Yesterday, on a whim, I went to Google and searched for “Dales Week”. Few today will remember what this was. The Dales Bible Week was a Christian festival held at Harrogate in the late 70s and early 80s. It was very influential. Tapes of the worship were in the hands of many of my friends. Indeed I myself was converted there. I still have the music book for “Songs of Victory.”
But Google returned almost nothing. The top result was a post by myself (!), which only mentioned Dales Week incidentally. Another two were to vintageworshiptapes.com, where a volunteer has rescued copies of the tapes and converted them to digital format. A very worthwhile exercise; yet how little this is, compared to the thousands that attended, and the immense effect upon lives. A mighty movement… has left little trace online. Those three results were about all that there was.
In a way, this is not unexpected. The work that God did in the 60s and 70s went almost unnoticed in the wider world. Newspaper coverage of the time could be absurdly ignorant. I remember that the Daily Telegraph had no idea at all, and wrote as if there were only two groups within the Church of England – the old-style Conservative prayer-book, and the trendy leftist unbelieving vicar, often depicted as “into” contemporary worship. Both existed, but the Christians fell into neither category. Neither of the others mattered at all, or left much trace behind.
No doubt this silence was God’s providence. The rise in Christianity was deeply unwelcome to those who held secular power, and they would undoubtedly have done more to frustrate it, had they been aware. Instead it progressed unhindered, or hindered only by local and short-lived outbreaks of opposition.
It is often said that Britain was saved from the horrors of the French Revolution by the rise of Methodism during the preceding decades. Whether or not this is so, it can hardly have harmed the nation that large numbers were devout, hard-working, and selfless people.
Likewise it may be that in times to come, historians will look back and discover that this unheralded Christian renewal was the key movement of our times, the thing that changed attitudes away from the “if it feels good, do it” mantra of the secular 60s.
That Britain today is under the judgement of God, designed to bring repentance, may be inferred from the failure of every element of modern society, right down to the endless potholes that go neglected. A man may not repent when addressed by a Christian . Yet he may start to feel that “something needs to be done” when the suspension on his car fails! What will our century look like, in the eyes of eternity? But this we cannot know.
Seeing this silence led me to google something else. I searched for “Montague Goodman”. The name will be completely unfamiliar, I am sure. He was the author of a series of six books for boys, the “Wantoknow Series,” set at a school in England, which appeared in the 30s and 40s. One of these books, “The Third Curiosity Book for Boys,” came into my hands as an isolated teenager whose only friends were books. It didn’t matter so much what it was, so long as it was cheap, and it was certainly second-hand in the 1970s. The volume was an omnibus and contained two books, “The Curiosity Club” and “Solomon Goes To School.” The publisher was Paternoster Press, and the book itself was a “Victory Million Edition”, produced just after the war, on wartime economy paper. There was also a series for girls, written by a certain Dorothy Dennison.
The book was, in fact, Christian fiction. But I had never heard of Christianity, and knew “religion” only from school assemblies. So I really did not understand the book at all. Yet it spoke to me. Together with the Narnia stories, it was a praeparatio evangelica for when the gospel came to me, some years later. It stands on my shelf even now. But who was he?
A Google search for Montague Goodman reveals very little about him, but more than when I last looked. Another book in my possession tells me that he helped to organise the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) after the First World War. The OICCU had existed before the war, but had partaken in the collapse of the Student Christian Movement and ceased to exist. The OICCU link was another contact with my own life, for I was a member of the OICCU in my student days in Oxford.
More googling shows that he seems to have belonged to the Brethren in later life, and was involved with youthwork at that church. Another site tells me that he was “the brother of George Goodman, one of the early Brethren,” although I don’t know anything about that. A seventh book “Solomon builds a temple” came into my hands a few years ago, and is concerned – alas – with churchmanship, the snare into which the Brethren fell. More helpfully, a Brethren Archive site has begun to put material online. A photograph appears there, together with PDF’s of this “Wantoknow Series,” and a few other pamphlets. It tells me he was born in 1875 and died in 1958. The google search showed that his will provided a bursary for students at London Bible College.
That’s not really very much about a man who plainly spent a busy and productive life.
Then I made another Google search. This took me to the website of Ian Balfour, a Scottish lawyer (d. 2022) who developed an interest in Tertullian. The site seems to be a memorial, and I had never seen it before. I remember Ian. Indeed we corresponded, and he mentioned the Tertullian Project in one of his academic articles. In fact we actually met when he came to the Oxford Patristics Conference. He was a very gentlemanly, very legal figure. He was most certainly a Christian, but disinclined to discuss this with me then. I had not known of his passing.
But it is a small world. For on his site here (no. 13) was a photograph of one of his relatives, plainly from the 1950s, with two other elderly men. One of them was … Montague Goodman!
The internet is a bit fake, in a way. All of us who are online tend to treat it as the world. But in fact relatively few people are online, and contributing. Most people live and die, and all the important things take place offline. Twitter might be in an uproar, but nobody knows, or cares. Maybe we all need to spend less time at the keyboard.
- “DENNISON, DOROTHY. Author. (Mrs G Golden); b 1900, d ? She is probably to be identified with the author of several books for teenage girls in the 1930s and 40s, parallel to Montague Goodman’s series for boys. These were partly for Christian teaching and encouragement, part evangelistic, often in narrative form. Others were general school stories in the Enid Blyton genre, such as Mystery at St Mawe’s, Corrie and Co.(1948) and The Rebellion of the Upper Fifth (1949). The one hymn for which she is known, and for which she gave Scripture Union free permission to use, appeared in Golden Bells (1925 edn) and Hymns of Faith (1964), both with the name ‘Dennison’. Mr E F Golden of Maidenhead was one of the leaders of the 40-strong class of Maidenhead Crusaders in the 1950s. No.205.”↩