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Orlando ’95 Congress Heals the Generations

The U.S. Charismatics met for the 4th national congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization, in Orlando, July 26-29, 1995. Jay Gary wrote this wrap-up news release as a summary of how the Renewal movement is reaching back to youth, but still reaching upward. ORLANDO, FL (BP)–The Charismatic movement in the U.S., which emphasizes the immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit, sought to steer Generation X into its healing line this past week.

From July 26-29th, Orlando the 4th national “Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization” met under the theme, “From generation to generation: you will be my witnesses.” While less than 1 out of 10 participants were youth, speakers from the platform frequently referred to then as the generation of the Cross, with a radical potential to change the world.

“I am convinced you Xers have a destiny to fulfill, and revival will come to your generation,” promised Methodist renewal leader Gary Moore. “Even though I won’t like how it looks, I’ll be a part of it!”

Nearly 10,000 leaders of all ages flocked to Orlando 95 from denominations as diverse as Roman Catholics to Pentecostals, Episcopals to Independent Charismatics, or Lutherans to Assembly of God.

Participants spent their mornings among one of 10 confessional tracks, their afternoons choosing among 123 congress wide workshops, and then came together for joint evening celebrations in the Orlando Convention Center.

Evening speakers were as varied as black Pentecostal bishop Gilbert Patterson, healing evangelist Benny Hinn, or Pope John Paul II’s personal preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

A Model for the New Millennium
Congress chairman, Dr. Vinson Synan noted, “This is the only congress in the U.S. which brings large numbers of Catholics and Protestants, Pentecostals and Charismatics, together in unity.” What they share in common according to Synan is the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Given the present divisions among denominations, some people are surprised to hear the church is already meeting together in such unity. When Tampa, Florida participant, Kathleen Stevens told a Marriott hotel bellman about the unity at the Congress, he asked, “What about the Baptists?” To which she replied, “Yes, they are with us too! Come on down tonight!”

While Congress sponsors say they leave official ecumenical dialogue to bishops and denominational leaders, they don t deny the power of conclaves like Orlando 95 to bring the church together in unity.

According to Rev. Charles Fulton from Atlanta, “God likes 31 flavors!” In addition to hosting some 600 Episcopals at Orlando ’95, Fulton gathers some 20,000 Episcopalians a year in regional renewal conferences. “What we are seeing is what we will actually see in the next millennium. Belief and behavior will match.”

The Race Toward 2000
In addition to unity, another major emphasis at Orlando 95 was world evangelization. Since 1984, Charismatic leaders have sought to direct the renewal not just inward, but outward to the growing unchurched populations of Africa, Asia and Latin American.

In this race to take the gospel to all nations, Synan says the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is now growing at a rate of 54,800 new members a day, totaling some 460 million people worldwide, or 25% of all the world’s Christians.

One example of this impact at Orlando 95 was Rev. C. Kamalakar, a 45-year old Baptist pastor from Nellore, south India. When asked why he came to Orlando 95, he responded, “To strengthen my pastors back in India with power.”

When interviewed, Kamalakar said he served as a pastor for 12 years, but saw little fruit. After experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit eight years ago, he felt called to go out as a missionary to the Yannadi, a nearby 2 million person unreached tribal group which are known for their worship of cobras. We are seeing Mark 16′ fulfilled before our eyes… you will place your hands on sick people, and they will get well!

Kamalakar aims to see his family of Baptist churches among the Yannadi almost double from 54 to 100 churches by the year 2000. “Often,” he says, “the family of a person healed of blindness or snake bites will come back to one of his pastors with a financial gift.” In situations like these, Kamalakar says, “We take no money from those being healed, instead we urge families to join the church and give their whole lives to Christ.”

The Renewal Needs Renewing
While the Charismatic renewal is spreading like wild fire around the world, many people think the fires of renewal in the U.S. among Charismatics have been reduced to burning embers since the late 70s.

“The renewal needs renewing because people need to be renewed,” Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa said in his opening night address. “The Lordship of Christ has the power to renew the church, and the power to renew the Charismatic movement!” Immediately following Cantalamessa’s message, some 70% of the congress participants stood up to invite God to change something in their lives.

In a workshop on Charisma and Institution, Akron University sociologist, Margaret Poloma, contrasted the phenomena of new revival fires burning bright in the Toronto Blessing, “with the tendency for Pentecostals elsewhere to hold up their wine glasses for a toast, with the new wine long gone.”

Poloma documented how the Toronto leaders were battling the institutional tendency to steer revival into set rituals. Toronto is at its charismatic moment, but how long is it possible to remain there?

In echo of the from generation to generation congress theme, Jesuit educator Bob Faricy said, “If Toronto burns out like previous Charismatic renewals, then God in His mercy will just send something else.”

Following Poloma’s workshop, several participants requested prayer from her, and were apparently touched by the power of the Holy Spirit as they bubbled over with joy or saw visions in prayer.

While the Charismatic renewal has become a servant to institutions among Anglos, the renewal is burning out of control among ethnics in the U.S, particularly among French-speaking Haitians. This was evident at Orlando 95, where the average age of the Haitian participant was under 35. As priests carried the consecrated host around a packed Marriott ballroom, some 900 young Catholics swayed wildly and sang in unison, “O men Met la, men Met la ap pase.” Or translated, “This is God, the God who passes by.”

Later on the closing night of the congress, the Haitians did this same 10-minute conga in the aisles and brought the whole house down. Pat Robertson, who immediately followed, noted he had spoken last at that convention center in 1988 when he was running for president. If we had had these Haitians back then, I would have taken Florida from George Bush!

Passing The Torch
If Orlando 95 offered anything, it offered the U.S. Charismatic movement an opportunity to symbolically pass the torch to a new generation as they prepare to enter the new millennium.

“Not even Jesus Christ saw himself carrying the baton of truth, the torch of life by himself,” stated Fr. Tom Forrest, Catholic Charismatic statesman and director of Evangelization 2000. “Jesus knew he had to pass the torch, from the beginning Jesus Christ was working and planning to do so. As Forrest handed an Olympic baton to a younger leader, he challenged a new generation, My job is done, you now take up the torch and run…. Run faster, run harder and run better than I have ever run. Who knows… you may be running the final lap!”

And then with a smile on his face, Forrest who is 68, added, “I am not leaving the race… I am just running a little slower!”

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