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  Alexander Alfred Boddy (1854–1930), by A & G Taylor Alexander Alfred Boddy (1854–1930), by A & G Taylor
Boddy, Alexander Alfred (1854–1930), Church of England clergyman and leader of the Pentecostal movement, was born at Sidney Place, York Street, Cheetham, Manchester, on 15 November 1854, the third son of James Alfred Boddy (c.1809–1881), rector of St Thomas's, Cheetham, and his wife, Jane Vazeille née Stocks (1824–1903). After attending Manchester grammar school he was articled in 1871 to a firm of solicitors in Manchester. Admitted a solicitor in 1876, he turned down the offer of a partnership in the law firm, having passed through a spiritual crisis. He chose to prepare for ordination, and enrolled for a licentiate in theology at the University of Durham. In 1880 he was ordained deacon by J. B. Lightfoot, bishop of Durham, and in 1881 completed his final exams and was ordained priest. He was in Gateshead for three years and then briefly served in Bishop Auckland before being sent in 1884 as assistant curate to All Saints', Monkwearmouth, an industrial shipbuilding parish in Sunderland, neglected by a drunken incumbent.

Boddy revived the parish by preaching, organization, and visitation. The Sunday morning congregation increased from about 20 to 200 and confirmation candidates increased fivefold. He combined parochial work with extensive travels. He had visited the Alps in 1874 and, in 1882, he went to Russia, the Crimea, Italy, and Greece. The following year he was in Tunisia and Algeria and, after the publication of his account To Kairwan the Holy, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1886 he visited Lapland and northern Russia.

In 1886, on the death of the incumbent, Boddy became vicar of All Saints', Monkwearmouth. In 1890 a general mission was held in Sunderland and a missioner, with several assistants, was assigned to All Saints'. Among these assistants was Mary Pollock (1859–1928), daughter of James Murdoch Pollock, vicar of Cundall with Norton-le-Clay, Yorkshire. They married on 15 April 1891 and had three children. Boddy undertook further travels and publications, including five more books of travel writing. He also published a series of Roker tracts, which set out his teachings on spiritual renewal. In 1904 he travelled to south Wales to witness the Welsh revival, an outbreak of spontaneous prayer, singing, and confession of sin. He wanted the same phenomena in Sunderland and in 1906 began a prayer meeting in the All Saints' vestry. He also heard of the experiences of Thomas Ball Barratt (1862–1940), a Norwegian Methodist minister with an English father, who had undergone a Spirit baptism in Los Angeles, spoke in tongues, and returned to Christiania, where a revival broke out.

Boddy crossed the North Sea in March 1907 and was impressed: ‘I stood with Evan Roberts at the Ton-y-pandy meetings [during the Welsh revival], but never I have witnessed such scenes as in Norway’ (The Layman, March 1907, 376). The vestry prayer meetings at Monkwearmouth continued with increased intensity and on 31 August 1907, in response to Boddy's repeated invitations, Barratt arrived in Sunderland. After a fortnight, seventeen people had spoken in tongues (including Boddy's daughters) and by the end of seven weeks, the numbers had risen further and included Mary Boddy, who in 1899 after recovering from asthma, had discovered a gift for healing.

Boddy himself did not speak in tongues until December 1907. By then, developments in the parish had been the subject of hostile articles in the secular press. Also, the Pentecostal League, a 17,000 strong prayer network which Boddy had previously supported, denounced the ‘gift of tongues movement’ for being satanic and disorderly. On his own initiative and because other sections of the Christian press were closed to him, Boddy initiated his own magazine. Confidence (subtitled ‘A Pentecostal paper for Great Britain’) took its name from 1 John 5: 14–15 and Proverbs 3: 16 and so made reference to answered prayer. The paper was available free of charge from April 1908 and advertised a convention that was to be called at Whitsun from 6 to 11 June at All Saints', Monkwearmouth.

The programme for what became known as the Sunderland conventions included Bible study on speaking with tongues as ‘a sign of Pentecost’, the second coming of Christ, and divine healing, as well as general discussion about the conduct of meetings where spiritual gifts might be exercised. The balance between liberty and control is a perennial concern in non-liturgical gatherings that assume the Holy Spirit may directly inspire every participant. All those who attended were asked to accept the chairman's rulings. The pattern that Boddy set was continued in the next seven annual meetings and established a norm through which Pentecostal (or ‘charismatic’—to use later terminology) Christians might worship together or rationally discuss their beliefs and practices.

Boddy's period of greatest influence lasted until the outbreak of the First World War and was expressed through the annual Sunderland conventions and Confidence. Leading members of the emerging Pentecostal denominations in the UK (the Apostolic church, the Elim Pentecostal church, and the Assemblies of God) attended at least one convention and George Jeffreys, who founded the Elim movement, preached there in 1913. The international healing evangelist Smith Wigglesworth also attended and caused surprise by baptizing believers by immersion in the sea. Jonathan Paul from Germany and Gerrit Polman from the Netherlands were contributors, and T. B. Barratt also returned.

Boddy visited Germany and the Netherlands where he took part in their conferences and helped build up a common approach to Pentecostal matters. There was a range of opinions on the evidentiary status of speaking in tongues as a sign of Spirit baptism, on the second coming of Christ, on New Testament prophecy, on the permissibility and extent of female ministry, and on the wider role of the burgeoning new work of the Spirit. Was it to be a renewal movement within existing denominations or should it create fresh denominations specifically endorsing contemporary gifts of the Holy Spirit? Yet, under Boddy's leadership, these divisive issues were addressed without acrimony. Reports of the Whitsuntide Sunderland conventions indicate that Boddy accepted a fivefold gospel of regeneration, sanctification, baptism in the Spirit, healing and health, and the second coming.

In January 1909 Boddy met Cecil Polhill (1860–1938), one of the original ‘Cambridge seven’ who had gone out to China in the 1880s, to form the Pentecostal Missionary Union. This was the first Pentecostal missionary organization in the UK, and probably in the world, and it modelled itself on Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission. The wealthy Polhill helped to fund the Pentecostal Missionary Union and Boddy used Confidence to publicize it. Confidence also reported the activities of the International Pentecostal Consultative Council, which operated from 1912 to 1914, and which helped to stabilize and defend the new movement (for example, from the attacks of Jessie Penn-Lewis).

Boddy's own influence waned after 1914 because, unlike many leading Pentecostals in Britain, he accepted the rightness of the war. Their conscientious objection and his patriotism did not mix. Moreover, he refused to leave the Anglican church so that when Elim was formed in 1915 and the Assemblies of God in 1924, he found himself on the other side of a denominational line. In 1923, partly as a result of his wife's poor health, he became vicar of the rural parish of Pittington, co. Durham. He died, of chronic myocarditis and broncho-pneumonia at the vicarage, Pittington, on 10 September 1930, his wife having predeceased him.

William K. Kay


G. Wakefield, Alexander Boddy: Pentecostal Anglican pioneer (2007) · The Times (16 Sept 1930) · J. V. Boddy, ‘Memoir of Alexander Alfred Boddy, 1854–1930’, Donald Gee Centre, Mattersey, Doncaster · Boddy papers, Donald Gee Centre, Mattersey, Doncaster · D. Gee, These men I knew (1980) · Confidence (1908–26) · T. B. Barratt, diary extracts, Donald Gee Centre, Mattersey, Doncaster · A. A. Boddy, ‘Pentecost in Sunderland’, The Latter Rain Evangel, 1/5 (Feb 1909), 9–10 · A. A. Boddy, ‘The Pentecostal movement: the story of its beginnings at Sunderland and its present position in Great Britain’, Confidence, 3/8 (Aug 1910), 192–7 · A. A. Boddy, ‘Some sacred memories’, Confidence, 7/2 (Feb 1914), 23–6 · A. A. Boddy, ‘Winter days in Belgium’, Confidence, 13/1 (Jan–March 1920), 3–5, 10–12 · A. A. Boddy, ‘From Sunderland to Pittington’, Confidence, 132 (Jan–March 1923), 63–7, 70–73 · ordination register and Durham diocesan visitation returns, U. Durham L., archives · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.


Donald Gee Centre, Mattersey, Doncaster, corresp. and newspaper cuttings


A & G Taylor, photograph, priv. coll.; repro. in www.revival-library.org/pensketches/e_pentecostals/boddy.html [see illus.] · photographs, repro. in A. Boddy, ed., Confidence (1908–26) · photographs, Donald Gee Centre, Doncaster · portraits, All Saints, Monkwearmouth, co. Durham

Wealth at death  

£2026 6s. 8d.: administration (with will), 20 Oct 1930, CGPLA Eng. & Wales