This is probably the most famous revival that has been experienced by the UK, possibly because it is the most recent being from 1949 to 1953.
The sad thing is that the revival did not spread to the mainland. There was a good reason for this in that the quickest journey to the mainland was seven hours by boat, which made it difficult to get news of the revival out and difficult for anyone to go and taste it. Accurate accounts of the revival are few; it is a shame that nobody recorded what happened at the time. We are indebted to Mary Peckham, who was at the revival and who grew up on the Island, for her book which was published in 2004.
Another mistake people make about the Hebrides revival is that it was a one-off on the island. This is far from the truth. There was probably an even bigger revival in 1939 with equally amazing manifestations and fruit, just before the second world war and in my research, I have found that there was a revival going on somewhere on the island for 40 of the 50 years prior to 1949, so the islanders would have been very familiar with the idea of a revival.
There were three denominations on the island, one was the Church of Scotland and then there was the larger Free Church that did not participate officially in the revival and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland who opposed it. In the 1950s virtually everyone went to church every week – the church was the centre of the community. Sundays were universally held in high esteem and set apart for God. Members of the church all attended weekly prayer meetings. These prayer meetings were not like ones most of us would know – there would be a few designated men only who would be asked to pray. Everyone at school learned large chunks of the Bible by heart. The influences of the many past revivals had an enormous effect on the lives of the islanders. Their respect for God meant there was hardly any crime on the island – difficult for us to imagine these days!
Church on the island is much the same today as it was 70+ years ago. There is no music; singing is led by a precentor who is a man and they often sing the Psalms. They have communion in each church twice a year. It lasts from Wednesday night to Sunday and they normally invite an outside minister to conduct the services. I have been to one where there was singing then the minister spoke, then singing again and the minister spoke again etc. They separated those who were card-carrying members of the church who were allowed communion and those who weren’t. As a charismatic Christian, I hated the service and I asked God to get me out of there. He admonished me rather strongly, reminding me that He had started revivals in many of these types of services.
The Church of Scotland and the Free Church had given out an instruction that everyone should pray for revival. This was not difficult for the people were well practised. Prayer was the basis of the 1934 and 1939 revivals. Prayer was woven into the very fabric of the church in Barvas and many spontaneous prayer meetings would start as people met with each other in their homes. It was a community at prayer! ‘they came to know the secret of humility, of seeking the Lord, of depending on Him to work, of importunately laying hold of Him, of passionately pleading with Him.’ There were signs of revival early in 1949, with people being saved on the island. One pastor declared that it only needed a spark!