Reviews of Three Books about Community Life

"This is My Story,  This is My Song: A Life Journey"  (2011) - author Betty Carr Pulkingham. Review by Cherie C. Binns, October 2011

This autobiography of one of the finest contemporary liturgical composers and arrangers is lively, compelling and difficult to put down. Betty Pulkingham, wife of the Rev. Graham Pulkingham shares in great detail how God called her and her husband into a ministry led by the Holy Spirit in a run down parish on Houston's East End, how that ministry grew to encompass an ever growing family of children and companions on life's journey and led to ministries across the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Her focus is joyous, positive, candid about her marriage to a larger than life figure in the Charismatic Renewal, the impact of life in the company of a cadre of unrelated adults and children under the same roof, adaptations to different cultures and lifestyles throughout three decades of ministry and travel. Most of all, one is given the impression of a life filled with Grace and Mercy and a woman who came through it with deep and abiding friendships. 

Also reviewed by R Eric Sawyer in his WordPress blog

Review of
"Following the Spirit  (2010) - author Philip Bradshaw
by Cherie C. Binns, July 2011

I have just finished reading Phil Bradshaw’s account of the 30+ year history of the Community of Celebration which had its roots in Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal, in Houston Texas in the mid 1960s under the leadership of the Rev. Graham Pulkingham. This is a must-read for those who want a bona fide look at the genesis of this movement and way of religious life and community and are not looking for an expose’.

The first half of the book chronicles the formation of Christian Community in Houston, and the traveling team of musicians and pastors that came from that Community establishing new communities in Coventry, England and Cumbrae Scotland, Woodland Park, Colorado and Aliquippa, PA where the remnants of that community still reside and minister. Bradshaw also speaks of the Anglican Post Green Community in Dorset with a ministry of spiritual and emotional healing that aligned itself with the new Community under the leadership of the Pulkinghams.

In the second half of these pages, doctrine that was widely taught in the Communities such as “Son-ship” (being sons of God), relationships within and without the Community, worship, prayer, music, faith, evangelism, understanding and teaching of the Bible as the Word of God are addressed. Further, he discusses the understanding of God, Jesus and Spirit. These were things that attracted members to the Community and resonate today in the hearts & minds of those who connected and stayed over the years.

There are no “dirty secrets” between these covers, only a clear explanation of how this Community came to be and why it was so powerful in its ministries and relationships. As one who lived within the bounds of this “phenomenon” for several years, I felt affirmed, empowered, renewed and challenged to continue the mission.

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Review of "Days of Fire & Glory" (2009) - author Julia Duin
by Kevin O'Neill, March 2011

In her recently published book, "Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community", author Julia Duin uses a stilted, disorganized journalistic style to relate details of relationships and events for which she has gathered, at most, second hand information. From its early days as a dilapidated parish in a rough inner-city neighborhood, through its dramatic years as a center for extraordinary worship, to the establishment of communities in the US and Europe, Duin relates her story with one of two sensational tones in her voice: overly impressed or suspicious and eager to expose alarming secrets. It is clear that she was present during the later years she covers, but those who were there in the earlier years will certainly take issue with her reconstruction of many of the circumstances and events she includes. Even if she had first hand involvement during the entire 25-30 year period, or her reporting was perfectly accurate, it is no less than cruel to publish intimate details using actual names with so little perspective or wisdom.
The valuable story this book missed was the creation of extraordinary healing relationships where so many disparate and social minimal-ised lives had been before. Everyone who walked into that church came with their own stories of pain, rejection and failure. What they always found there was a family committed to learning how to work through typical human boundaries and love each other. In reality, this was an in-depth exploration of what it means for congregations to push past traditional family boundaries, worship together at a deep level and create bonds as tight as blood. It was not entirely successful but many of these relationships are still in place today despite time and distance.

The life of just about any family in the world could be framed in such a naked light. One does not have to dig too far into family trees to find fodder for scandal. In this unique, multiplied family, with extremely varied cultures and experiences merging at a rapid pace, it should be no surprise that affairs, homosexuality and power struggles also existed. Painful, regrettable experiences took place. Unfortunately this is not uncommon in family settings.

Julia Duin is clear about where human failures were, but her writing lacks in mature examination of what was discovered and where it was extraordinarily positive. Its underlying presumption is that sex and power were its downfall and if it had been successful it would be something other than what it is today -- an evolved parish that is very much alive (albeit in a new location) and a valuable religious order actively serving the church and its local community in Aliquippa

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