Margaret M. Poloma
Department of Sociology
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1905

*Do not cite in publications without permission from the author*

Table of Contents

1. Prologue: A Sociological Perspective
2. The Sociological Question: Methods and Measurement
3. Testing the Fruits: Reporting on the Data
a) Refreshing through revelations of God's love
b) Holiness, Wholeness, and Healing
c) Repentance and Forgiveness
d) Emotional, Mental and Physical Healing
e) Evangelism and Outreach
f) Social Relations
4. Summary and Conclusions
5. Footnotes
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Prologue: A Sociological Perspective

Sociology represents a particular perspective or way of viewing the world. It includes a focus on how our societies and cultures are socially constructed by the people who live in them and how, in turn, these social constructs (institutions, laws, norms, etc.) "act back" on their creators to shape and define their identities. Sociology thus assumes that the social order (including our religious beliefs and institutions) is created by people whose thought and behavior is shaped by that which came before them and who help to shape what comes after them.

This paper uses a sociological approach with its strengths and its limitations to assess the effects of the so-called "Toronto Blessing". It is outside the sphere of the sociological perspective to call upon either God or the demons to explain what is happening at the Toronto Airport Church. Nor can sociology as a scientific discipline proclaim judgment about whether a given outcome is "good" or "bad." (Often what is "good" for one person or group may be "bad" for another.) It strives for objectivity and the information it gathers must be empirical (i.e. capable of being measured and remeasured). It is subjective only in that sociology relies on respondents to tell their stories (which are, of course, based on their personal experiences). This methodology is both its strength and its weakness in any attempt to discuss the ongoing Renewal. Using a scientific perspective does not permit the researcher to expound on the basis of personal opinion, philosophical presuppositions, or theological beliefs. (Footnote 1) Although sociology can provide an objective analysis of certain facets of the Toronto Blessing, it clearly lacks the sensitivity to deal with the deep mysteries of the Holy Spirit.

What sociology can do is to contribute to the assessment of the effects or "fruit" of a social phenomenon, including what has been happening to those who visit the Toronto Airport Church. Although its canons warn practioners against proclaiming what is "good" and what is "bad," the sociological method can be used to measure the impact of the Toronto Blessing on individuals and on groups. Topics for investigation can include perceptions of spiritual and emotional well-being, changes in interpersonal relationships, and behavioral activities that may effect the larger society. Sociology can thus provide a tool to determine whether individuals perceive their lives to be better as a result of the Renewal, whether their relationships with family and friends have changed, and whether their experiences have empowered them to reach out to others in the larger community.

As Jesus (Matt. 7:16-18) wisely instructs us: "By their fruit you will recognize them. . . .A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." Sociology, as briefly described above, does offer a method to study the tree and its fruit, leaving the reader to make the judgment about whether the "fruit" produced by the Toronto Blessing is in fact "good" or "bad". It offers a way to break the deadlock between defenders and critics of the Renewal by presenting evidence about the impact the Toronto Blessing is having in the lives of thousands of people who have themselves tasted of its fruit and judged it to be good.
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The Sociological Question: Methods and Measurement

Although sociology cannot replace spiritual discernment, it can be a useful aid in the discernment process. Its methods of collecting data include surveys, interviews, participant observation, and other forms of self-reporting--all of which I am employing in this study. This report is based on the responses of a survey completed by over 850 persons (with survey responses still being completed and returned), participant observation in Toronto and other renewal sites, and written testimonies provided by visitors to the Toronto Airport Church. (Footnote 2) Using these data, I am seeking to answer a simple research question: "What are some of the effects of the Toronto Blessing?"

The questionnaire was first included in the August, 1995 issue of "Spread the Fire," a magazine sent to persons who have visited the Toronto Airport Church to keep them informed of activities and to provide testimonies/teachings relevant to the renewal. It was also included in the October, 1995 "Catch the Fire Again" and November, 1995 "Healing School" programs. At the time of this writing, 866 completed questionnaires have been received. Although the survey instrument was structured to allow for easy computer analysis, respondents were encouraged to send additional information if they wished. (Nearly one in four--24 percent of sample--included supplemental data). The letters, diary pages, and testimonials that accompanied many of the questionnaires will be used to illustrate and to help explain the "hard" data reported in response to the survey questions.

Questionnaires were returned from seventeen countries, with the majority of responses coming from the United States (54%), Canada (26%) and England (11%). Although these three countries do supply most of the visitors to the Toronto Airport Church, other countries--especially non-English speaking Asian ones--are noticeably missing from this sample. Visitors represent over 40 denominations and sects, with more than one in four (27%) indicating their church is either independent, nondenominational, or interdenominational. Seventeen percent (17%) of the respondents are members of pentecostal denominations or sects, 15 percent are either Anglican (Canada and England) or Episcopalian (U.S.), 11 percent are members of Vineyard Christian Fellowships, and 6 percent are Baptist (of one kind or another). Seventy-four percent reported that their pastors had visited the Toronto Airport Church. The profile of the "average" respondent thus far is that of an American (most likely to be from California, Colorado, New York, Ohio, or Pennsylvania) who belongs to a non-denominational church, which is likely to be a charismatic Christian.

The demographic profile of the respondents is skewed toward being married (71%), female (58%), middle-aged and having a college diploma. The average age is 45 years (with a median of 43), and the mean education is 15 years of formal schooling, with a median and mode of 16 years. Eighteen percent (18%) of the respondents were church pastors and another 4 percent were the spouses of pastors; 30 percent indicated that they were church leaders. The demographic profile indicates that those who completed the questionnaire tend to be well-educated and mature individuals, the majority of whom are involved in church leadership--persons who would appear to be in a good position to evaluate the Toronto Blessing. It is least likely to represent the one-time visitor who spends an evening observing but never returns.
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Testing the Fruits: Reporting on the Data

A series of questions were included in the survey that directly and indirectly asked respondents to self-evaluate the effects of their visit to the Toronto Airport Church. (Many of these questions were developed after listening to scores of testimonies given at the Toronto Airport Church and at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio.) For reporting and discussing purposes, they are being grouped into four categories: personal spiritual refreshment, holiness and healing, evangelism and outreach, and social relations. Each of these categories will be assessed in terms of survey responses and illustrated through letters and testimonies that were included with 24 percent of the questionnaires. It was difficult to select quotations from the over 200 written testimonies received, some of which were ten or more single-spaced pages in length. For each quotation included, I could have found scores of others to make a similar point. I trust that I have selected quotations that are both representative and that clarify the meaning of the numbers derived from the "hard" data.
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Personal Spiritual Refreshment

In listening to verbal testimonies while in the process of constructing the questionnaire, I was struck by how many persons indicated that their spirituality was at a low ebb before they first visited the Toronto Airport Church. A woman in my congregation, who was the first person to tell me about the Toronto Blessing, related how she had cried out in prayer again and again, "God, there has to be more!" After her first visit to the Toronto Airport Church she shared jubilantly with me, "When I was prayed with, I went down under the power of the Holy Spirit and just wept for joy. I kept saying 'I knew there was more--I just knew there was--thank you--thank you.'" It appears that one in two of the respondents found themselves in positions similar to my friend. Fifty per cent (50%) indicated agreement with the statement: "When I first came to the Toronto Airport Church, I was experiencing spiritual dryness and great discouragement." And judging from their response to another question, they received some kind of lasting spiritual refreshment. Only 9 percent of agreed with the statement that read, "I felt the power of God while visiting the Toronto Airport Church, but this feeling is now only a memory." Most believe they had been touched by God and this touch in some way remained viable.

A young woman (Maria) (Footnote 3) in her early 30s from the heartland of the U.S. writes the following:

"During the ten hour drive up to Toronto from Chicago, my husband and I did not dare admit to one another how desperate we were for a touch from God. As we drove the last mile stretch before reaching the motel that Monday night, the walls came tumbling down and we confessed. I sobbed as I told him that if in the ten days we planned to be there, God did not touch me, I'd rather die than go on." (Case #270).

Maria then shared of the prayer and prophetic words she received when someone came and offered to pray for her, but confessed to "remain(ing) reticent and apparently 'untouched' physically, which was fine with me." (Footnote 4) The next evening she sought out prayer from two teenaged boys on the prayer team and commented: "I felt I could justify not being touched by God because it would have been kids who had prayed for me." She added:

"As they prayed, I started to shake and eventually fell to the floor where I continued to shake and jerk for hours. From that time onward, the shaking got stronger and would last longer. After several days, I began jerking violently without anyone praying for me, as soon as the worship started. I did a lot of floor time!"

Thirteen months have passed since Maria's initial visit to the Toronto Airport Church. It has been a time during which she has become "incredibly free." She reports in closing how this ongoing experience of God has changed her: "In these 13 months I have a greater burden/desire for evangelism, have stepped up into greater prophetic anointing, and feel freer to serve God by serving my church."
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Refreshing through revelations of God's love

Responses to other questions provide some additional insight into the nature of the refreshment commonly experienced by Toronto Airport pilgrims. The most noteworthy "fruit" of the Blessing is a deeper love for God and a deeper sense of being loved by Him. Eighty-nine percent (89%) reported an affirmative response to the statement "I am more in love with Jesus now than I have ever been in my life." More than nine out of ten (91%) persons reported that "I have come to know Jesus or the Father's love in new ways."

A 39-year-old pentecostal pastor (Pastor John) shared a moving account of how God had touched him during a conference he attended at the Toronto Airport Church. This pastor had been sexually assaulted, when he was 11 years of age, by a group of homosexuals shortly after his father died. In his letter, Pastor John shared his struggle as follows:

The deep sense of shame that I had carried, coupled with a fear of intimacy toward God has hampered my Christian walk. At times, I truly worried whether I was homosexual and could not conceive of a loving relationship with Father God. (Case #800)

He confessed to having particular difficulty with the image of being the Bride of Christ and Jesus being the Bridegroom. "I have told many people it was a 'macho' thing, when it really wasn't. It was shame and fear of intimacy with God." Pastor John then went on to share what had happened during one of the times of worship during the conference:

"Thursday night, during worship, I had what I believed was a vision. I am not sure what proper term to use for this, so I use vision. I found myself in a King's chamber. I was the bride, He was my husband. In this vision I sensed myself dancing with Him. There was nothing sensual or fleshly about this. At that moment, all shame and fear left. I had been set free from the past. The following day, I actually danced and swayed during the worship. Again I was taken to this chamber and saw myself in a flowing robe of silk, dancing a dance of worship in my spirit, even as I danced in the physical. It was a dance of love and joy, such as I have never experienced before in my life. I have never felt more pure than during these times of worship."

Pastor John reports that this experience has not left him and there seems to be a new tenderness that has come from it. "Opening my heart to Him is much easier," he shared, "and the concept of the Bride is now a blessing. That sense of shame and fear is gone."

As a careful reading of the accounts of both Maria and Pastor John indicate, the refreshing appears to go much deeper than experiencing the much-talked about physical manifestations of this Renewal or otherwise feeling warm "fuzzies". The deep effects of the Blessing become even more apparent as we look to the responses to questions dealing with holiness and healing.
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Holiness, Wholeness, and Healing

The words for "holy" and "whole" are reported to have the same etymological root. Certainly the two were intertwined in the healing ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as he went about forgiving sins, casting out demons, and healing diseases--making persons whole spiritually, mentally and physically. Answers given by many respondents to survey questions reflected an increase in both holiness and in health as a result of what they perceived to be a divine encounter at the Toronto Airport Church.
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Repentance and Forgiveness

Although the vast majority of those who come to the renewal services are already born-again Christians, repentance is a theme that runs through many testimonies. (Footnote 5) As men and women encounter a holy God, many (like Isaiah) are left "undone." Clifford, a policeman from England shares how he was repeatedly touched during a Toronto Airport Church conference that he had attended:

"I woke three mornings crying and groaning from my belly at my sinfulness in the presence of a glorious holy God. I didn't before, but I know now a measure of what Isaiah was conveying when he felt 'undone' in the presence of God. It was the most distressing but holy time I have experienced in thirty-three years as a believer. I broke my heart in the times of worship for love of Jesus and the sense of His presense. It is from this perspective that I write. . ."

Most probably not all experiences were as intense as Clifford's, but sixty-eight percent (68%) of the respondents did report a fresh recognition of their sinful condition. One percent (1%) percent made a first-time commitment to Jesus and another 29 percent recommitted their lives to Him. These men and women, however, did not remain wallowing in what the famed social psychologist William James referred to as a religion of the "sick soul." After recognizing their sinfulness, these individuals (together with others, for a total of 81%) reported an experience of a "fresh sense of God's forgiveness."

Malcolm, a 48-year-old British Anglican, is one of the respondents who reported recommitting his life to Jesus while participating in the renewal services. Malcolm had accepted Christ as his Savior 30 years earlier and had gone on to have a successful Christian ministry--one that he felt God told him to "throw it down and to pick it up again only at His instruction, for it had become an abomination in His eyes." Malcolm goes on to share:

"That was in 1974/75: 20 years of the most shameful sin followed, with clinical depression; suicide attempts; a life of crime, drugs and alcohol; distancing from my family (particularly my dad); loneliness from countless broken relationships; sordid degeneracy; and deep shame. University studies, professional success, popularity, and high-profile sports coaching and administrative career (at the national level), heavy involvement and emerging prominence in politics at various levels, were all attempts, I guess, at some form of self-value. Yet I ruined everything I did. It's difficult to compress the daily anguish and much over more than 20 years into a few lines, but believe me, I could go no lower." (Case #574)

Malcolm's initial contact with the Blessing occurred in London through Ellie Mumford whose ministry had been torched by an earlier visit to the Toronto Airport Church. As he reports:

"Still kicking and resisting, I could not stop myself from going to hear her. I was shocked and amazed at what I saw and heard of the new outpouring of spiritual Blessing there and around the world, and rejected it all. I am a university graduate with a double-major degree in Behavioural Psychology and Linguistics, and post-graduate studies in Educational Psychology, so I was able to analyse the whole thing, and rationalise it away. I left in disgust."

When John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Airport Church, came to London several months later, Malcolm accepted the invitation of friends and went "to hear what this bloke had to say." When John preached on the story of the Prodigal Son, Malcolm reports that he "actually walked out at one point," but he did return for prayer. Malcolm goes on to describe what happened:

"Well, no sooner had he started, than the Spirit of the Lord came on me; I was filled with the most incredible sensation; and was sent crumbling to the ground. Although he (the unidentified man who prayed with Malcolm) was a total stranger, the Spirit enabled him to pray such specific prayers for me, my past, my relationship with God, forgiveness, healing, guilt, self-loathing, condemnation, and even for my family far away--though there was no way he could have know that I was from another country.
I cannot describe the wonder. . . .The party started and gets better daily. Instant delivery from drugs, depression, and sexual sin; a transformation so radical that friends, colleagues and scores of my high-school students started making enquires about what happened to so change me; healing of sleeplessness (which had led me to an addiction for illegally-obtained sleeping tablets); even a change to my life-style, driving, attitudes, work, language (gutter, marine-type tongue); deliverance from high anxiety and stress for which I was well known. The profound sense of total forgiveness, cleansing, and reconciliation with God. And now, a love for the Lord to deep that sometimes it literally aches; a passion for the souls of my school students and others who don't know Christ; a sense of praise and worship that has me singing songs of adoration as I wake up in the morning. . . "

Malcolm's story points to another survey question that attempts to tap into the issue of holiness and healing; namely that of deliverance. Unlike some charismatic and pentecostal churches, specific prayers for deliverance are not encouraged during Renewal services. The intent is to "bless" rather than to "deliver" persons from demonic forces. Despite this shift in emphasis, 55 percent of the respondents indicated that they had been delivered from Satan's hold on their lives as a result of prayer at the Toronto Airport Church. The anecdotal data accompanying the questionnaires indicate that many, like Malcolm, believe they have been delivered from various addictions, suicidal tendencies, irrational fears, and "curses" of previous generations.
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Emotional, Mental and Physical Healing

Conversion, repentance, forgiveness and deliverance were part of the experience of many during the renewal services, providing a kind of foundation for mental, emotional, and physical healing that often followed. A holistic process pointing to an interdependence of spirit, mind and body appears time and again in the testimonies of visitors to the Toronto Airport Church. These testimonies provide some flesh for the skeletal statistics which show 78 percent of respondents had experienced "an inner or emotional healing," 5 percent had "experienced a healing from clinically diagnosed mental health problems," and 21 percent reported "physical healing" as a result of the Toronto Blessing.

The most common reports of healing were emotional in nature--accounts of healing of inordinate fears and anxieties, sexual abuse, and depression were frequent. Diane, a 41-year old widow, shares one such account:

"Before my first visit to the Toronto Airport Church my life was in a state of despair. The preceding year my husband of 21 years shot himself in the head. Although he had many problems including alcoholism, I had been trusting in God to intervene and to restore. . . My faith was shattered, and I had grown extremely depressed. I considered taking my own life, but didn't want to harm my family any more. I came seeking to Toronto, but found myself brought to the end of my rope the first night. I wept for hours and hours. I told God that if I got prayed for one more time and all I would do was cry, I would never ask for prayer again! I can't believe it, but God answered that prayer. The following night God started flooding me with his joy and I haven't been quite the same since. His joy is so overwhelming in my life that I have been labeled the "church drunk." I am so in love with Jesus! I want to share it with the world and see them set free. God is a wonderful, merciful God!" (Case #609)

While only a few of the accounts I reviewed are alleged to be as instantaneous as Diane's, the reported results are similar. It is as if healing begins slowly and goes on to deeper and deeper levels. Many, however, believe the process has been accelerated due to prayer at the Toronto Airport Church. A 40-year old woman (Toni) told how she had been going to a Christian counseling center before coming to Toronto for the purpose of "dealing with severe trauma I suffered as a child." Her counselor's reaction to the change she observed in Toni was one found in other reports:

"One of the counselors working with me said she's never seen as much healing take place in a week as she saw with me. She said she's worked with several clients this year who have visited the Toronto Airport Church, and time spent there seems to make the healing process go faster and at deeper levels." (Case #588)

Margo, a Canadian woman in her mid-forties, tells a story much like Toni in that she can specify instances prior to her first visit to the Toronto Airport Church when she was experiencing healing -- in her case of problems stemming from sexual abuse. Her repeated visits, by her account, have taken the healing process to new depths. Margo reports, "Sometimes I don't even know what I'm being healed of but pain surfaces, I fall under the power and weep deeply." An unusual happening occurred during one of Margo's more recent visits to the Toronto Airport Church when the guest speaker "asked people needing salvation, those with diabetes, and with back fatigue to come to the front for prayer ministry." Since Margo had been "diagnosed with having degenerative disc disease," she went forward. She never does report further on her back problem, but this was a moment when she believes she was able to see her father in a new light. As she recounts it:

"I had occasion to go to my parents' home recently because our TV remote control wasn't working and my father agreed to fix it for us. His tone of voice was different, not abrupt as it was whenever he addressed me (but never that way when he spoke to other people). I believe that now that the soul-tie has been broken, it will result in the salvation and deliverance of my parents. I am looking forward to that day." (Case #808)

Further demonstrating the so-called "trinity of mind, body, and spirit," reports of physical healing are often imbedded in reports of improved emotional and mental health. A middle-aged, married woman provides a succinct report of her healing that reflects this interrelationship:

"I have had a problem with cyclical depression my whole life. I asked for prayer at one of the services for my depression problem. Two women prayed for me for a long time. And, God did heal me/deliver me from the depression. Within a month, I no longer needed to take the antidepressants, and I am doing very well. I am functioning at a higher level in everyday life than ever before. I praise God for His healing power.
Also, I didn't ask prayer for my neck and back pain, but during the five days I was in Toronto, God healed the pain in my neck and back that I have had since I was a teenager. He answered a prayer I hadn't mentioned to anyone there!" (Case #91)

It wasn't always possible for respondents to sort out the spiritual from the psychological or the physical. A fifty-year-old American Lutheran pastor (Pastor Martin) reported that "things got quite complicated" during his stay at a healing conference, and he left feeling devastated, depressed and angry. On the way home he had what turned out to be an "anxiety attack" that took him to the emergency room of a hospital on the way home. That hospital visit turned out to be his epiphany that brought change into his life.

As Pastor Martin concluded his written testimony:

"So Toronto was as Dickens said, "the best of times and the worst of times". Something has been cracked, crushed, broken or destroyed in me or about me and I am able to experience love from others...God, my wife, friends, much more than ever before. I don't understand all of it and am reluctant to assign meanings to every aspect of the experience. Much, maybe most of what God was and is doing is a mystery" (Case #604)
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Evangelism and Outreach

As I have reported elsewhere in research done on the Assemblies of God, (Footnote 6) charismatic experiences are related to evangelistic activities. Those who scored higher on a scale of "charismatic activities" (including speaking in tongues, resting in the spirit, experiencing divine healing, etc.) were more likely to be involved in evangelistic activities. I contended that those who have such experiences often have compelling stories to tell, and these accounts are important media for drawing others into pentecostal and charismatic churches. (Maria's account presented earlier included her increased desire to evangelize; and Malcolm's life-changing visit, it may be recalled, was precipitated by the invitation of friends.)

The overwhelming majority of the respondents believed that they had in some way encountered God and that He had changed their lives. One of the statements in the survey read: "I cannot honestly say that I have observed any significant changes in my life that I would attribute to coming to the Toronto Airport Church." Ninety percent (90%) disagreed with that statement, confirming the changes reflected in other statements are ones which they would attribute to their pilgrimage to Toronto. They report themselves to be more loving, more free, and more joy-filled.

Most respondents have a story to tell, and they are willing to share it. One way of telling it is to encourage others to visit the Toronto Airport Church, and nine in ten respondents (91%) said they have done so. Often testimonies will begin with accounts about how reluctant the person was to come to the Toronto Airport Church but came (as did Malcolm) after continued prodding by a relative or friend. Like the woman at the well in John's Gospel, the vast majority who believe they have had a special encounter with God at the Toronto Airport Church go out and encourage others to "come and see." The responses of these sometimes reluctant visitors are similar to the Samaritans of old who replied to the woman: "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves" (John 4:39-42).

The evangelistic outreach is not limited to encouraging others to visit the Toronto Airport Church. Given the demographic profile of the sample, many of the respondents were probably evangelistically oriented even before being touched by the Renewal. As a result of what happened to them through the Toronto Blessing, this desire to share the person of Jesus seems to have been intensified. Most of the survey respondents (83%) acknowledged that "talking about Jesus to my family and friends is more important to me now than it has ever been before." As Malcolm exuberantly expressed it:

"Telling other people of Christ is so easy! Opportunities are forever cropping up, in utterly unexpected ways, and with the most unusual people. It is always a delight to talk about the things of the Lord; to tell of what He has done for me; to share what He means to people today and what he can do for them too. His love for me is so terribly real. He has done a huge work in me, one of the worst of all people. That is so apparent to anyone who knew me, and who has seen the remarkable changes. His works in my life all the time are so plain, that bearing testimony is a delight and as natural as anything. He is doing so much so often that there is always tons to tell about him. Brilliant!" (Case #574)
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Social Relations

The mission statement of the Toronto Airport Church can be found on a large banner stretching across the back of an auditorium wall: "That we may walk in God's love and then give it away." The message of this Renewal, as I have noted elsewhere, is about experiencing the personal love of God. (Footnote 7) The overwhelming majority of the respondents, as we have seen, have been refreshed by the "Father's Blessing" (as Toronto Airport Church pastor John Arnott prefers to call the Toronto Blessing). As men and women have experienced a new sense of God's love, forgiveness, and healing, the survey findings suggest that they do pass the blessing on.

Of those who are married, 88 percent claim that they have more love for their spouses as a result of the blessings they received at the Toronto Airport Church. A forty-four-year old man who describes himself as "a francophone from the province of Quebec" begins his letter apologizing for his English. He then went on to share in a simple language that all can understand how his marriage was transformed through the gift of "holy laughter":

"The first two times that I went to the Toronto Airport Church, my marriage and my wife were deeply suffering for mistakes of the past. It was only at the last minute that my wife decided to come with me to Toronto. That was not what she was looking to do; she was planning to leave me. It was miraculous. My wife has received a great gift of joy and "holy laughter" which is reactivated each time that there is tension coming between me and her. And you can understand my marriage and our hearts are on a continuing process of healing. Now we have a deep confidence and love for one another because the spirit of the Lord is exceptionally joining us together in everything." (Case #400)

Often respondents make special note of the fact their spouses could attest to the changes in them. A western-european pentecostal husband in his mid-forties writes:

"The reason I waited so long to fill out the questionnaire was simple. I had experienced such a dramatic change in my life, I couldn't believe it myself! The first person who recognized it was, of course, my wife. I was suffering from a deep anger caused by childhood traumas. During the time in Toronto the Lord showed me the reason for my problem (I wasn't aware of it) and started a healing process. It's still not finished, but I never have any "explosions" any more, praise God." (Case #797)

The majority (69%) claim that "my friends and my family have commented on changes they have observed in me." A young woman from Maryland expresses it as follows:

"What happened to me at the Toronto Airport Church has changed my life in such a dramatic way. My friends and others comment voluntarily on how different I am. I have been told that I shine. That makes me laugh because in the past I have always felt as though a dark cloud hung over my head. Now it seems as though I am talking about another person." (Case #634)

In addition to changing the quality of relationships among families and friends, respondents believe their experience of the Renewal has blessed their churches. Seventy-one percent (71%) of the respondents assert that "my church has experienced positive benefits from my visit to the Toronto Airport Church." Some of these benefits may be found hidden in between the testimony lines, as men and women note how they have been given gifts of prophetic encouragement, intercessory prayer, and evangelism. (Footnote 8) A 39-year-old pastor's wife from South Africa devoted much of her written testimony to the changes in their church:

"Since our return from Catch the Fire last October, our church has been on the most incredible learning curve ever! The following areas have been wonderfully unpacked:
  1. ) Our praise and worship was dry as dust; we now have come alive and have experienced prophetic dance.
  2. ) Our intercession has taken on a new dimension.
  3. ) We have started "prayer walking" our suburb and surrounds.
  4. ) Our youth is consolidating wonderfully.
  5. ) We have become a cell-based church--which has released many many people into fulfilling ministries.
  6. ) The prophetic has come alive and flows.
  7. ) Our numbers are growing steadily (in spite of a terrible. stigma about Toronto here in Cape Town).
  8. ) Our finances are flourishing more than ever.
  9. ) After almost a year, we are still "soaking" and still being unpacked." (Case #258)

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Summary and Conclusion

As may be seen from both the quantitative (survey results) and qualitative (anecdotal testimonies) data collected from over 850 visitors to the Toronto Airport Church, there is substantial evidence that the Toronto Blessing has had a decided impact on the lives of the majority of those who responded to the survey. (Footnote 9) I would like to summarize some of what I regard as the major findings reported here before presenting a conclusion as a Christian sociologist.

The data I have presented tell us a good deal about the spirituality of the pilgrims to the Toronto Airport Church. Most seem to have come as seekers--sometimes reluctant and skeptical, but still as seeking more of God. In their quest they found the words of Jeremiah 29:13 to be true: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart." The overwhelming majority felt they had experienced an unusual touch of God that has lasted beyond the spirited time at the Toronto renewal site. Most of the visitors were already committed Christians. Although there are many reported first-time conversions and recommitments, the Renewal seems to be more about an equipping and empowering of already committed believers than making new converts. Through deep experiences of God's love, people claim to be healed of emotional wounds and are now capable of reaching out to family and friends.

Love is a much overused term, almost trivialized in contemporary society, but it is the love of God and love of others that is the heart of this Renewal. As we have seen, those touched by the Toronto Blessing believe significant changes have taken place not only in their relationship with God but with that of family, friends, and co-workers. In the words of Toronto Airport Church pastor John Arnott, "Love is the bottom line."

It is often suggested that the search for religious experiences can be carried to an extreme, spawning a kind of religious narcissism. That does not appear to be a particular problem among most of these respondents. As I have found in my earlier research with George H. Gallup, Jr., intense experiences of God during prayer appear to be a catalyst of social action for many. (Footnote 10) The same process seems to be at work for religious experiences that stem from the Toronto Blessing. Although a slight majority were already heavily involved in pastoral and leadership roles in their churches, many others recounted an increased involvement with their churches as a byproduct of their visit to the Toronto Airport Church. A significant minority (34 percent) also reported becoming more involved in works of mercy (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc.). And the overwhelming majority revealed through responses to questionnaires and in narrative accounts an increase in evangelistic fervor that seemed to burn within them.

As a sociologist looking at these overall findings, I see benefits of the Toronto Blessing that go beyond the ones that are easily measured by surveys and interviews. The "fruit" has implications for the very survival of Christianity in the western world. Religious beliefs and practices were once at the center of societies, providing a kind of "sacred canopy" against the calamities of life. In modern times, however, religion has been seemingly rendered powerless by rational thought and the rapid growth of science and technology. For many people the "sacred canopy" is pierced with holes. Harvard University theologian Harvey Cox writes the following about the "traumatic cultural changes" in the modern world and religion's response to them in his recent book Fire from Heaven :

"These traumatic cultural changes created a radically new religious situation. Most churches fumbled their efforts to respond to it. Conservatives dug in and insisted that dogmas were immutable and hierarchies indispensable. Liberals tried to adjust to the times but ended up absorbing so much of the culture of technical rationality that they no longer had any spiritual appeal. But the pentecostals, almost by accident it sometimes seems, found a third way. They rebelled against creeds but retained the mystery. They abolished hierarchies but kept ecstasy. They rejected both scientism and traditionalism. They returned to the raw inner core of human spirituality and thus provided just the new kind of "religious space" many people needed."

In other words, modern thought has tended to disparage and to deny religious reality, and those who believe must find ways maintain their religious beliefs in a highly skeptical world. One way is the way of the fundamentalists (whether Islamic, Christian or any other traditional religion) where religious reality is simply affirmed as being true. ("The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it," reads the bumper sticker reflecting Christian literalism.) Another approach taken by many mainline church leaders is to "demythologize" the scriptures. ("The Bible is a book of stories; miracles, including Jesus's resurrection are to be understood symbolically," say these liberal theologians.) There is a third alternative to the two diametrically opposed intellectual routes--a path that some social scientists say is the only truly viable one in the long run. This is the path of religious experience. Religious experience is the "third way" noted by Cox in the above quotation--and it is the path of the Toronto Blessing. The experiential spirituality reflected in this study is one that is balanced: a healthy sense of personal sin in the face of God's holiness, a willingness to forgive and to be forgiven, and an ability to accept God's love and the love of others. It is a spirituality that is postmodern in that it reflects the wholeness of the human being--an integration of the human spirit, soul (mind and emotions) and body.

The Toronto Blessing, however, is not just about any spiritual experience. It is not about the physical manifestions that fixate the attention of many newcomers, nor is it primarily about extraordinary spiritual gifts. The Renewal is about satisfying the desire of the human heart. It is about human beings encountering a God of love whose love empowers them to share what they have been given. It is that love--love as described by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13-- which has the power to transform lives, families, churches and societies.
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Footnote 1:
The sociological approach can be an affront to believers on at least two main issues: First, it cannot include the non-empirical explanation of "divine revelation" to account for the development of religion. From a sociological perspective, theology treates all religions and religious phenomena in a similar manner. For example, when studying spiritual healing, there is no sociological way to test the often-held Christian position that shamanism is of "the devil" and Christian healing practices are "of God". (Return to text)
Footnote 2:
According to Toronto Airport Church estimates, approximately 235,000 persons have been to at least one Renewal meeting, with a "total accumulative attendance for 23+ months around the 700,000 figure." [For this sample (which included participants in two conferences) the mean was 14 visits, the median was 9, and the mode was 4.] Survey respondents were either on a mailing list or attended the Catch the Fire Again or Healing School conferences and were more likely to have attended multiple services.
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Footnote 3:
The names used are pseudonyms for the purpose of maintaining the confidentiality of respondents while still providing identification for internal identification.
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Footnote 4:
Physical manifestation, including laughing, shouting, jerking, and making animal sounds, have come to be identified (largely through media accounts) with the Toronto Blessing. Although I plan to do more analysis of the data I have on these manifestations, they will be treated only in passing in this paper. I noted that the physical manifestations were not central to most of the testimonies included with the questionnaire. While these manifestations are very visible at renewal services, they are not the focus of most written narratives later provided by respondents.
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Footnote 5:
According to Toronto Airport Church estimates, during the first 23+ months of the Renewal meetings, 7,000 persons have professed first-time or recommitment to Christ.
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Footnote 6:
Margaret M. Poloma, "The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas", (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press 1989).
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Footnote 7:
For another sociological account of the "Toronto Blessing", see Margaret M. Poloma, 'The 'Toronto Blessing': Charisma, Institutionalization, and Revival" . Versions of this paper were presented at the Orlando '95 Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelism (Scholars Session) and at the 1995 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in St. Louis. It is presently being revised for publication in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
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Footnote 8:
Although the Majority of respondents felt their churches had been blessed by their visits to the Toronto Airport Church, there is evidence that, much like earlier outpourings of pentecostal charismata, there is negative fall-out in some congregations. Eleven percent (11%) of the respondents acknowledged that "my church responded negatively to my visit to the Toronto Airport Church". Most chose not to comment on this issue, although it is an important one that merits further investigation.
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Footnote 9:
This paper has focused on the estimated 90 percent who left the Toronto Airport Church with a sense of peace, love, joy, and satisfaction. It has not focused on the 10 percent who reported that their lives were not changed by the effects of the Toronto Blessing or the 9 percent who did not report encouraging others to visit the Toronto Airport Church. Even these seemingly negative indicants may be deceptive. Several respondents added notes similar to the one found inserted in the questionnaire of a 39-year-old British woman: "I realise that many of my responses look quite negative, however, things are definitely very positive.: She then went on to describe at some length an inner heling she had received. The responses simply do not reflect much dissatisfaction.
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Footnote 10:
For further discussion see Margaret M. Poloma and George H. Gallup, Jr., "Varieties of Prayer, A Survery Report" , (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press. 1991)
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