How the 'Jesus Revolution' impacted the UK – and me

Kelsey Grammer as Chuck Smith, from right, and Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee in "Jesus Revolution."(Photo: Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)

People applauded as the credits rolled at the end of the Jesus Revolution movie when it was shown at my local multiplex, north of London.

It was then I realised that my Christian life – thousands of miles away here in the UK – had been deeply impacted by the revival that had seen many US 'hippies' embracing the gospel in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The film tells the story in a compelling, engaging style.

Few Christian movies find their way on to UK cinema screens, but the popularity of the film in US cinemas and a cast that included Kelsey Grammer – known to mainstream British audiences for his roles in TV sitcoms Cheers and Frasier – persuaded some cinemas to give the film a showing.

I'm glad they did. Because it underlined for me that, despite the 'Jesus Revolution' taking place in the United States, its ripples hit UK shores in a way that has had long-lasting effects on the British church - and very personally on me.

British church minister and author Andrew Whitman has researched the impact of the 'Jesus Revolution' on the UK church. It's fascinating to read his helpful analysis.

But for me, it's more than an academic study. I came to faith in the early 1970s, just as the impact of events in southern California was being felt – even as far away as west London, where I was then living and studying.

In 1973, I went to see the multi-media gospel musical, 'Lonesome Stone' at London's top rock venue, the Rainbow Theatre, and loved the music and drama. It was a long way from the music of the formal Baptist church I was then attending. The musical had been brought to London by a Christian businessman who had reached out to hippies who had found Christ in California.

That same year, I began writing for newly-launched Christian youth magazine, Buzz, and contributed to the publication for around 10 years. The magazine, influenced perhaps by the freshness of the US revival, brought much-needed creativity and innovation to the then-stuffy world of Christian publishing. More than one Church of England bishop has told me they read the magazine in their youth.

Buzz was part of the innovative Musical Gospel Outreach organisation that organised concerts and released albums in the UK for singers including Larry Norman. I saw Norman – now seen as a pioneer of Jesus Rock – in concert several times and bought all his albums as they were released.

His impact on the UK Christian music scene – and the types of worship music to be found in churches – was immense. Larry Norman was a figurehead for the US Jesus movement, with his songs being played and sung by the 'hippies' that were coming to Christ.

His rock anthem 'Why should the devil have all the good music?' provoked many young Christian musicians to write and sing about their faith. He set the stage for many top Christian bands in the US and UK to develop contemporary styles of music and build a legacy for today.

In August 1974, I camped at the first Greenbelt festival in rural Suffolk, eastern England – again founded by people influenced by the 'Jesus Revolution.' A performance of 'Lonesome Stone' topped the bill at that first festival. The movie, 'The Cross and the Switchblade' – inspired by New York evangelist David Wilkerson's autobiography – was the late-night screening. To be celebrating Christ with many other believers in a country field is a memory I'll treasure. This summer, Greenbelt celebrates its 50th anniversary.

In the early 1970s, Jimmy and Carol Owens' musicals Come Together and If My People were performed at venues across the UK. Both musicals were inspired by links to the US Jesus Movement. They were some of my first experiences of seeing the Holy Spirit at work, deeply affecting a congregation.

Jesus Revolution was fascinating to watch, and it was good to see a Christian film showing in a mainstream UK cinema.

But, for me, the impact of that Californian revival was like a stone thrown into a pool ... and its positive ripples spreading out across the world, and even to a schoolboy, new to faith, in west London.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK, and a former communications director with the CofE.