“I don’t know anything like the anointing of Billy Graham,” said Gerald Coates, pastor of Pioneer Engage Church in Leatherhead. “When we showed the latest My Hope film, The Worth of a Soul, Billy’s anointing filled the room.”
Gerald Coates is perhaps best known as the founder of Pioneer, which started as five people meeting in Cobham, grew to six hundred, and then became a network of churches. Ralph Turner’s recent book ‘Gerald Coates, Pioneer’ captures more of the story – what J. John calls ‘a remarkable man, a remarkable ministry and remarkable God’.
Gerald has experienced the Billy Graham anointing over several decades, having been with him, as he puts it “all the way from Earls Court to Wembley Stadium”. Gerald himself spoke at Wembley Stadium in 1996 at a worship event – featuring Noel Richards, Delirious, Matt Redman and Graham Kendrick. Nearly 45,000 were in attendance. “And I was told around 2000 made a response to the Gospel after I had spoken,” he said.
Of the four photos of admired figures which adorn his desk, one is of Billy Graham and another of Franklin, Billy’s eldest son. “Franklin gives the Gospel very simply, very clearly,” said Gerald. “Just like his father.”
It was Franklin who preaches on the film The Worth of a Soul which Gerald last month showed to a room of eighty people – some of whom would not normally go to church. At the end Rachel, one of the team at the church, rounded it off with a prayer.
“I feel we can’t just move on,” she said. “If any of you have got a story – tell us.”
One lady put up her hand, and the team prayed with her. The film had brought to the surface a long-standing issue with sexual abuse. “I cannot believe how free she has been since,” commented Gerald. “Her whole life has changed since she saw the film, and she has forgiven the person involved.
“Several other people who saw the film were not in a good place with God at the time, but they have been in church every Sunday since.”
Gerald allowed the children to stay in, and when the appeal to respond to the message came at the end, one boy turned to his father.
Have I ever done this before?” he asked.
“Yes – but it was a long time ago.”
“Well, I think it’s time I did it again,” said the boy, and raised his hand.
The church also showed a four-minute video about Billy Graham’s pastoral ministry with American presidents.
“The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association does everything so well,” said Gerald. “I got up at the end to speak, and found that I couldn’t speak. A senior businessman who was with me had tears streaming down his face.”
Since 2000 Gerald Coates and his wife Anona have taken a number steps into the unknown – including a four-year mission at Waverley Abbey House – the Grade II listed Georgian mansion which became home to Selwyn Hughes’ Crusades for World Revival. The Coates set the conference centre on a new path as a successful gathering place for Christians.
The Coates returned to Surrey to found a new church – again with just five people – which has become Pioneer Engage. He has a particularly good friendship and theological harmony with the local Catholic priest, Fr Michael, commenting that “we are pretty much together on most things”.
Gerald observes that he has spent much of his life “doing things which I am annoyed other people have not done”. The latest of these was writing a book called ‘Sexual Healing’, written in partnership with Nathan Ferreira. Nathan was a nineteen-year-old Christian who had been struggling for four years with an addiction to pornography.
Gerald sent a message to Nathan which he thought was from God: “You’re planning an exit – but it’s not the way out.” It turned out that the same week the young man had constructed a suicide note, saying that if he could not live for Christ he did not want to live at all. In response to Gerald’s message he abandoned his addiction and with the pastor’s help became free from his addiction.
The My Hope film series, of which The Worth of a Soul is a part, is one more way in which Gerald is allowing a liberating message to flow from Christ. In a few weeks’ time, Pioneer Engage will be showing the film again, with faith for more souls to respond.