The Toronto Blessing, also known as "the Father's Blessing" or "the renewal," began in the storefront facility of the Toronto Airport Vineyard Fellowship in January 1994, when participants in revival services manifested intense physical responses to prayer—crying, twitching, shaking, uncontrollable laughter, and falling to the floor in a trancelike state that lasted for hours. Word spread quickly through the Vineyard Fellowship, and the meeting place soon teemed with visitors. By mid-1994, people flocked in from across North America and Britain. Soon the crowds became more diverse as Australians, Europeans, Malaysians, Africans, and others found their way to the congregation's new, commodious quarters in a converted warehouse close to the Toronto airport. The revival's characteristic physical manifestations, folksy music, and dance spread beyond the Vineyard into congregations of many denominations whose pastors hoped for increased fervor in their ministries, especially in Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. Dancing, shouting, running, falling, and other raucous behavior led Vineyard Fellowship founder John Wimber in 1995 to expel the Toronto Vineyard Fellowship and its pastor, John Arnott. Some thirty Vineyard congregations withdrew from the Vineyard Fellowship in an expression of solidarity with Arnott and the revival. The Toronto congregation changed its name to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. After five years, revival services continued six nights each week, and Arnott has estimated that 2.5 million people have attended.
Criticism of the Toronto Blessing has come from both religious and secular media. Theologian critics challenge the emphasis on "manifestations," which they charge move beyond Scripture. Instances of barking, or a video of a devotee being led about on a dog leash, have been publicized to validate claims of fanaticism. The idea of going to a particular place to experience a particular phenomenon seems to some critics to be out of Protestant character. Claims by John Arnott of hundreds of people having their dental fillings turned to gold, of gold dust descending on worshipers, or of oil appearing on hands (gold and oil have been explained as symbols of God's spirit and glory) echo those of the more radical of the barnstorming healing revivalists of the 1950s.
While the Toronto Blessing has thrived outside the organized Canadian and British Pentecostal movements, its expressive character has deeply influenced numerous Pentecostal congregations, as well as many others in Canada and elsewhere. Pentecostalism never prospered in Canada. Through the Toronto Blessing, however, Pentecostal forms of spirituality have been widely publicized. International crowds drawn by the renewal movement have kept the services in the public eye. While the Toronto Blessing has directly influenced the practices of hundreds of international congregations, it has also affected the course of several other North American renewal movements that have spawned their own networks. Especially prominent are those associated with Rodney Howard-Brown and the "laughing revival" and with the Pensacola Outpouring, a long-running event at the Brownsville Assemblies of God in Pensacola, Florida.
The Toronto Blessing is one indicator of a turn that charismatic Christianity has taken. It leads away from traditional church forms that emphasize Christian education and nurture as concomitants of worship; its energies are devoted, rather, to indefinitely prolonged, emotionally exhausting, intense experiences, in which participants abandon themselves to what they regard as the presence of God. Thus, the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship is not a typical church. Its approach to Christianity blends easily with the ubiquitous interest in spirituality in a postmodern culture.
Arnott, John. The Father's Blessing. 1996.
Kuglin, Robert J. The Toronto Blessing: What Would theHoly Spirit Say? 1998.
Poloma, Margaret. "The Spirit and the Bride: The 'Toronto Blessing' and Church Structure." EvangelicalStudies Bulletin 13, no. 4 (winter 1999): 1, 2, 5.
Poloma, Margaret. "Toronto Pastor Says God Is Filling Teeth with Gold." Charisma 14, no. 11 ( June 1999): 39–40.
Edith L. Blumhofer