teens and early twenties, she actively sought out an Anglican church. She had grown up Anglican and headed back as she became disillusioned with the socially conservative theology on sexuality, mixed handling of mental health issues, and predominantly male leadership of her Pentecostal church.

But Laura didn’t want to leave everything behind. “I went to a few local [Anglican churches] and they were a bit dry,” she recalls. Eventually she found a charismatic Anglican church where inviting liturgy coincided with a stated openness to moving with the Spirit.

I was initially struck by the diverse range of experiences that were recalled to me under the theme of moving from Pentecostal to Anglican churches. One person’s shift happened by accident, while two were slowly drawn deeper, and another returned to her childhood roots. Surely, though, who they had become as Pentecostals wouldn’t be forgotten?

My interviewees were all more forthcoming on what Pentecostals could learn from Anglicans. Liturgy was a theme: the idea of written, shared prayer and more hymns. Laura was taken by the broader theological base that fed Anglican preaching. “I’ve never heard sermons on climate change in the same way that I have in the Anglican Church,” she said.

Both Laura and Ian noted resistance to theological education among Pentecostals.

As I listened to them all I wondered, “If this new migration is a work of God (as I’m sure movement in the other direction can be), there must be some things that Anglicans could learn from Pentecostals?”

“I’m sure there is,” says Ian, himself wondering. But there is some struggle to think of anything.

The Anglican Church, despite its problems, is where he is at home.

Others are still negotiating this transition. “I think the Pentecostals rock the music,” David reveals. There is a fondness for that earlier Pentecostal passion that I doubt he will ever forget. Ty and Laura comment on the freedom they felt that the Spirit was given to move among the congregation in their Pentecostal days. Anglican churches might still have something to learn in being sensitive to the pull of the Spirit.

Of course, each person’s view reflects their unique experiences. Statements about the Anglican Church or Pentecostal churches as a whole cannot be made here.

But I do hope that this exchange will bring fruitful dialogue between the two expressions of faith, and that in doing so both will be enriched and become more conformed to the image of Christ.

Cameron Coombe attends St Martha's Anglican Church in Dunedin and is studying for a doctorate in theology at Otago University.