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Sunday, November 3, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dennis Bennett Dies; Charismatic Pastor

The Rev. Dennis Bennett, who transformed a dying Episcopal church in Ballard into a center of the charismatic renewal movement in the 1960s, died Friday night at his home in Edmonds. He was 74.

His wife, Rita Bennett, said he had had heart trouble for years and apparently suffered a heart attack.

He served 20 years as rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where his emphasis on the practice of speaking in tongues brought him followers, fame and controversy. The church's Friday-night prayer services drew hundreds and changed the lives of many.

"He turned the world upside down for a while," said Ruth Gothenquist, former youth director at St. Luke's.

Friends invited Janet Biggart and her husband to attend one of the services. She still remembers the date: Oct. 13, 1967. "Our whole life view changed," said Biggart, now director of the ministry of inner healing at St. Luke's. "The Bible became alive to us."

Others labeled the emphasis on speaking in tongues as anti-intellectual and divisive. But Mr. Bennett always responded to criticism with warmth and humor, said the Rev. Patrick Tomter, archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

"He was always and forever a man of grace and truth," Tomter said. "The diocese has always been particularly blessed by his presence."

Services will be held Wednesday at 1 p.m. at St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Mr. Bennett did not expect to become a spokesman for charismatic renewal when he entered the ministry.

"If anybody had told me a year ago I would be explaining and defending the gift of tongues, I would have said he was crazy," he said in an interview shortly after arriving in Seattle in 1960.

"But the experience is so real and beneficial that it cannot be denied."

Born in England, Mr. Bennett grew up in California and studied at San Jose State College and the University of Chicago. He was a Congregational minister before joining the Episcopal priesthood, serving parishes in Illinois and California.

He was pastor of a large, affluent congregation in Van Nuys, Calif., when he startled parishioners one Sunday in 1959 by declaring from the pulpit that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, a step that included speaking in tongues.

Such practices then were largely the preserve of Pentecostal churches. Few mainline clergy embraced them. His declaration brought Mr. Bennett national media attention but also angered some church members and denomination leaders, ultimately leading to his resignation.

The controversy didn't stop Bishop William Fisher Lewis from recruiting Mr. Bennett to take the reins at St. Luke's, a Ballard church the diocese was on the verge of closing. Only a handful attended Sunday services.

When he retired in 1980, the church had 1,000 members.

Mr. Bennett's strong academic credentials gave his charismatic beliefs credibility, Ruth Gothenquist said. "It just cut across what everyone believed - only Holy Rollers did that!" she said. "Everyone had to come hear him."

He wrote a book about his spiritual rebirth, "Nine O'Clock in the Morning." More than 500,000 copies were printed in 16 languages. Altogether, he wrote 11 books, some with his wife.

Interviewed on the occasion of his retirement, he expressed disappointment that the charismatic movement had not fulfilled its early promise of bringing people together across denominational lines. And he cautioned Christians to avoid anyone who claimed a monopoly on the truth.

"If there is any teacher who won't listen to to other teachers, don't listen to him," Mr. Bennett said.

Survivors include two sons, Conrad Bennett of Lynnwood and Stephen Bennett of Seattle, three grandchildren, and Rita Bennett, his second wife .

They celebrated their 25th anniversary last month. "I guess it was a party to say goodbye," Rita Bennett said yesterday. "I didn't know it at the time."

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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