Dancing in the aisles with Hockley’s dynamic duo!

Dancing in the aisles with Hockley’s dynamic duo!

A dirty street in one of Birmingham’s oldest districts may not look very imposing. But it was the setting for one of the most unlikely success stories of the modern Pentecostal movement. For this is the meeting place of the Hockley Pentecostal Church, founded by two remarkable women of courage, faith and obedience who, although having little in the way of natural ability or education, dared to believe God.

Olive Reeve and Harriet Fisher (always known as Miss Reeve and Miss Fisher) came together in the aftermath of a powerful campaign by evangelist George Jeffreys. Miss Reeve was actually one of the 300 converts baptised during the campaign in a mass-baptismal service watched by 10,000 people!

The two women were very different. Miss Fisher was a dynamic evangelist and tireless worker and organiser, particularly gifted in praying for the sick and leading seekers into the baptism of the Spirit. Miss Reeve was a much quieter pastor and teacher with an ability to hear from God.

The ladies originally felt called to serve God in India and had actually purchased a compound in Bangalore but World War II prevented them from going. So they hired a room in Hockley where they could pray but soon gathered dozens of boys and girls, many of whom brought their parents with them. The women told them of Jesus and Hockley Mission grew out of this Sunday School.

After the war, when immigrants from the New Commonwealth settled in the area, both Miss Reeve and Miss Fisher realised God had brought India to them and a Sunday School for Asians was established. At one time the church had eight Sunday Schools with 800 children in attendance!

By a remarkable series of fulfilled prophecies, and much personal financial sacrifice on behalf of church members, a derelict Baptist church was purchased and the laborious task of renovating the building was headed up by Miss Fisher. Knowing little about the building trade, she used the Book of Nehemiah as her builder’s manual! Miss Reeve, meanwhile, looked after the spiritual side of the church until the building was completed.

The women observed two principles of faith with regard to money: they refused to go into debt and took no collections. Yet the last of the £3,500 needed to purchase the building came in exactly one day before it was due to be paid! At no time during their 40 years in ministry did they receive a fixed income from the church, preferring to live ‘by faith’ all their lives.

Perhaps the most remarkable (and controversial) feature of church life at Hockley was the wonderful freedom in the meetings. At a time when many Pentecostal churches were toning down their worship in order not to offend outsiders, the Hockley ladies believed that if people saw God’s Spirit at work, they would be won to Christ. For them the most vital ingredient in the Christian life was exuberant praise and worship, with the raising of hands, clapping, singing and dancing. Prophecies and messages in tongues were a regular feature of the meetings, much to the disapproval of some in the movement, along with dancing ‘in the spirit’. One lady once danced about two feet off the ground for ten minutes! On another occasion a Roman Catholic army instructor was amazed to see a 70-year-old woman dance on the spot for half-an-hour. He attributed it to the power of God, knowing that even a fully-trained soldier could not have kept that up for more than three minutes!

Senior AoG minister E. J. Shearman recalls preaching at Hockley during a Whitsun weekend in 1948. During the Sunday morning ‘breaking of bread’ service he saw Miss Reeve floating two feet off the ground and bowing down to the Lord as the anointing of the Holy Spirit went up and down the meeting!

Saturday nights at Hockley became gatherings where many visitors came to seek the power of God. Before the charismatic movement really began, seekers from all denominations went to Hockley to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There were occasions when tongues spoken at Hockley were recognised; on one occasion a missionary from India heard Miss Fisher praising God fluently in one of the Indian languages!

The church continued to grow and a new building was completed in 1979. Many missionaries, pastors and Christian workers trace their beginnings to Hockley and many more have been influenced by the ministry of Misses Reeve and Fisher.

Harriet Fisher, after triumphing over cancer, died in 1984 and Olive Reeve in 1987. No doubt heaven has taken on a new line in dancing since their arrival!

From Heroes of the Faith issue 1.


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