|He That Has Ears To Hear, Let Him Hear|
When healing opened big wounds
by Drew Snider
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2005, issue of the Victoria Times-Colonist
Dr. Charles Price brought his crusade to Victoria, and hundreds were 'healed' through the power of the Holy Spirit. But later, other members of the clergy denounced these 'orgies of emotionalism.'
You see them on TV, lining up to be touched by a preacher, some holding up crutches or telling how their cancer was cured and the doctors are mystified.
You see the posters: a healing minister is coming, "With Signs Following" — "Expect A Miracle."
They're almost commonplace now, but 82 years ago, when Dr. Charles S. Price brought his healing crusade to Victoria, the city shook with the Holy Spirit and unholy controversy.
Born in Yorkshire, Price first embraced "Modernism," which held that personal salvation is not necessary, the Bible is not historical and miracles don't happen. His church in Lodi, Calif., initially boasted a billiards room and a smoking lounge — "creature comforts" — as a form of outreach.
In opposition were churches where people would call on the Holy Spirit, then collapse, speaking in tongues. William J. Seymour's meetings in a converted livery stable in Los Angeles made headlines, and when skeptics came to "expose the insanity," they wound up collapsing on the dirt floor, sobbing or laughing or both.
When Price "investigated" Aimee Semple MacPherson in 1921, he too fell under the Spirit and got up a changed man. Within a year, he was holding crusades himself, preaching to thousands at a time about salvation, the Holy Spirit and healing. In 1923, Rev. W.J. Sipprill of Metropolitan Methodist Church (now the Victoria Conservatory of Music) saw people healed of diseases and deformities in Albany, Ore. (local headline: "Living Kidney Grows Back"), and invited Price to Victoria in April.
Price spent a month here. Metropolitan soon got too small, so they moved to the Willows Arena. The Daily Colonist reported that hundreds of people each night would collapse, many declaring they were cured on the spot. One eye-witness, Hazel Mussen, told historian Thomas Miller, "we heard excited cries of a young girl by the name of Ruby Dimmick. One of her legs was much shorter than the other, causing her to have to wear a boot with a three-inch heel. But the Lord's power had suddenly touched the short leg, causing it to lengthen right there!" People also watched in awe as a goitre that had deformed the neck of Rev. W. J. Knott for 10 years shrank and vanished as he sat on the stage.
At a special Chinatown service, the wife of interpreter Walter Lee was dying of tuberculosis, but Rev. T.J. McCrossan told reporters that "an hour after going under the power of God, she suddenly sat up and said 'Praise God! He has healed me!'"
Rev. J.S. Patterson of St. Paul's Presbyterian stated, "I have heard the dumb speak after prayer ... and laying on of hands. The deaf have received their hearing. The blind can see and the lame walk."
When the crusade moved to Vancouver, 10,000 people jammed into the Denman Arena for each service, with another 5,000 outside. Manager Frank Patrick described how the building shook with people singing and praising, even before the first hymn. Both cities were on fire. But the serpent was in the garden. Ministers on both sides of Georgia Strait were hostile to the idea people were actually getting cured.
Rev. Clem Davies at Centennial Methodist was himself a young Englishman whose gift for oration and working-class accent appealed to Victorians. Possibly inspired by Price's success, he would develop a huge following of his own, with a radio ministry (including his "Sermon on the Mount" each Easter Sunday from Mount Tolmie). He later moved to Hollywood, continuing on radio and preaching "Sunday double- headers" at the Shrine Auditorium.
The weekend Price took his crusadeto Vancouver, Davies' sermon was "Prayers and Sickness in Relation to the Universal Law of Healing." The text of that sermon is long lost, but the timing suggests he argued that healing may have "worked" for Jesus, but not for us. But in May 1923, the Vancouver Medical Association stated, "we would recommend (Price's) fine Christian spirit... prayers offered for the healing of the sick have been answered in many cases that can be verified ... persons concerned (are) perfectly well."
Vancouver ministers, though, denounced the "debauch of Christianity and orgie [sic] of emotionalism ... exploiting human suffering ... (with) tragic consequences ... ."
They launched an investigation that reported in December that, of 350 people pronounced healed at Price's meetings, only five were actually cured. Five went insane, 39 died within six months, 214 showed no change and 17 were "worse."
One Colonist letter-writer was upset. "Was (the survey) for the purpose of actually finding out the percentage of people who have been permanently cured through Dr. Price's agency," wrote Sydney Linnell of Shakespeare Street, "or (for) belittling the good effects of his mission
here and elsewhere? If Dr. Price is a fraud, may the country be full of them."
The Victoria ministers then flip-flopped, saying they only endorsed Price's spiritual teachings and were non-committal about healing.
When Price returned in 1924, Davies said it would be bad to "re-open old wounds." J.S. Patterson, who was so effusive in 1923, refused to comment. (Ironically, Davies' own son was miraculously healed after eating some cigarettes and becoming deathly ill. While the doctor and the pastor planned the funeral, Davies' wife roared, "This child shall live, and not die!" Following some unexplained prompting (the Holy Spirit?), she placed the toddler in a warm bath and sluiced him back and forth until he revived.)
One morning, Price was called to the home of a woman who allegedly had received healing. When he got there, he found she was unconscious in hospital, and her doctor, Ernest Hall, and Medical Officer Dr. A.G. Price were waiting for him. He was arrested for "practising medicine without a licence," but released after an hour.
That night's service went ahead. Hall attended and changed his tune. "The time has gone," he said, "when we can say that certain things cannot be done."
Price returned to Vancouver in 1929, and the next year his magazine, Golden Grain, ran 18 pages of testimonies from people healed then and in 1923 and 1924. The magazine also noted that Price had warned people at the services that the 1923 Vancouver investigation would be
prejudiced and they should have nothing to do with it.
We haven't changed a whole lot since Price came to town. Now — as then — we still want a quick fix. Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound ("Lily the Pink" of the Irish Rovers' song), Catarrhozone ("Can the Deaf be Made to Hear?" Answer: yes, if it's due to catarrh) and Minard's Liniment ("The King of Pain") are replaced by today's wonder cures in which the side-effects seem worse than the disease.
Now — as then — adherents to differing teachings can be downright hostile to one another many still scoff at the notion of being healed by the Holy Spirit. But now — as then — for people who have been healed of anything from addictions to bone cancer, it's just as real as it was on those nights at the old arena.
Writer-broadcaster Drew Snider contributes occasionally to these pages and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also Clem Davies' grandson.
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