Church renewal and the counter culture

From its earliest days, the Consultation on Church Union generated negative responses from radical renewalists who were convinced that America’s white churches were complicit with the systemic injustices in American society. They believed that the churches had to repent and as signs of this repentance make dramatic changes in their patterns of life. While conceding that COCU had moved with surprising speed to resolve long-standing theological issues, the renewalists, for the most part, believed that these changes were largely irrelevant to the needs of American life, were taking too long, and would result in a form of unity that embodied the continuation of oppressive systems.

Providing a voice for many of the people impatient for change was Stephen C. Rose, Presbyterian theologian, author, editor, and renewalist. During COCU’s critical period (1969, 1970, and 1971), he was a stand-by alternate for the United Presbyterian Church at COCU plenary assemblies. He came into prominence in 1967 with the publication of his book The Grass Roots Church: A Manifesto for Protestant Renewal. After serving on the staff of the venerable Community Renewal Society, a Chicago organization founded in 1882, Rose moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the community where Jonathan Edwards lived after being deposed from his pastorate in Northampton.

There he was associated with Jonathan’s Wake, a renewal society that resurrected a name that went back to Edwards’ time. Richard L. York, an Episcopal priest with a ministry to the street people of Berkeley, California, wrote in the Submarine Church Press that Jonathan’s Wake “is evangelical, conversion centered, Pentecostal, post liberal, post-secular, remythologizing, nongenerational, inside-subversive, outside-related, Wake-Up Oriented, youth black Third World supporting, democratic, post-Protestant, post-Catholic, Non-existent Reality, nonmembership, leaderless, post-mao, post-sds, happening joysprung mobile unit.”

York announced that Jonathan’s Wake would attend the triennial assembly of the National Council of Churches in Detroit in December 1969 and put forward its own slate for election to the Council’s General Board. They would try to persuade the Council to redirect its efforts around the proposals promoted by Jonathan’s Wake. If they failed in doing this, York continued, “we shall seek to organize the minority into a movement outside the formal churches.” In March, York concluded, “Jonathan’s Wake becomes the Free Fundamentalist Delegation to COCU—the Consultation on Church Union, meeting in St. Louis. They invite all seminary students to join in confrontation of Super-Church to see that it tithes as it jives.” Read more. . . An Incarnation of the Counter

Stephen C. Rose’s current work can be followed in his blog (accessed January 31, 2012): Rose was born in 1936.

4 Responses to Church renewal and the counter culture

  1. eirenetheou says:

    i was remembering some memorable material from Stephen C Rose just the other day, and then i wondered what had happened to him. Thank you for locating him in time and space. It is good that he is still testifying. The “Protestant sickness” that SCR diagnosed in the long ago has not yet been made well.

    God’s Peace to you.


    • This morning I started a google search to find out what happened to Richard L. York who came into prominence as pastor of the Berkeley Free Church. References to the archives of his papers come up, but so far nothing about York after 1972. Here’s the best link I have found: I heard York preach one time. He was guest at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle for a weekend in June 1968 while I was on leave in that city. On Sunday evening he led a “Happening in Worship” in the cathedral stuffed so full that people were even sitting on the chancel steps. Presiding was the 68-year-old dean of the cathedral, and the music was provided by a group named “Uncle Henry.” The Order for Evening Prayer was followed, with York, in paisley vestments preaching a breezy sermon summarizing classic Christian theology with a rather soft edge. On Tuesday night immediately following Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

  2. I am the archivist for radio station KRAB, Seattle (1962-1984). At least part of the event that you describe above was recorded by KRAB and broadcast on Aug 24, 1968. A recording (of “Uncle Henry” at Saint Marks) was recently digitized. Unfortunately, it is not of the best fidelity (if I can use that word), but I will soon be adding it to the online archive. The program listing in KRAB’s guide has this description:

    An unusual and, according to reports, beautiful and moving church service. With the Seattle rock trio Uncle Henry and sermon by the Very Rev. John C. Leffler, Dean of St. Mark’s. Liturgical material by Dick York, Vicar to the Bay Area underground.”

    I wonder if Rev. Paul Sawyer had anything to do with this. May I please use your description of the event to accompany the audio on the KRAB Archive web site? (With appropriate citation and link back to this page.)

    • As I remember the service at St. Mark’s in June 1968, York preached the sermon. Dean Leffler presided over the service and led the prayers. I don’t remember the names of other clergy involved in the prayer service and thus cannot say whether Rev. Paul Sawyer was involved. Yes, you may use my description of the event in the ways that you mention in your comment.

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