Holy Trinity Brompton: The London church associated with "the Toronto Blessing"

Holy Trinity Brompton is the church which was to become most closely identified with that extraordinary move of the Holy Spirit known as the Toronto Blessing. Karl Allison visited the church and spoke at length to the worship leaders Charlie Groves and Andy Piercy.

There's a church that lies between the museums of South Kensington and the up market shops of Knightsbridge that a lot of people are watching very closely right now. It probably attracts some attention because it houses well over 2,000 worshippers in three services every Sunday. It may well attract still more attention because of its record of four church plants and two granddaughter plants over the last 10 years. There may well be other reasons, including its promotion of the highly successful Alpha courses in recent months.

But the real interest almost certainly stems from the way in which, since last May, both the Christian and the secular press have perceived Holy Trinity, Brompton as being a key church in the movement of the Holy Spirit across this nation. It's happening in many churches of course, but HTB is supremely equipped to deal with media interest and we should regard it as no small working of God's miraculous power that so much of that interest has entered where it has!

So, since that day when God began doing new things around last May, HTB's normally large congregations have been swelled even more by a visitors, anxious to form their own views on what's happening, or maybe just to join in the blessing. Cross Rhythms decided to pay a visit too and to take our own peculiar questions with us. What part does the music play in what's happening? How has the 'Toronto blessing' affected the musicians and worship leaders? How should leading worship be approached within such a high visibility church? And so I joined the throng. I really enjoyed the gentle times of folk-oriented worship and I was greatly blessed by the time of ministry, all accompanied by gentle chords and a total absence of hype. And I'm sure I recognised one of the worship leaders...

Charlie Groves is the director of music at HTB and leads worship at most of the evening services. Andy Piercy leads at most of the morning services and has developed a particular gift in leading worship for the children. I remember Andy Piercy for something very different, but more of that later.

I interviewed both men and came away convinced that, if indeed one of the marks of this spiritual renewal is the humbling of men, then these two guys have been specially prepared by God for this time. They are both humble to a fine degree.

Charlie Groves is not only music director, but also a house group leader. He's been full time for the church for nearly a year now and sees his role chiefly as co-ordinating and pastoring a team of musicians that is larger than the band you'll see playing for worship at any service.

"It's a floating band," explained Charlie. "It can be frustrating, but it makes for musical spontaneity! We're always under-rehearsed because we have the three services on a Sunday - we just lack time. I'm not particularly keen on being slick for the sake of it."

Indeed, the compliment you can pay this worship band is that you hardly noticed them! Despite the large numbers of people wanting to play, the line up is kept to a basic guitar/bass/drums line up, augmented by the church organ being used like a synth for a very full sound. Charlie only allows for one or two solo instruments, "so they don't compete too much."

This supportive, almost anonymous role is extended to Charlie himself as he leads. "I'm not into worship leaders preaching; that's the preacher's job!" said Charlie. "You're there to allow every person in the congregation a one-to-one with God. They must not be hindered by you. You're not like a priestly role where they can't get to God except by you. So I try not to impose my character too much."

So how has the present move of the Holy Spirit affected the worship of the church? "In a lot of ways. We've the laughter and the shaking and a lot of physical manifestations and with that you look for the fruit and the fruit is that people are more ready to worship God. Previously, we'd have to say a 'Come on, let's be joyful' type of thing at the beginning and you'd feel like you're stirring a bowl of cold custard! Now, people come with the expectation of coming into God's presence, giving him their praise and just going for it. There's a lot less inhibition, which is good."

And, although Charlie reckons that all this has made worship leading easier, he's quick to return to his ideas of responsibility. "We need to be careful not to emotionally manipulate. It's great that people can come into church and laugh, but it does mean that emotions are running quite high at the moment. I think letting worship songs speak for themselves is part of it. I'm not one for introductions. Having a microphone is a huge responsibility. There's also a responsibility to dress modestly and to watch what we're doing in terms of gestures."

This all adds up to an almost completely supportive understanding of church musician. Charlie sees his gifting far more in this area than in any concept of prophetic musicianship, although free rein is given to other members of the band who have a prophetic gifting. During the times of ministry, Charlie's focus is significant: "It can look like there's a lot of people being prayed for but it's actually a minority. The majority of people are just standing around, so sometimes I think it's quite key to focus people on God and lead them in some songs. Otherwise the effect of the band playing in the Spirit can almost be indulgent and we leave people stranded.

"I don't know whether this Toronto blessing is a season of blessing or if it's going to lead beyond the church. You hear about the great revivals where people walking past churches suddenly felt compelled to go in and repent of their sins. If that's where it's going, then we need the songs to be more relevant than ever, good music that's gonna help, and not hinder, people coming to God.

"I just think that worship is a very precious thing in the church. People like me have a responsibility not to make it indulgent or to set it up like some kind of idol. It must not be personality-based. It's Jesus-based, God-focused and Spirit-led."

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Reader Comments

Posted by Robin Brunskill in Manchester @ 02:23 on Aug 7 2014

Very interesting article, thanks. I think, however, some research is needed into the Montanist heresy, and the links between it and the charismatic movement, which then manifest into the mind control experiment that was the Toronto Blessing. The idea that it was "the holy spirit" is clearly supported by Andy and Charlie and although I respectfully disagree with them, I do think that a deeper analysis of "acting/deception" is required don't you? The real question is or was, "Do you think the Toronto Blessing is destructive, misleading and evil, because it manifests itself in ways that damage people in a physical, spiritual and emotional sense?" To me the answer is "yes." The next question could have been, "Who is allowing this to happen? Is this some sort of social experiment, set forth by a corrupt church and if so, do the people involved, know that they are mere guinea pigs?" And then I'd finish it up with "Does the interventionist God of the Christians faith, fail to intervene in what is the most horrible heresy, and if so, why?" That would have livened things up a bit..and is rather more relevant than memories of "after the fire."



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