By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
–the life and work of the Rev Canon Dennis Bennett: a tribute to his contributions to 50 years of renewal in Canada
My wife and I were privileged to hear Rita Bennett this July at the fiftieth anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal, which began in 1960 at St Luke’s Seattle. Rita and her late husband Canon Dennis Bennett were an amazing tag team sharing about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Many felt shock and disbelief in November lst, 1991 when told of Dennis Bennett’s death from a heart attack. He was known world-wide as a pioneer and seed-planter in what Archbishop Michael Peers called in 1978 “…a revival of a witness to a neglected aspect of Christian truth – the power of the Spirit.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica 1973 Yearbook records that “when in 1960, Father Dennis Bennett announced to his congregation, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at Van Nuys, California that he had experienced a new outpouring of God’s Spirit, the recent movement can be said to have begun.”
The Rev Kevin Martin, formerly with Episcopal Renewal Ministries/Acts 29, said that Dennis Bennett “…was directly responsible for the charismatic movement in the Roman (Catholic) Church that now reaches into the millions.’ As of 2010, there are an estimated 110 million Roman Catholics involved in charismatic renewal, which perhaps accounts for the wide acceptance of the Alpha Course among many Roman Catholics.
Canon Bennett wrote six best-selling books, two of which sold over half a million copies each (Nine O’Clock in the Morning and The Holy Spirit and You). During his 33 years in the Renewal, Dennis had the privilege of leading over 25,000 people into the Release or Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In 1979, the Rev Al Reimers, an Anglican priest, published the results of a comprehensive survey of charismatic renewal in Canada. In his book, God’s Country, he wrote: “As far as I can determine, charismatic renewal came to Canada first through visits by Dennis Bennett in the early 1960’s…”
Dennis planted many seeds of renewal over the years across Canada: many have borne fruit and are still bearing fruit; others are just starting to sprout.
Shortly after moving to Seattle, Dennis began a lasting and most meaningful relationship with the Anglicans on Vancouver Island. He first spoke at St John’s Quadra Anglican Church (Victoria) in 1962. In 1974 Dennis and Rita led a very popular seminar on the Holy Spirit at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. From then on, Dennis and Rita were invited back many times by the ARC/Anglican Renewal Centre to lead seminars all over Vancouver Island.
The Rev Charles Alexander, the founding National Coordinator of Anglican Renewal Ministries (Canada) and author of Power to Serve, remembers Dennis well. Charles recalls going down to Dennis’ parish in Seattle, (St Luke’s) and receiving much wisdom and encouragement from him.
Charles sees Dennis as “a very self-giving man” who certainly had a foundational role in the growth of renewal in Canada. Charles, who has spent many years sharing the message of renewal across Canada, commented that Canadian Anglicans in renewal “owe Dennis a lot.’
Nine O’Clock in the Morning, by itself, has had life-changing effects on many Canadian Anglicans. For example, the Venerable Jack Major from the Fraser Valley, BC, was given this book by a stranger at a funeral. He reluctantly began to read the book, and before he could finish it, he experienced a life-changing Release of God’s Spirit in his life. Later Jack brought Dennis and Rita to lead seminars in 1984 and 1986 at St Matthew’s Abbotsford; over 350 people registered for the latter.
I was Jack’s Assistant Priest at the time, so I can witness to its powerful effect on St Matthew’s in terms of spiritual and rapid numerical growth. Archdeacon Jack “found Dennis to be a person of great intellectual ability but also able to convey the faith in such a beautifully simple way that one can’t miss it.’
Archdeacon Jack Major said that he had never met a more humble person and both he and Charles Alexander commented that Dennis would always remember who you were. The Rev Fr Ron Barnes, former Chair of an Anglican Evangelism Unit, described Dennis as a “conservative, rational, sensible person who saw the gifts of the Spirit, not as something emotional but as genuine, rational, and normal.” Though Dennis Bennett’s teaching about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was a challenging message, it was always spoken in love. As Archdeacon Patrick Tomter (from Dennis’ Diocese of Olympia) put it, Dennis “was always and forever a man of grace and, truth…He responded to criticism with warmth and humour . The Diocese has always been particularly blessed by his presence.”
I first met Dennis through his books, and began a 7-year pilgrimage which culminated in 1979, when the Rev David Watson and my wife Janice helped me open up to new life in the Spirit. But it wasn’t until I met Dennis in 1984 that he showed me by teaching and example how easy it is to lead another person to receive the Release or Baptism in the Spirit. Until then, I had believed that ‘tongues’ were just for the few, and were difficult to receive. Dennis showed me that Life in the Spirit is a free gift, and all that one had to do was ask.
Next to Nine O’Clock in the Morning, I found How to Pray for the Release of the Spirit his most helpful book. I recommend this book to any Anglican priest or lay person struggling with the challenge of renewing the renewal.
Lord, we thank you for the life and witness of Canon Dennis Bennett, and pray for your strength and encouragement upon his widow Rita Bennett and their family.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
Past Chair, Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada
-previously published in the Anglicans for Renewal Canada Magazine
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada