Days of Fire and Glory
by Julia Duin
It was the late summer of 1986 and Julia Duin had just turned 30 when she moved to Houston as the new religion writer for The Houston Chronicle. At the invitation of friends, she visited the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston’s blighted East End and fell in love with its gorgeous music and charismatic worship. Having experienced life in a covenant Christian community in her early 20s, she rapidly bonded with Redeemer members who had once lived that ultra-committed lifestyle and wanted to see the church regain its stature as the internationally acclaimed congregation it had been a decade before.
After she met Graham Pulkingham, the spellbinding priest who had led Redeemer into a powerful renewal starting in 1964, Duin became convinced the world needed to know the story of this immensely gifted man and the church that was half-inspired, yet half-haunted by its illustrious past. But as she began investigating Redeemer, many people began warning her there was a darker history behind Pulkingham that few people knew.
Now the award-winning journalist, who first broke that story, reveals the details of the scandal that rocked the charismatic and Christian community movements, not to mention the Episcopal Church. It is a story of God, sex, and power; a story of a huge 20th-century religious experiment that led to the rise and fall of many; a story of Pulkingham, a father of 6 whose inner torment ultimately destroyed himself and his community.
Through 182 interviews, Duin provides a fascinating portrait of the glorious days of the renewal and its sister movements within Catholic and pentecostal churches; days when the Spirit's fire did fall and many within the baby boomer generation were drawn to God.
"Few books are deserving of the label “masterpiece”, but this one qualifies. Twenty years in the making, Days of Fire and Glory is worth the wait. Religion writer Julia Duin has crafted an eminently readable account of Houston’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and other leading charismatic congregations that propelled the wave of the 1960s and 1970s. However, be prepared to ride a roller coaster of emotions—reading this book is like waiting for a train wreck you know will happen. First come thrills with the way the book validates the reality of the spiritual explosion that planted communities worldwide, led to miraculous healings and swept millions into God’s kingdom. Yet sadness follows as Duin reveals the horrendous sin and abuses that occurred among key leaders and many of their followers. She writes from an insider’s perspective, as a key participant in several charismatic communities. One can easily envision this book becoming required reading at colleges and seminaries for the instructive way in which it examines the rewards and potential pitfalls of Spirit-filled living."
- Ken Walker
Charisma Magazine, Dec. 2009
In the early 1970s my family took a pilgrimage to Houston. I was young enough to be most excited about seeing the AstroWorld theme park, but my parents had a more pious focus for the trip: visiting Church of the Redeemer. I remember these things about our visit to Redeemer: The service felt interminable; passing the peace was like an extended seventh-inning stretch; a haunting mosaic behind the altar imagined Jesus among working folk; and one song, “Here Comes Jesus,” so lodged itself in my memory that not even years of vigorous hymn-singing have purged it.
For my parents and later for me, Redeemer became the model of charismatic renewal in the Episcopal Church. The choir was backed by acoustic guitars and tambourines! People were free to show emotion at church! The boldest members lived among the poor in intentional community! If only we had been fortunate enough to live in Houston.
By the late 1980s, when I interviewed the Rev. Graham Pulkingham, who had overseen Redeemer in those halcyon days, I encountered a brusque and dismissive man. Something seemed off about him, but I wrote a profile of him and that was that.
My longtime friend Julia Duin attended Redeemer in the years she wrote for the Houston Chronicle, and in Days of Fire and Glory she reports at length on the triumphs and the problems of the congregation.
Under Fr. Pulkingham’s leadership, Redeemer grew from a small, struggling urban parish into a considerably larger urban parish. Its members helped rescue a nearby public school from threatened closure. They made deep financial sacrifices to emulate the early church and live from a common pool. They took risks to preach the Gospel in Houston’s counterculture.
As with any community of fallen people, problems arose. Some led far more frugal lives than others. Some of the women living in community were assaulted or raped by neighborhood thugs. Fr. Pulkingham engaged in multiple sexual affairs, and preached sermons that urged sacrificing family members when more important things, like late-night pastoral counseling, required it.
Other cases of adultery developed among leaders of the Redeemer community. A fixation with the shepherding movement led to broken engagements if one influential person said, “I have a check in my spirit.” Some couples left to be married anyway. Some single members left because they were burned out. Many found that living in intentional community is steadily abrasive to Americans’ love for freedom and personal autonomy.
If the Church of the Redeemer described here were a friend, you might find that friend manic-depressive. Ms. Duin interviewed nearly 200 former and continuing members of Redeemer to tell this comprehensive story. She has a sympathetic publisher in Crossland Press, founded by Leon Poddles, who has written his own exposés about the crises of Roman Catholicism in the United States.
It would be a mistake to consider Days of Fire and Glory an indictment of all charismatic renewal, or of ministry that continues today at Redeemer or of the late Fr. Pulkingham’s ministry as a whole. Instead, it is a realistic and often heart-rending account of how God will use even stiff-necked sinners to perform his wonders. That should not surprise anyone who understands Christian doctrine, but it still results in an arresting work of religion reportage.
- Douglas LeBlanc
The Living Church
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
“Julia Duin has written an amazing account of a significant time in the life of the Church. Her personal witness, observations and involvement provide important insight and understanding that should be shared with all clergy and others in leadership roles, especially in the Church where vulnerable people continue to sin and be in need of the Redeemer.”
—The Right Rev. William J. Cox D.D.
Assisting bishop, Anglican Diocese of Argentina
Former assistant bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Texas
“I knew many of the leaders described in this book, so I looked forward to reading Julia
Duin’s account of life in a charismatic community. But what I found was so much more . . .
Duin’s gripping account of the rise and fall of one particular charismatic community,
against a backdrop of widespread spiritual renewal, provides us with an object lesson in
what to embrace and what to avoid when seeking spiritual fulfillment.”
Chair emeritus, Christian Healing Ministries
“In Days of Fire and Glory, Julia Duin offers a richly textured narrative of charisma, community
and cataclysmic unraveling. There are many cautionary tales here, not least the devastating
effects of that perennial Protestant disease: the cult of personality.”
Episcopal priest and professor of American religious history
Barnard College, Columbia University
“With unflinching journalistic objectivity, Julia Duin relates the tumultuous story of a single
congregation and its mercurial leader. But this is a story much bigger than one church.
With the benefit of her insider’s perspective, Duin’s book offers a warning for leaders and
churches of all kinds of what can happen when power and desire distort one another, and
we become distracted from handling both with integrity. Read this and learn!”
—D. Michael Lindsay
Assistant professor of sociology, Rice University
Author of Faith in the Halls of Power
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julia Duin was religion editor for The Washington Times for 14 years, and now freelances for the Economist, Washington Post and other publications.
She has worked for newspapers in Oregon, Florida, New Mexico and was the religion writer for the Houston Chronicle in Texas when the events in this book occurred. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., and a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. and has won numerous awards for her reporting. This is her fifth book. She and her daughter live in Maryland.