Letter and Article to Bob Walker of Christianity Today
December 28, 1960
Herewith the Bermuda article. It is probably too long but I leave you to cut as you see best.
Howard Dickinson heartedly approves it having shown it to one or two of those concerned on the island. It was his suggestion that the last sentence might be added, suggesting that any who want further information, send for a brochure. I don’t know if your editorial laws allow for the inclusion of this, but if so, he’ll be grateful if it can go in.
He also asks if several copies of the issue can go to him – Dr. Howard Dickinson, Walden Gate, Warwick, Bermuda.
But that leads me to suggest that we could enlarge the sale and distribution of this issue by the following means. Perhaps you would have to pass the suggestions to your Distribution Manager: --
A number of churches in Bermuda are interested in Willowbank. It would be good to ask Dr. Dickinson to put it before the Council (they meet weekly). These churches should be notified of this issue with the Bermuda article, and each church have some for sale. I am sure they would go. The same also for the various house groups and luncheon groups on the island.
There would surely be a sale for this issue at the I.C.L. annual conference in Washington (Feb. 8-11) if it is out in time, because there will be many there who were over in Bermuda for the Campaign. If contact could be made with Douglas Coe, 2324 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington 8, D.C., the suggestion could be made for a notice to be prepared which indicates that this issue has the article on I.C.L. in Bermuda and then a special place allotted at the book table for this notice with a pile of magazines.
A number of Bermudians come also to the Faith at Work “Winter Pocono” at Rutgers church in New York, Feb. 10-13; and I think that there also a pile of the magazines with a notice concerning them would attract buyers.
Just those suggestions occur to me. I wrote you a line yesterday about the pictures. I hope they have arrived OK. They have turned out a very nice little brochure on Willowbank, and you might like to send to Helen Dickinson for a copy (I haven’t one).
God bless you,
Article on Willowbank
The Spirit of God is surely at work worldwide today. Evidences abound on every hand. The island of Bermuda, with its lovely climate, sparkling seas, white-roofed homes and flower-clad lanes, is best known as a paradise for wealthy Americans. As many as 150,000 pour over each year for their vacations but the breezes of the Spirit are also blowing there, and Bermuda is sharing in God’s new day.
God’s tapestries are woven of many threads. For Bermuda, one of these was a vacationer; another, a Bermudian, ex-member of Parliament; a third, a Bermudian doctor; and the fourth, a Bermudian alcoholic. The vacationer was a lady from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and the year, 1948. She was there with a song in her heart and praise on her lips, for the Lord had delivered her husband from the bondage of alcoholism through the steps of Alcoholic Anonymous seven years before. She could go on a visit free from anxiety and fear. It was from a hospital bed, when her husband had come to the end of himself, that he cried out to God to help him. He had been a progressive alcoholic for seventeen years and was in a completely hopeless stage. After that simple but sincere prayer, the Lord answered in a miraculous way. The wife had been planning to leave him, but three weeks before the hospital experience, she had been challenged to read the Bible in order to have “an intelligent faith instead of a blind one.” Up to this point, she had considered herself a Christian simply because she did not “disbelieve”, but she knew nothing of a personal relationship with the Lord. However, with her changed attitude towards the Bible, she began searching the Scriptures, and by so doing, she “saw Jesus for the first time” and received the new birth. The two then began a new life together in Christ, sharing the secret they had found with alcoholics and others.
It was during this vacationer’s visit in Bermuda that she came to the date of the seventh anniversary of her husband’s sobriety and she wondered if there were other ex-alcoholics on the island with whom she could share her joy and thanksgiving. After making a number of inquiries without success, she was having afternoon tea with relatives of a friend at home, Mr. and Mrs. William Purvis, he being the ex-member of Parliament, while talking about the Lord’s work, she happened to mention the way the Lord had used Alcoholics Anonymous to her husband. To this, Mr. Purvis responded with enthusiasm because he said that his doctor was one of the few on the island who devoted time to helping these people, and the next day, he took her to see him. The doctor, Howard Dickinson, arranged an introduction for her to a businessman who had been notorious throughout the island for twenty years of drunken escapades, but who had now been a member of A.A. for about six months. In talking to him, however, she found that while he had stayed “dry” through the A.A. fellowship and had accepted “God as he understood him” in his dire need, he knew nothing of deliverance from the striving of the self-life by receiving the indwelling Christ as Saviour and Lord. Indeed, he was on shaky ground because of his great spiritual need, and was on the point of giving up again, not caring whether he got drunk or remained sober.
Concern for his need, before leaving the island, she met again with Dr. Dickinson, Harold C., and their wives and told them of a Movement, with it’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., called the International Christian Leadership (I.C.L.) which God was using to develop Christian leadership throughout the world by means of Breakfast Groups, where men and women share their personal problems and experiences and study the Scripture together. She suggested that, just as Abram Vereide, the founder of I.C.L., had started with one group of men’s meetings in Seattle, out of which the I.C.L. had spread through the nation, so they should start in Bermuda. “How?” they asked. “Well, start with the four of you, you two, Benny Ferguson (a businessman who had dropped in during the conversation), and ask Mr. Purvis to join you.”
This they did, aided by I.C.L. literature she sent them, including the Bible notes for weekly meetings. Mr. Purvis’ comment to her later in a letter was that he, at first, been amazed and shocked to be asked to sit down with the confirmed drunkard who used to avoid looking at him when passing him on the street, but that soon he found that “the old drunk did me more good than anybody!” “He is a very different person from the one I knew some years ago, mostly by reputation….I seem to be an old codger to be teaming up with young men, but perhaps in diversity, as well as in union, there is strength;” and soon the meetings were transferred to Mr. Purvis’ own home.
The little group expanded and others were started; a 6:30 A.M. breakfast group for businessmen, white and colored; a weekly luncheon men’s group in the English Speaking Union and a women’s luncheon group. Mr. Jack Davis, a leading Bermuda business executive, Commander Geoffrey Kitson, formerly the youngest Commander in the Royal Navy, Mr. Fernance Perry, a super-market owner, and others began to take an active part. One of these had found Christ when going up to New York for business and dropping in to Madison Square Gardens when looking for a movie to go to, but noticing the advertisement of the Billy Graham meetings. Though only arriving in time for a remote seat in the gallery, “I felt as if I were a mile away from the platform,” he said, “but when I heard Billy Graham speak, it seemed as if he were speaking directly to me. It was the best public address system it has ever been my good fortune to listen to.” Impelled by the Spirit of God to go forward, when Billy Graham made the appeal, “I can say I knew beyond a doubt that God had done something very special for me and when I awoke the next morning, I felt I was an entirely new person – clean and full of joy. When I returned home, I began to work at my new-found faith. I started reading the gospels; I started praying regularly; I rejoined the Episcopal Church – I had formerly been one of those fellows who said they worship God on the golf course, and I had not been near my own church for years. So now I called on my rector and asked him if he had anything with which I could help. The poor man simply gasped – this was the first time in his life, he told me, and that he had ever had an offer of help from a person like me. When, at the suggestion of Christian friends, I started attending Bible-study and prayer groups, one in a nearby church, others in various homes. As time passed, I felt able to take the initiative myself and I started two new groups – in my office and in my home.”
As these groups developed and expanded, close links were formed with two laymen’s movements which are vital in witness in the U.S.A.: International Christian Leadership and Faith at Work. People from the groups in Bermuda began to attend the annual conferences of these two movements, the Presidential Prayer Breakfast and other meetings of the I.C.L. in Washington, D.C., and the Pocono Conference of Faith at Work. Finally, the suggestion was made, Why not an I.C.L. Conference in Bermuda with its challenge to the whole island? Yes, Abram Vereide agreed in his big way, on condition that its outreach should be from the top downwards rather than from the bottom upwards. Could the Bishop be asked to hold an inaugural service in the Cathedral? Could nightly banquets be arranged in one of the big hotels for two hundred or more guests; one banquet for members of Parliament and government officials; another for professional men, doctors and lawyers, another for businessmen; another for any who wanted to come a second time? Let the theatre be taken for the Sunday night to give the townspeople a gospel witness. Let there be morning sessions in the hotel for Bible study and discussion.
The Bishop, having come as a guest to Washington and seeing the impressive witness to the President and Congress at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, arranged a welcome service in the Cathedral in Bermuda in which ministers of several denominations took part together with a capacity congregation. The theatre was packed in the evening, with the Deputy Speaker of the House giving an opening word. The gospel by testimony went out in the clearest possible manner through a team of witnesses. From Monday to Thursday of that November week, 1959, one of the largest hotels, the Princess, was practically taken over by the guests from the U.S.A., the crowded morning sessions of visitors and residents.
But only now do we come to the original purpose of this story, the opening of Willowbank, the new Christian guest house and conference center. It was during one of the morning sessions, when the subject was faith and that by faith, when a person receives what he recognized to be God’s word to him, he “calls the things that be not as though they were.” Dr. Howard Dickinson got up at that meeting and opening declared that, ever since he saw how God had used Lee Abbey, the Church of England conference center in Devon, England, he had had a vision of a like center in Bermuda, and that now God had definitely spoken to his heart and he was declaring his faith. Dr. Dickinson then took Abram Vereide and myself on a tour of investigation to look at various properties. The one to which God ultimately led, not one of those we first looked at, was the lovely estate of an American millionaire, Gen. Clancy, who had recently died.
There is something indescribable about the peace and beauty of one of these Bermuda estates – six acres of lawns and flowering shrubbery leading to a long stretch of cliff, where not too far below and easily accessible you look down on the crystal clear water which makes Bermuda famous, with little private white beaches for swimming, and the boathouse for boating and fishing expeditions. All the normal attractions and activities of a Bermuda vacation center, combined with a Christian home atmosphere, and above all, daily sessions on the Bible and vital Christian experience can be the means of bringing many with maybe a nominal Christian professional to a vital commitment, and others with no faith to a personal acceptance of Christ. The buying of this beautiful estate has been nothing less than an exploit of faith for the price was $200,000, towards which gifts of $75,000 were received. The house and out buildings can, at present, accommodate 15 guests but plans are in hand to build sufficient for another 40, and later, fur a further 100. A group of these same business and professional men, with a few added to their numbers, formed a Board of Directors, and not without cost to themselves, for through them, the monthly mortgage payments and other expenses are being met. An advisory council of Christian leaders in the U.S.A. and Britain was also formed. The Willowbank staff is to be a fellowship of those who are called by God to serve without salary beyond their board and lodging and a very small monthly allowance for personal necessities. The first two who have already been caring for the guests, are Mrs. Agnes Shields, the hostess, and Mrs. Kathleen Tatem, in the kitchen, and they have now been joined by an American couple from Oregon.
An example of the enthusiasm with which local friends are helping to carry the load is that of a contractor belonging to “the Brethren” who, when he visited the place, saw the need both of the grounds and of the alteration and preparation of several out buildings as guest rooms. He himself, came with his new power mower and cut the lawns, and took some of his men off other building jobs to fix the buildings, charging only the wages and cost of materials. He said he had his reward in the joy of the new experience of finding Christ for the first time in so many who were not of his own church fellowship.
Some 200 people crowded onto the veranda for the dedication service, in which several of the clergy and ministers of the various denominations, including the Bishop, the Salvation Army Brigadier, and a Negro minister, took part.
That is as far as the story goes to date. It is the story of a rising tide which is just beginning to overflow its banks. Can any limits be set to what the Spirit of God can do in such a vital, witnessing guest home and conference center in one of America’s most popular vacation areas? Arrangements are already in hand for another Island-wide I.C.L. campaign, including another group of visitors from the U.S.A. in November of this year.
An illustrated brochure on Willowbank is available and will be gladly forwarded to anyone interested who writes to: Willowbank, Somerset, Bermuda, for a copy.
Web-site Note: The Willowbank Story, 1980, by Irving Harris and Norman Grubb.