- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

The following is an excerpt from “Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community,” a new book by The Washington Times’ religion editor, Julia Duin. The book recounts the story of the 20th century’s greatest religious revival and of an Episcopal cleric named Graham Pulkingham, without whom the pentecostal-charismatic movement might never have taken hold.

On especially humid nights, a stellar cluster explodes on the Texas prairie. It is Houston; powerful, glittering, the city built by oil.

Just to the east of downtown is a neighborhood named Eastwood, home to a large gray stone church, which stands like a lonely monolith on a triangular plot where Dallas Avenue and Telephone Road intersect.

This is the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. Enter through its glass doors. Inside and curving around the front of the church and dominating the room is a huge, colorful, stunning mural. At the center is a white-robed Jesus ascending in the clouds; compelling, life-sized, His eyes following you wherever you stand. He is clearly in charge.

In that church, there was a priest. He arrived in the summer of 1963, his unhappy family trailing behind. People knew Graham Pulkingham as ambitious, cultured and music-loving; a blond-haired 37-year-old clergyman with a slight paunch, fashionable liberal views and an air of authority and confidence that people either hated or found irresistible. His professional life had been one stream of successes. Then he had moved his wife and children to an inner-city parish east of Houston, determined that he was going to set this place right.

By the following August, he had shipwrecked on the shoals of Eastwood.

By then, it was time for his family’s annual four-week vacation. Thus, the Pulkinghams left for Burlington, North Carolina, the peaceful oasis of the Carr family, whose eldest daughter, Betty Jane, had married Graham more than a decade before. The family hadn’t been in Burlington more than a week when Graham woke early in the morning, feeling agitated. He sensed the Lord wanted to communicate with him, and sure enough, a familiar voice said, “Go to New York.”

“When?” he wanted to know.

“Next Tuesday,” the voice said.

With what money, Graham wondered. All he had was $5 and a gasoline credit card.

“I can be trusted for that,” the voice assured him. “Do as I say.”

He decided to fast on his way to New York, which would take care of the food question.

By the time he arrived in the Big Apple, Graham was on his third day of fasting and desperate. No cool afternoon rains cooled New York’s broiling environs. Fleeing the simmering sidewalks, he took refuge in the cool interior of the majestic Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street. Weeping, he knelt behind the organ bench, hoping no one would discover him. He looked up to see the irate face of the church sexton.

“What are you doing here?” the man demanded.

“I’m praying.”

“Well, get the hell out.”

Pentecostal power

At the age of 32, David Wilkerson was already famous.

At the time, most Americans wouldn’t be caught dead in the shadier sections of New York. David flourished there, founding a ministry to drug addicts and alcoholics called Teen Challenge. But his method of helping them get off drugs was unorthodox: Not only were they told to go completely cold turkey, they had to convert to Christianity and undergo an experience known as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

David Wilkerson’s genius lay in something organized Christianity had not tried since the days of the apostles: Applying pentecostal power to a glaring social problem. David’s biography, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” written by John and Elizabeth Sherrill, published in the early 1960s, boldly described just how drug addicts had gotten delivered. The book went on to sell millions of copies and eventually become a film starring Pat Boone.

One of those copies landed in Graham’s hands. Here was someone, Graham thought, who also wanted to help the poor and who, unlike Graham, had been given the power to do so.

The two clicked as Graham described the mess he had caused in Houston. Graham then confided a degrading secret: Married for more than a decade and the father of four children, he had sexual cravings for other men. He had hit nearly every rest area between North Carolina and New York, searching for liaisons.

Horrified, David’s first instinct was to tell Graham to leave the ministry. But, were he to send Graham away, to whom would this pathetic man turn? He knew that Graham had taken many risks in secretly coming, Nicodemus-like, to visit him. High society-style Episcopal priests rarely deigned to speak to pentecostals in those days, much less come asking for advice.

Instead, David invited Graham to do street evangelism with him in Harlem. That evening, they arrived in a neighborhood crowded with pushers and prostitutes, the sidewalks packed with people shooting up drugs, the dark side streets crowded with whispering mobs.

Graham tagged alongside David and wept. He, a minister of the Gospel, did not have the spiritual power to help these kids. The next day, Graham accompanied his host to upstate New York, stopping in Poughkeepsie at an old estate that had been converted into a home for women fresh off the streets. David talked with the man in charge of the mission, then turned toward Graham.

“I bear witness in my heart about you,” he said. “Kneel down.”

The two men crossed the room, placed their hands on his head and prayed over him in what sounded like strange, almost angelic languages. Graham’s spirit lit up and his soul lay surrendered and prostrate before the Third Person of the Trinity, who flooded him with love, and then in one rush, swept him clean of sexual defilement. Graham, who had not guessed such deliverance was possible, bowed his head to the ground and convulsively sobbed.

“We can go now. The Baptizer’s here,” David announced to his friend, and the two departed.

Graham stopped his weeping, at peace. So this was the baptism in the Spirit, he thought; this incredible power with the most gentle of Persons wrapping him in the tender embrace.

Thrilled by his experience, Graham headed back home.

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