Well, folks, here it is--the continuing story of the First Church of the Holy Rollers. In this episode, I discover that the church isn't quite all that it's cracked up to be. Enjoy!
* * *The first time I went to the Holy Roller Church on a Sunday was for Easter. Instead of being held in the music room, Sunday worship was held in the school’s auditorium/smaller gymnasium (my high school was more interested in sports than arts, so we never had an actual auditorium). Instead of casual clothes, everyone wore suits and dresses. The worship team was basically a woman on keyboard, a man on bass, and Pastor Jenny and Petey on vocals. They sang majestic sounding worship songs from the 1980s like “How Excellent Is Thy Name” and “El Shaddai.” I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs, since I didn’t know any worship songs at the time, so I just mouthed the words. Between the songs there was a lot more orgasmic praying, including occasional venturing off into tongues. As they praise team sang, a woman danced up and down the aisle. Her dancing was a mix of an Irish jig, a whirling dervish, and a drunk trying to pass a sobriety test. I figured that was just her way of praising God.
The sermon wasn’t too different from Pastor Dave’s Wednesday evening messages, except that he shouted a lot more. I guess since he wasn’t in such a small room he had more freedom to project his voice, even though his voice already bounced off the walls of the auditorium/small gymnasium. After the sermon we took communion, although I misheard the part where Pastor Dave said we were going to take the matzo bread and wine (it was actually grape juice) together, so the usher gave me another cup of juice so I could do it the right way. Pastor Dave led everyone into the Sinner’s Prayer (“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner, please come into my life . . .”) and we took the elements together.
After church let out, I felt odd. Going to church on Sunday wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. There were a lot more emotions and shouts than I expected. But I figured it was mostly because I was so used to the Wednesday night Bible study. I decided to try Sunday church again a few weeks later on my eighteenth birthday.
And that’s when I first realized something wasn’t right.
* * *
My eighteenth birthday was the day I had been waiting for all my life: the day I finally became an adult. Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of all the different ways I could celebrate my eighteenth birthday: getting a tattoo, going on a road trip, losing my virginity, etc. But when the day finally came, I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate than to go to church and praise God for putting up with me for eighteen years.
Church started off that day just like it did at Easter: singing old ‘80s praise and worship songs, the occasional speaking in tongues, the orgasmic hallelujahs, etc. But once Pastor Dave jumped up on the stage—literally, I might add—he told everyone to run around in circles with him. “We’re gonna bring down the walls of Jericho today,” he shouted as he jumped down off the stage and started running around the chairs. Even though I thought the walls of Jericho already came down thousands of years ago, I got up and joined the rest of the congregation running behind Pastor Dave. Only I just walked instead of ran, since running makes me throw up.
After about five minutes of running around the folding chairs, it was obvious that no walls were going to fall down, so the praise band continued to sing. When they got to the last song printed in the service flyer, the praise band extended the song into a jam session that included three harmonica solos from Petey, and tongue-talking solos from Jenny, Petey, and Pastor Dave. Everyone in the congregation was jumping up and down, shouting “Yes, Lord!” and speaking in tongues at full volume. There was a girl in the row in front of me that was on the ground giggling.
And I was practically crapping in my pants.
The cacophony of tongues, shouts, stomps, and endless keyboard-driven praise music swirled around my head like a carousel. I no longer felt like I was in a sacred place. In fact, the entire church service felt like anarchy, and not the cool kind of anarchy, either. Whenever I felt the Spirit, I felt cool, calm, and collect. I felt like God was telling me everything was going to be okay. Maybe that wasn’t the Spirit after all, because the congregants around me were supposedly under the influence of the Spirit.
About two hours into the service, church had not let out yet, and I knew my mom was waiting outside for me in the car (I didn’t get my driver’s license until after I graduated high school about three months later). Pastor Dave was saying to an elderly widow, “This is your husband. I’m in Heaven and I miss you.” Since channeling dead people is where I draw the line, I figure it was a good time to leave. If this is God’s work, then I don’t want anything to do with it.
I refused to go back to the church. To me, it was nothing more than a cult, and I was foolish enough to get sucked in. I still believed in Jesus, but if what I saw on my birthday was what Christianity was all about, I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore.
Despite distancing myself physically from the Holy Roller Church, I couldn’t stay away from them mentally. In the weeks following my eighteenth birthday, I kept having dreams of Petey and Pastor Dave telling me about Jesus. They weren’t scary dreams, either. In fact, the dreams made me miss everyone from the Holy Roller Church. One night I called Arlena (who, by this time, was no longer my girlfriend, but we got along better as friends than as a couple) and told her about the dreams. “Well, maybe God wants you to go back to church,” she suggested. “I mean, normally they’re all pretty chill. I guess the Spirit was just moving through them that day.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’ll go there this Wednesday night, but if they go crazy again, I’m out!” So, just like I said, I went to the church’s Wednesday night Bible study, and wondered if anyone would say anything. When I walked into the music room, Pastor Dave said, “Well, hello there, stranger! Haven’t seen you in a while. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied. The evening went fine. Nothing too crazy happened. Maybe one or two people spoke in tongues during the closing prayer, but I was used to that. After we finished praying, I realized that maybe I misjudged the Holy Roller Church. Maybe Arlena was right, and that what I saw on my birthday was just a one-time event. I decided to come back to Wednesday night Bible study the next week, and then maybe a Sunday or two here and there.
As I was getting ready to leave to go home, Pastor Jenny walked up to me and said, “Now what’s this I hear about you freaking out about us getting into the spirit?” I just chuckled and shrugged my shoulders.