When Baltimore pastor Bart Pierce cried out
for more of God in January 1997, he had no idea the Holy Spirit would change his life and
his congregation forever.
Bart Pierce will never forget the day the Holy Spirit fell at
his church in the rolling suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. It wasnt gradual, nor was
it subtle, God showed up during the Sunday morning service on January 19, 1997.
Pierce, pastor of Rock Church in Baltimore, and his wife, Coralee, had just returned
from a pastors retreat in St. Augustine, Florida. Pierce says he went to the retreat
with "a desperate, deep hunger for more of God."
While there, he heard Tommy Tenney recount an event that occurred in a Houston church a
few months earlier. Without warning, during the early morning service on Oct. 6, 1996, God
had sovereignly split a Plexiglas pulpit in two before the amazed congregation. Afterward,
an unusual movement of repentance broke out at the Houston church.
Tenney, a third-generation traveling evangelist, told the gathered pastors that the
drama of the split pulpit was totally eclipsed by the awesome presence of God that filled
the sanctuary immediately after the supernatural event. "The revival," Tenney
told them, "was characterized by a deep sense of humility, brokenness and
While Tenney spoke, many of the pastors, including Pierce, fell on their faces weeping.
Pierce spent much of his time at the retreat prostrated and weeping before the Lord. When
it ended, he asked Tenney to come back to Baltimore with him for the weekend.
On the 18-hour drive home, Pierce, his wife and Tenney had "an encounter of God as
we talked about what God was doing and what we believed," Pierce says.
"We would sit in the car and weep," recalls Tenney. They reached Baltimore on
Saturday night, filled with a hunger for more of the Lord.
Turned Upside Down
The next morning Pierce knew something was up as soon as he got to the church building.
"Two of my elders were standing inside the door weeping," he says. "We
started worshipping, then people began standing ups all over the building crying out
loud." Some came forward to the altar; others would "start for the altar and
crumple in the aisle."
Even those outside the sanctuary were affected. "Back in the hallways, people were
going down under the power of God. We never really got to preach," Pierce says.
Tenney and Pierce were supposed to be leading the service, but both were too overcome by
the intense presence of God to do anything but cry.
"There was a deep sense of repentance that grew increasingly more intense,"
Pierce recounts. At 4 p.m. there were still bodies lying all over the church floor. Pierce
and Tenney tried several times to speak, but each time they were overwhelmed by tears.
"Finally," says Pierce, "we told our leadership team, `Were going
home to change clothes. We were a mess from lying on the floor and weeping."
The two men went home and changed. When they got back to the church at 6 p.m. people
were still there, and more were coming. That first "service" continued until 2
in the morning.
Monday night, people returned, and the same thing happened. It happened again Tuesday
"Many people simply crawled under the pews to hide and weep and cry,"
remembers Pierce. "At times the crying was so loud, it was eerie."
Pierce noticed new faces in the congregation. "We didnt have a clue as to
how they knew about the service, because we dont advertise at all," he says.
When he asked, some of the visitors told amazing stories.
One man said he was driving down the road when God told him, "Go the Rock
Another woman said she was sitting at her kitchen table when she got the same message.
She didnt know what a "Rock Church" was, but she found a listing in the
phone book. After the service she tearfully confided that she had been planning to leave
her husband the next morning.
"God had totally turned her heart," says Pierce. "She and her husband
have been totally restored."
For the first few weeks, Pierce says, "every ministry at the church was turned
upside down." The church has always been known for its mercy ministries-its homeless
shelter for men, its home for women in crisis, its food distribution program, which moves
7 million pounds of food a year, and its ministry to revive Baltimores inner city.
But when the revival started, everything took a back seat to what God was doing. Pierce
would find his staff lying on the floor in the hallways or hear a thump against the wall
and find someone lying on the floor in the next room, crying uncontrollably.
People reported supernatural events in their homes, too. One womans unsaved
husband had a dream in which everyone spoke Chinese. He came downstairs and found his wife
lying on the floor speaking Chinese. His son, who was supposed to be getting ready for
school, was lying on the floor in the living room, weeping and crying. That day, the man
One night a boy from a local gang came forward weeping while Tenney was still
preaching. "He came to the front, looked up at me and said, "Youve got to
help me, because I just cant take it anymore," Tenney recalls.
"This type of brokenness is what draws Gods presence," he says.
"God will never turn away from a broken heart and a contrite spirit."
Pierce agrees. He believes the congregation has "opened the heavens somehow by our
crying for Him. He has become our pleasure." Both he and Tenney say they have
"turned to seek His face, from seeking His hands," meaning they are seeking to
know God intimately rather than seeking Him for his benefits.
The Power of His Presence
"We dont have any agenda," says Pierce. "We come in and begin to
worship, and His manifest presence comes in. It is overwhelming. Sometimes there is
nothing any of us can do. We have turned from trying to control the meeting to letting Him
be the object of why we have come."
Tenney calls it "presence evangelism." He explains, "We understand
`program evangelism, where you pass out tracts or put on an evangelistic play or
host Alpha classes. John Wimber helped us understand `power evangelism where people
encounter the power of God as you pray for the needs in their lives.
"But what happened in Houston and what is happening in Baltimore we call `presence
evangelism. The presence of God becomes incredibly strong to where people are
literally overwhelmed. They are drawn to His presence. They arent drawn by the
preaching; they are drawn by the presence of God. It is hard to talk about without
The church doesnt keep figures on the numbers of people who have come to faith in
Jesus since the revival started because they encourage people to go back to their home
churches. Many pastors bring their people to the services in Baltimore because they know
that Rock Church wont steal their flock.
In Contrast to the Toronto Blessing services that have drawn people by the thousands
from all over the world to the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in Canada, most of the
people who have come to the Baltimore revival services have been from the local area,
including pastors from other churches. "On any given night we have 12 to 20 pastors
from the Baltimore area," Pierce says.
Still, some do come long distances. One night they looked out and saw 47 Koreans who
had chartered a plane to come. Another time a group from Iceland was there. They have had
visitors from Britain, Germany, the Ukraine and all across America.
Before Easter, the church put on a play about heaven and hell called Eternity. Crowds
filled the 3,000-seat sanctuary. Some nights several hundred people had to be turned away
because there was no more room.
And during one two-day period, more than 700 came forward to give their lives to
Christ. The church originally planned to host the play for two weeks, but they continued
an extra week because of the tremendous response.
A Dual Pull on the Spirit
Tenney believes there is "a connection between what the Rock Church has traditionally
done"-meaning the churchs strong ministries to hurting people outside the
church-and the way the heavens have opened in Baltimore.
"It came to me one day that when Jesus was in Bethany He was always at Mary and
Marthas house," he says. "Mary cared for the divinity of Jesus, while
Martha cared for His humanity. Martha made sure the bed was clean and the food was
Mary chose the better part--sitting at his feet-but that didnt mean Marthas
part didnt have to be done, he says.
A church that does both-sits at Jesus feet and ministers to the needs of the
hungry and hurting-exerts "a dual pull on the spirit realm," Tenney says.
"There is a special visitation of God that accompanies it. When Mary and Martha
called Jesus, He came and raised their brother from the dead."
Today, services in Baltimore are quieter and gentler than they were during the first
few months of revival. But the worship music is powerful, and the singing draws the
congregation to Jesus. Most of the songs were written by people in the church after the
After an hour or so of worship, Tommy Tenney takes the microphone and begins to preach.
He asks the audience to worship Jesus in a way they never have before-to worship Him the
way Mary did when she broke the alabaster jar, poured the ointment on Jesus feet and
wiped His feet with her hair.
"We have turned our churches into a `bless me club where people come to get
something," he tells the crowd. "They are always wanting to receive. They fall
with their blessing-of-the-month, then get up and continue on as though nothing has ever
As Tenney continues to speak, people begin to cry, most quietly, but some more openly.
He invites people to come forward. Almost everyone does, either kneeling or lying with his
face on the floor before the altar.
"Just for one night in your life, worship Him," Tenney encourages them.
"He wants to manifest Himself to His people. For once in your life set aside what you
want from God, and give Him the glory."
Those looking for dramatic supernatural displays wont find them here. But they
will feel the intense presence of God.
The impact of the revival is seen in the lives that have been changed for eternity.
There have been physical healings, healed marriages, burned-out people empowered to follow
God, prodigals returned and hundreds of people who have found Jesus for the first time.
"Extreme celebration can come only after extreme repentance," Tenney
cautions. "The world is tired of us calling them to repentance when we are standing
in hypocrisy. We need to repent.
"It is not for us to point the way to a lost world. It is for us to lead the way.
If the church will begin to walk in humility and repentance, then the world will see His