Life Before Calvary Chapel

I always have thought of history as something that happened way before I was born, but, alas, not so.

Perhaps because of the national attention spurred by the cover of TimeMagazine, many people are under the impression that the Jesus Movement (AKA “Charismatic Renewal”) started at Calvary Chapel in southern California. It did not.

In the past, I often shared my personal faith journey in such a way that folks were left with the impression that I came to faith and grew up spiritually at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa under Chuck Smith. I did not, although Chuck later became my primary mentor and teacher and I planted and pastored CC affiliates and directed the CC Bible College.

The Jesus Movement/Charismatic Renewal, was (and in some significant ways still is) an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that swept much of America and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. Long before Calvary Chapel was on the radar, there were large numbers of mainline Christians in the United States who received the Baptism in the Spirit mostly from contact with parachurch groups as the Camps Furthest Out (CFO) and the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI). Even as far back as the 1930s, mainline believers were receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and were speaking in tongues. Those who were pastors were usually made to resign. Some wound up in pastoral ministry within Pentecostal denominations.

Others, like Lutheran minister Harold Bredesen, remained in ministry in mainline churches. In 1957, Bredesen accepted the position as pastor of Mount Vernon Dutch Reformed Church in upper New York. That church soon became the focus of local charismatic activity and worship.A handful of other pastors succeeded in openly operating as Spirit-filled ministers within their denominations; among these were Fr. Richard Winkler (Episcopal, in Wheaton, Illinois) and Rev. James Brown (Presbyterian in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania). Russ Bixler, the pastor of the Pittsburgh Church of the Brethren was a well-known charismatic leader and author both during his 13-year tenor there and after he resigned in 1972 to head up a parachurch organization.

Coming back to my story – I came to faith apart from any group. I was searching seeking, reading, and came across Letters from a Modern Mysticby missionary/linguist Frank Laubach, in which he describes encounters with the living God. Alone, in my bedroom, I cried out (I do not remember what I said) – the room became flooded with light and a soft voice spoke from within me calling me “little one.” I was enveloped with divine love, and, looking back, know I was born from above, although I was unaware of that term at the time. From then on, I loved God, prayed much of every day and lived in the love of Christ.

In high school, I was exposed to a teacher who was a member of the Church of the Brethren, a small, Anabaptist “peace” denomination. I also developed a strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, not only because it was an immoral war, but also because I came via a long process of thought, reading, and prayer, to conclude that, like the Brethren, I was conscientiously opposed to war in any form. I registered for the draft as a conscientious objector based on my religious beliefs.

I got married when I was 18 and soon had a son and a daughter. Thinking it was an excellent idea to be a part of a church, we went to a nearby Church of the Brethren and were welcomed and accepted, baptized by triune immersion, and put in charge of the small youth group.

One day, my pastor called me and told me to read Acts chapter 2. I did. I called him back and said, “awesome.” He replied, “That happened to me.”  I said, “I want it too. He said, “We have to go to Pittsburgh.” (I lived in Baltimore, and apparently the Holy Spirit lived in Pittsburgh.)

Shortly thereafter, we drove to the Pittsburgh Church of the Brethren where Russ Bixler was pastor. He preached on the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which was impressive, but I was even more impressed before he spoke. The sanctuary was full an hour before the service. The front seats were taken first. Everybody seemed to love each other. Right in front of me was a hippie with bare feet, fringe and earrings next to a very conservatively dressed man in a gray business suit sporting a crew cut. They hugged each other. I had never seen a church like this. I couldn’t wait for the altar call, and when it was given, I bolted forward and into the room to the side where people were being prayed for to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. A nice man was explaining things. I wasn’t listening because I was already flooded with, inundated, immersed, invaded by God’s Spirit and was speaking in tongues under my breath so as not to disturb the speaker. He then went around laying hands on person after person, got to me, and said, “yep, you’ve got it.”

I literally prayed in tongues nonstop feeling drenched in love and grace for the next 24 straight hours. I devoured scripture, devotional reading, worship music, and testimonies. Somehow, I found charismatic Bible studies and prayer meetings all over the city and attended four or five nights a week. A Presbyterian pastor’s wife who was quite gifted taught one.

The same pastor who took me to Pittsburgh somehow found out about a Saturday night praise and prayer service in a rural church located outside the tiny town of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania (which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere). Rev. James H. Brown was the pastor of the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1720 by a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants. (The name Octorara came from an Indian word meaning “Rushing Waters.” There was a Native American settlement located along the Octorara Creek.) In the 1960s, Rev. Brown led Saturday evening prayer and praise services that attracted people of all denominations from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states. These charismatic services have had a lasting impact on the religious world of today. Each year visitors return on spiritual pilgrimages to Upper Octorara where they were so deeply and powerfully touched by God.

I was one of those deeply touched by God. The place was packed with middle class people, hippies, old-line Pentecostals, Jesus Freaks with tambourines, people of all ages and ethnicities. People were miraculously healed; demons were cast out. Together, we praised, worshipped, and sang for hours. People shared testimonies. I remember an Army general saying he was buck private in the Lord’s army and a woman from Ireland speaking about the violence between Catholics and Protestants. Rev. Brown oversaw all of this – a tall, thin, Scottish-looking gentlemanly bloke with a gentle sweet smile who did a little dance as he lightly tapped his tambourine. Love saturated the place.

I helped lead youth retreats and camps, saw tons of students saved, baptized in the Holy Spirit, transformed, healed. I helped baptize hundreds in streams.

Meanwhile, back at the Church of the Brethren, there was a small group that were supportive and a larger group, lead by an ordained minister and hospital chaplain, who freaked out and did all they could to run us off.

That was unnecessary because I knew from the time I received the infilling of the Holy Spirit in Pittsburgh that I was called to be a pastor-teacher. I jumped through the denominational hoops, was licensed to the ministry and accepted a position as pastor of a tiny, rural, Church of the Brethren in rural Minnesota. Within days of arriving, I found a charismatic prayer meeting in Winona and attended weekly. That eventually morphed into Living Light Christian Fellowship, the first church-plant in which I was involved.

But also while I was pastoring in Minnesota, my sister sent me Chuck Smith tapes – his through the Bible series from Genesis to revelation. I ate it up. I began corresponding with Chuck and learning from him. After we moved to Colorado Springs to pastor another Church of the Brethren (which exploded with Jesus freaks over the next year, much to the consternation of the old folks who were entrenched there) I started a Calvary Chapel affiliate with Chuck’s blessing and guidance.




About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on April 19, 2018, in Bible, bodily resurrection, Christianity, Prayer, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Ed Bustamante

    This is an awesome story Dr. Larry, thank you for sharing! A former student at C.C.B.C.


  2. Larry, I loved the testimony!
    You inspired me!


  3. Interesting…


  4. Are you the same Larry Taylor that taught in Colorado Springs, CO?


  5. Russell Tennant

    Hi Pastor Larry. I was saved in your Colorado Springs Church on Nevada after a Saturday night music service. It was a powerful experience. My life took a new turn. I remember most of all the love you have for the Lord. Do you remember either background wall was painted like the sky. I think there was a dove in that painting. I still have fond memories. Love you brother and I glad to hear your doing well.


  6. @ Russell — sweet! We were just there a couple of weeks ago and took some pics of the old place. I had forgotten the wall with the clouds, but now that you mention it, i remember ! Where are you now and what are you doing? Great to hear from you! LT


  7. Enjoyed learning much I didn’t know about your background before Calvary. Enjoyed your leadership at CCBC – Twin Peaks (1992/1993).

    Good times. Miss those days. Learned a lot. But not near as much as living this life will teach you. God is faithful and true.


  8. Peace and love to you, Larry.


  9. Lois Quesenberry

    This is Lois Quesenberry. I found this testimony and cried as I read it. We were there in Baltimore as we gathered in church, Pittsburg and Upper Octarora PA. What a joy to watch God move in your life. Wow!! We are so thankful to have had a part in your spiritual journey as your pastor those early years of growth.


  1. Pingback: Life Before Calvary Chapel | The Word in Focus with Dr Larry Taylor

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