Dr. Patrick Vossen
Early in 1959, Bennett finally began to seek the “baptism” with the aid of a fellow Episcopal priest and a young couple in the church who had already received the experience. In an early morning home prayer meeting, hands were laid on Father Bennett as his friends prayed over him. His “nine o’clock in the morning” experience could be considered typical of the thousands that have occurred among the clergy in recent years:
I suppose I must have prayed out loud for about twenty minutes—at least it seemed to be a long time—and was about to give up when a very strange thing happened. My tongue tripped, just as it might when you are trying to say a tongue twister, and I began to speak in a new language!
Right away I recognized several things: first, it wasn’t some kind of psychological trick or compulsion. There was nothing compulsive about it.… It was a new language, not some kind of “baby talk.” It had grammar and syntax; it had inflection and expression—and it was rather beautiful.
In a short time, several members of St. Mark’s parish received the same experience. In their joy and exhilaration they began to use such typical Pentecostal expressions as “praise the Lord” and “hallelujah” in the church office and parish house. As word spread among the church members about the pastor’s strange new experience, some members of the vestry began to accuse him of fanaticism.
In order to quell false rumors and to answer questions circulating in the congregation, Bennett soon felt it necessary to tell his church about his experience of speaking with other tongues. Thus, on April 3, 1960, he shared his testimony in the three morning services of his church.
The reaction in the early morning service was “open and tender,” according to Bennett, but in the second service the “lid blew off.” In outrage, Bennett’s curate “snatched off his vestments, threw them on the altar, and stalked out of church crying: ‘I can no longer work with this man.’ ”
After the service concluded, outside on the patio, those who had set themselves to get rid of the movement of the Holy Spirit began to harangue the arriving and departing parishioners. One man stood on a chair shouting, “Throw out the damn tongue speakers.” After some members complained that “we’re Episcopalians, not a bunch of wild-eyed hillbillies,” the treasurer of the vestry called on Bennett to resign. Rather than cause disharmony in the congregation, the mild-mannered rector promptly resigned his parish, partly because he lacked enough understanding of the Pentecostal experience to defend himself. Thereupon the bishop sent a temporary priest to St. Mark’s armed with a firm letter to the parish officers forbidding any further tongues-speaking under church auspices.
Synan, Vinson. 1997. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.