J Wilbur Chapman
April 1911 was an exciting time for the Christians of Shrewsbury. They eagerly anticipated a visit by the famous American evangelist J Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918), accompanied by worship leader Charles M Alexander (1867-1920) [see footnote 1]. Organising this was quite a coup for St Nicholas’ Presbyterian Church, Castle Gates, since on this visit to England, Shrewsbury was one of only three venues visited by the evangelists. The meetings were to be held from April 20-28th, and the Music Hall, which then seated nearly 800, was booked for 8pm each evening, with a smaller meeting at 3pm, mainly for ministers. [see footnote 2]
Despite the advance publicity (which even included organising special train tickets), the opening day’s meetings were a big disappointment. Attendance was sparse and the spiritual atmosphere was flat. As an eyewitness later wrote, ‘We greatly enjoyed the services, but we realised that there was some great hindrance, and this was felt especially at the meeting for ministers.’ [see footnote 3] The writer was a visitor to Shrewsbury, who had come to the meetings from Wales with a friend. The friend was an American missionary, John Hyde (1865-1912), who was passing through on his way back to his native land after nearly 20 years in India. He will always be remembered as ‘Praying Hyde’, a title given to him by his friends in recognition of his extraordinary ministry of intercessory prayer (prayer for others).
Although he came from a godly home, as a young man Hyde seemed to have few qualifications for mission work. His hearing was not good, his speech slow, and he appeared to have little aptitude for foreign languages. Despite this, he persevered, leaving America for India in 1892. Soon after his ship sailed he received a letter from a friend who urged him to seek the baptism in the Spirit. At first he angrily rejected this advice, but then he had second thoughts, and spent the rest of the voyage seeking God for this blessing. Once he arrived in India it was evident that the Holy Spirit had transformed his life and ministry. He was characterised by total commitment to God, a deeply attractive holiness, and a great concern for those outside Christ. He became an effective preacher and Bible expositor, but, above all, he was a man of prayer. It was not just that he prayed, but at times a Spirit of prayer would seem to almost overwhelm him, and he would follow the Spirit in intercession until he sensed that God had answered. As evidence of this, Hyde was involved in a remarkable revival in Sialkot, which is now in north-east Pakistan.
After the first day of meetings in Shrewsbury on April 20th 1911 the burden to pray for the rest of the Mission came upon John Hyde. His friend wrote, ‘To those who knew him it was apparent that the load was weighing very heavily upon him. The faraway gaze, the remarkably sweet, pathetic, pained expression, the loss of appetite, and the sleepless nights – all went to prove this.’ [see footnote 4] Hyde responded to the burden of prayer, and the effect on the Mission was immediate. The Hall was packed and the next night over 50 people responded to the invitation to accept Christ. Chapman was aware that Hyde had committed to pray for the meetings, and he was so challenged by the difference that his prayer seemed to have made, that he asked Hyde to pray for him. This happened the next day at the hotel where Chapman was staying, with Alexander also present. Chapman later related what happened,
‘He came to my room, turned the key in the door, dropped on his knees, and waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping and beating. I felt the hot tears running down my face. I knew I was with God. Then with upturned face, down which the tears were streaming, he said, “Oh, God!” Then for five minutes at least he was still again, and then when he knew he was talking with God his arm went around my shoulder. Then he said something like this, "My Father, here is a minister who sorely needs Thy help, do bless him, I beseech Thee, may his life be precious in Thy sight. May he be girded anew with strength for service; may Jesus Christ become more real to him." And then there came from his heart such petitions for men as I had never heard before. Then he was still again for a little while, and when the closing words of the prayer were said, we rose from our knees, and I had learned a never-to-be-forgotten lesson concerning intercession. Jesus Christ became a new ideal to me, and I had a glimpse of His prayer life, and I had a longing which has remained to this day to be a real praying man.’ [see footnote 5]
Shrewsbury Music Hall
After this, Hyde, Chapman and Alexander spent almost the whole day in conference about the meetings. Then the other workers were called in, and a long time was spent in prayer. Hyde had to go elsewhere to preach on Sunday 23rd, but asked for a hotel room to be booked for him for the whole of the next week, so that he could fulfil the burden of prayer that God had laid upon him. The effect on the whole mission was remarkable. On the Sunday evening the crowds were so large that many had to be turned away from the Hall. The local paper recorded ‘scenes of remarkable fervour’, and that ‘Dr Chapman’s powerful addresses are creating a deep impression.’ [Shrewsbury Chronicle, 28.4.1911] Hyde’s biographer recorded that ‘the Spirit was present in the meetings in such power that all barriers were broken down and sinners were crying for mercy and being saved all over the house.’ [Praying Hyde, p.59] Members of the team also obtained permission to speak to the regulars at two public houses, and were well received.
After the week John Hyde went back to his friends in Wales. The following day he was seriously ill and could scarcely speak, but he smiled and whispered, “The burden of Shrewsbury was very heavy, but my Saviour’s burden took him down to the grave.” He recovered enough to sail back to America, but was soon diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. An operation provided only temporary relief, and he died on February 17th 1912.
 Mary Richards, ‘That Fine Hall’, Shrewsbury Music Hall in Victorian Times, Private publication 1996, p5; Shrewsbury Chronicle, 21.4.1911
 Francis A McGaw, Praying Hyde, Moody Press, pp.56-60. The book is out of print in UK, but secondhand copies of a 1970 edition may be available online. Hyde’s life story has been culled from this source.
 Praying Hyde, p.57; the exact chronology of these days is difficult to work out from the various sources – what I have written is a compilation which makes sense to me.
 J Wilbur Chapman, p.230; Praying Hyde, pp.58-9; Anon, The Kneeling Christian, Zondervan, 1986, pp.60-61; the details from these sources differ slightly – Chapman presumably recounted the story to different people in a way that emphasised different aspects. What is not in doubt is the profound impact these events had on him.