Ben H. Swett
A friend forwarded this to me. Once again it seems to be "the God I
fear vs. the God I hope for."
The God I fear condemns for even watching R-rated movies. (What will my
adulterous heart bring me with that God, except terrible judgment? What
about my non-Christian friends? We're all doomed.) The God I hope for will
lead us through our trials and show us the Truth.
The thing that confuses me most is that these things seem to result in good:
exorcisms and the like, or even hospitals for the poor (historically).
As I told my friend: "I don't know; I can only pray for God to lead
me in my own life, and not make judgments on others' :)"
This is a fine report. [attached] I have been following reports of this
revival for several years, and have read more than a few commentaries, pro
and con, concerning what is happening there.
My friend Karen ("Detachment Session, Karen") now lives in Pensacola,
and has attended this revival several times. She said the sermons are just
crude exhortations, but there is a great change in the atmosphere after
the sermon, when they move into their spiritual work. Although she didn't
expect it, she was "slain in the spirit" very much as this author
reported. It was for her an altered state of consciousness in which she
felt peaceful and cleansed and relieved of much that had been bothering
She said the people there are at least as aware of evil spirits as she is,
and they are prepared and organized to do something about it. She learned
this when she saw a man leaving hurriedly, his eyes black with rage. She
thought, "Oh, oh! There's a dark one!" -- and noticed that one
of the ushers was also watching that man. The usher spoke into a cell-phone
or hand-held radio. Two men and two women intercepted the man before he
got to the door, and spoke with him. After a bit, he went with them. She
asked the usher where those people were going. He said, "To one of
the private rooms, to pray for deliverance."
The "turn or burn" sermons are crude but scriptural. The very
first word Jesus preached in his public ministry was "Repent"
which means re-think, turn, or return. The problem is in their theology,
as I said in "Watershed" and elsewhere. They paint a false picture
of a condemning, punishing God.
Jesus said God isn't willing that any should perish, but souls do perish
contrary to the will of God. Therefore, those who are going toward their
own destruction do need to turn around. (And those who are going more-or-less
toward the will of God need to continue and refine their steering as they
24 August 2000
NewsBank InfoWeb The Orlando Sentinel May 11, 1997 Author: Michael McLeod,
of The Sentinel Staff Section: FLORIDA, Edition: METRO, Page: 6
A PANHANDLE LOURDES
WHAT BEGAN WITH AN EVANGELISTS SERMON HAS EXPLODED INTO A PHENOMENON THAT
HAS DRAWN 1.5 MILLION AND COUNTING
When first I heard of the people who claimed
The old time religion was real,
I said, I'll go down and take a look at the crowd.
It's just the weak-minded, I feel.
Something got ahold of me.
Something got ahold of me.
I went there to fight
But oh my, that night
Something got ahold of me.
--Old revival song, author unknown
Two years ago, on Fathers Day 1995, the congregation of the Brownsville
Assembly Of God in Pensacola convened as usual for Sunday morning services.
They filtered through the lobby and into the pews, a devout, conservative
mix, nearly 1,800 strong. There were baby boomers and retired military people,
sober church deacons and graying charter members. Some had worshipped in
the same congregation for decades. Their 5-year-old sanctuary was a stately
presence in a working-class side of town, rising up sharply between a barber
shop and a bingo parlor.
The service began promptly at 10:20 a.m. that day. One hour later, Brownsville
Assembly was on its way to becoming a Panhandle Lourdes. And the pastor,
with his dark suit still crisply pressed and his curly black hair impeccably
groomed, was flat on his back on the marble floor in the front of the sanctuary,
lost in a speechless daze. Several stalwart members of his flock soon keeled
over next to him. They were not sick. They were awestruck. For they had
been touched, they all believed, by the very hand of God.
That service, now referred to by the faithful as The Fathers Day Outpouring,
began with a sermon by a 43-year-old evangelist named Stephen Hill, who
had been invited to take the pulpit that Sunday by the Brownsville pastor,
James Kilpatrick. The two long-time friends were a study in contrasts. Hill
was hard-charging and plain-spoken, a Texas evangelist with a bristly mustache,
a low center of gravity and a pride in preaching straightforward turn-or-burn
sermons. He had a habit of stamping his feet while up on the platform waiting
his turn to preach. Kilpatrick liked to compare him to a bull pawing at
the arena gate.
As a young man, Hill had been addicted to drugs, including heroin, and was
delivered from the habit when a youth minister converted him. Most of his
preaching had been done in the missionary field, seven years of it during
a massive revival in Argentina.
Kilpatrick was a small-town Southern preacher who met his wife at Bible
school and had never been on an airplane in his life. He had felt the call
to become a minister as a quiet teenager growing up in Columbus, Ga. In
his 13 years at Brownsville, his congregation had come to respect his homespun,
passionate spirituality. But he was restless. He kept saying he didn't want
to just play church. He was tired of merely going through the motions of
weddings and church picnics and listening to the choir's living Christmas
tree at the Cordova shopping mall every year. He wanted to ignite his congregation,
wanted his church to be on fire for God. So he started praying for it. He
made it a part of his weekly routine. Every Thursday night he asked people
to come and pray with him. Often he'd be the only one there. Sometimes he'd
be joined by Elmer Melton, an usher and retired Marine drill sergeant, two
men praying together for a revival to take hold in Brownsville.
As part of his search, Kilpatrick became curious about how the power of
prayer was working in a scattering of charismatic churches in Great Britain,
Canada and the United States. There were accounts of people routinely and
literally being knocked off their feet. One of the international hot spots
of the movement was the Toronto Airport Church, where prayer teams would
hold their hands over people and entreat the Holy Spirit to enter them.
The recipients of such prayer would often laugh uncontrollably, speak in
tongues, shake, swoon and emerge from the experience saying that their devotion
had been raised to a new level. Worshipers from all walks of life including
Catholic priests and proper Anglican vicars had been humbled by the experience
and thrown to the floor. Kilpatrick sent his wife and several staffers to
Toronto to investigate. They came back enthused.
And now Hill, his guest speaker, was saying that he'd had a similar, transforming
experience when he met a charismatic vicar on a recent trip to Brompton,
England. When he walked into the church, he'd had to step over worshipers
still lying flat on the floor from that day's services. When he addressed
the Brownsville congregation on that Fathers Day, Hill spoke of falling
to the floor himself when the vicar prayed over him, of feeling the Holy
And he offered to share the feeling with them. He asked those who wanted
to be prayed for to move to the front of the church. About half the congregation
hesitantly came forward. As the choir sang Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord,
Hill moved from person to person, holding his hand over their foreheads
or chests. Now, Lord! Now! he shouted. More, Lord, more! Some people only
stood before him uncertainly, eyes closed, weaving slightly back and forth,
waiting for a lightning bolt that never came. Others trembled, wavered and
fell to the ground. Kilpatrick followed behind Hill, growing more and more
astonished. He rushed to the microphone and shouted, This is it! Get in!
Soon afterward, as Hill turned toward him, Kilpatrick reeled back and collapsed
on the marble floor.
It was as if a big, heavy blanket fell over me, Kilpatrick remembers. It
was like being a youngun again and being tucked in with a quilt. I couldn't
move. People would lean over and try to talk to me, and I just didn't care.
The chairman of the Assembly Of God congregations could have leaned down
in my face and it wouldn't have mattered.
Hazel Johnson, a member of the Brownsville choir, remembers looking out
at the scene in astonishment. I saw people I had known for years, reserved,
conservative people, deacons and elders, people who were on the board of
directors, and there they were, down on the floor. And I was thinking: These
are upstanding people. They don't give in to emotional displays. What is
happening to them?
One of the people whose collapse so amazed her was a 59-year-old retired
Coast Guard officer named Bill Bush. Bush had spent 28 years in the service,
retiring as a Coast Guard commander in 1987. I had never experienced anything
like that in my life, he says. The first time Steve Hill prayed for me I
didn't feel anything. But the second time, I fell to the floor. I could
not move my hands and feet. I was probably there for an hour. I said, Lord,
if this is really you, do something to let me know this is real. And this
is what I felt. I don't know if it was a vision, but it was as real as you
and I talking. I sensed, in the distance, a huge brush fire. And I felt
something reach inside of me and pull all the bitterness out of my life
and put it on that fire. And that fire consumed me. Then it was as if a
soothing oil was poured on my body. And I said, Lord, let me feel the joy
in my salvation like I have never experienced it before. And I felt more
joy and peace and contentment, there on that carpet, than I had ever experienced
in my life.
I walked up the steps, and I peeked in the door
And the devil said, Don't you go in.
I said, It won't hurt me. I'll just step inside
And set as far back as I can.
Something got ahold of me
Something got ahold of me
I went there to fight
But oh, my, that night
God really got ahold of me.
The line begins forming at 4:30 a.m. By noon it is a hundred yards long,
extending all the way to the bingo parlor. People bring folding chairs and
beach umbrellas and sit eight and ten across, slathered in sun screen, reading
their Bibles, listening to Christian music, wearing big straw hats against
the heat and T-shirts that say: Yes, Lord, We Will Ride and Commit Or Live
In The PIT! This is no place for Sunday morning frills. This is no leisurely
stroll to a favorite pew. This isn't even the Brownsville Assembly of God
any more, not really. This is now the Brownsville Revival.
This is football practice in the middle of the week, with nobody watching,
says Stafford Mile, a groundskeeper who has come here with a group of more
than 100 people from the Life And Praise Temple in Auburndale. This is total
commitment to my Lord and Savior.
Worshipers stand in line for up to 15 hours to get a seat for services that
begin, most nights, at 7 p.m. When the service concludes shortly after midnight,
they do not go back to their campers and their hotel rooms and collapse
for a long night's rest. They shower. They nap. And then, 4 1/2 hours later,
they reappear in the parking lot, lined up for the next night's revival.
Over the past two years, more than a million and a half people from all
over the world have come to the Brownsville church to attend revival services
that are now held five times a week. Many believe that the revival is a
move of the Holy Spirit, a sign that the second coming of Jesus Christ is
close at hand. So they come from Auckland, New Zealand, and Ludenshied,
Germany, from Victory Fellowship in Raleigh, N.C., and the Christian Center
in Fort Stockton, Texas. Many are pastors who want to recapture faded zeal.
Most are born-again Christians who want to deepen their faith. All of them
hope to be touched by God in some way, as they believe the people who took
part in that initial Fathers Day Outpouring were touched.
And it happens. At least, something happens. For night after night, by the
end of a revival service, dozens of dazed worshipers are stretched out on
the floor of the Brownsville Assembly sanctuary. Some refer to this spiritual
reverie as being slain in the spirit. Others use a more casual Brownsville
coinage: They call it carpet time. Ushers keep a store of wheelchairs on
hand so that people who cannot rouse themselves at the end of services can
be wheeled out to their cars. Designated drivers are strongly recommended.
And John Kilpatrick has the revival he prayed for. I wake up every morning
trembling because I know I am going to be in the presence of the Lord, he
says. I love this revival. I don't know what I will do when it ends. There
is no telling when that will be. Already it is the longest running revival
in this country in 90 years, and it shows no signs of abating.
Kilpatrick insists that the point of the revival is not to knock people
senseless but to save their souls. This may or may not involve an encounter
with Brownsville's plush mauve pile. Those for whom nothing dramatic happens
are no less spiritual than those who have an experience of some sort, says
the Rev. Thomas Trask, general supervisor of the Assemblies Of God Congregation,
headquartered in Springfield, Mo. Being slain in the spirit is not something
new. It is a part of our denomination's history. It's why some people used
to call us holy rollers.
And it's part of the reason for the success of this odd wedding, a conservative
Southern church, circa 1997, a counter-culture phenomenon, circa 1969. Modern
charismatics began appearing as part of the Jesus movement of the hippie
era and have flickered in and out of several American congregations ever
since. Interest in charismatic worship began accelerating globally about
five years ago, partly due to the influence of televangelists Benny Hinn
and Rodney Howard-Browne. The essence of charismatic worshipping is the
belief that miracles still happen: Devout Christians can prophesy, heal,
speak in tongues. They can also be caught up in an emotional, unpredictable
and sometimes extremely physical encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Margaret Poloma, a sociologist at the University Of Akron, is writing a
book about the movement. She did a survey of 900 worshipers at Toronto,
386 men and 523 women from 20 countries. Most said they had experienced
some sort of physical reaction during the course of worship services, from
being woozy or drunk in the spirit, to shaking violently, to slipping quietly
to the floor. Seventy percent reported, as a result of their experience,
increases in personal spiritual refreshment, holiness and healing. Poloma
says this kind of worship gives people a chance to experience catharsis,
a transforming emotional outpouring that can help them break free of old
habits or reach a new level of awareness, or both. She sees Toronto and
Pensacola as a sign that Protestantism is trying to re-invent itself, finally
breaking out of the pious old lock step that says the mind is good and the
body is evil, that worship is mental, not physical. When we go to church,
we've been denying a considerable part of our humanity, namely our bodies,
she says. What I find coming out of this movement is a genuine post-modern
phenomenon, a chance for worshipers to have a fuller, more physical expression
Both Kilpatrick and Hill prefer to see what is happening in more traditional
terms. They call it a plain old-fashioned revival. Kilpatrick is a student
of the great Cane Ridge Revival, which took place in Kentucky in the early
1800s and stirred such fervor that men bayed like animals while women snapped
their heads back and forth so rapidly that their hair was said to crack
in the air like bullwhips. Madness, said the social critics of the day.
But like other great American revivals, Cane Ridge inspired people to go
out, once they stopped shaking, and do good. The meetings resulted in broad-based
social change, including the building of churches, orphanages and hospitals
for the poor.
They may be the leaders of this revival, but both Kilpatrick and Hill have
been careful to maintain low profiles. Once, when the two men were greeted
by a standing ovation, they rebuked the crowd for giving them credit due
only to God. I didn't have nothin' to do with it, says Kilpatrick. I was
flat on my back. Asked how he feels when he moves through the Brownsville
crowd at evenings end, praying for the hoards who encircle him, Hill responds
Assembly of God congregations have had their problems with flashy, high-profile
evangelists (see Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker). This church and its national
office want to avoid any controversies, moral, monetary or otherwise. Though
Brownsville services are televised, the broadcasts are cut off before carpet
time. There is no star-struck spectacle in front of the cameras.
And for all the attention it has received, Brownsville Assembly is still
a fusty old Southern church. Rose Compton, the office manager, still runs
the church with a brittle efficiency, jealously guarding the pastor's free
time and worrying about the bills. Since the revival started, the utility
bill has quadrupled to $15,000 a month; child care is running $50,000 a
year. A board has been established to oversee the finances of the revival,
which takes in roughly $12,500 each night. Most of the money is going to
improvements and expenses made necessary by the revival. Volunteers, many
of them the original members of the congregation, now work long hours to
keep services running and give up their own seats in the church so that
pilgrims can attend. Bill Bush, the Coast Guard officer, is still the head
usher. Elmer Melton, the former drill sergeant, is one of his assistants.
How weird can a church be, after all, if the Marines and the Coast Guard
are on duty?
The answer is: pretty weird. Once, a 9-year-old girl fell to the carpet
during one of the Brownsville services and began making dreamy, repetitive
motions, like a lazy gardener weeding a flower patch. Later, the girl was
brought in front of the congregation to explain what she had been doing.
I was pulling lost souls out of hell, she said. Then I was sending them
to heaven. And not a moment too soon.
The spirit that rules over Brownsville is in a hurry. This is no time for
theological subtleties, no place for long, contemplative walks with God.
This is religion in black and white, immediate and operatic, filled with
steep angles and sharp turns and shrill sound bites. Now, Lord! is the call.
More, Lord! is the slogan. It's on all the T-shirts. It's in the driving
lyrics of the contemporary, soft-rock hymns that start off every worship
service. It's what Steve Hill and James Kilpatrick say when they pray over
people. And it's in the stories that are offered up as examples of the dramatic
turnarounds that have overtaken people who have come here.
JoAnn Lowell was a senior director with Mary Kay cosmetics. She drove a
pink Mary Kay Cadillac. Her husband owned a successful credit bureau in
Atlanta. Outwardly, she appeared to be extremely successful. But she was
only involved in Mary Kay out of sheer loneliness. Her husband was a dictatorial
alcoholic. She had heard people talking about Brownsville in her own church,
and one day, en route to a regional sales meeting, she and another Mary
Kay director made an impulsive detour. They found themselves nosing the
pink Cadillac into the Brownsville parking lot. Once inside, the women were
swept away by the fervor. JoAnn found herself stretching out her arms and
dancing in church. Both she and her friend hit the carpet more than once
that night. I never felt such freedom, she says. I felt I had crossed over
the line and God now had total control. On the way back to Atlanta, they
played a tape they had bought in the church lobby, a tape filled with the
revivals throbbing, soft-rock music. When they slipped it into the Cadillac's
tape deck, just the sound of the music was enough to put them under the
spell of the Spirit all over again. Fortunately, JoAnn adds, The Holy Spirit
only fell on the person sitting on the passenger's side. Eventually she
talked her husband, Robert, into going to the revival. Midway through the
service he tried to leave. Steve Hill came up to him. I turned, and when
he just barely touched me it knocked me back five feet and up against a
wall, says Lowell. It knocked some sense into him, shaking him loose from
the shell of his old, driven self. In the year since then he has lost 20
pounds. He no longer drinks or smokes. His relationship with his wife has
been transformed. The Lowells say they frequently commute to Pensacola so
they can work as volunteers at the revival.
Patrick Waters was a 23-year-old bouncer and drug dealer at a Destin bar.
He weighed 300 pounds and made it a point to grow a goatee and a pony tail
to look even more intimidating. He especially liked getting into fights
and punching people in the temple, because he thought it was funny to watch
their eyes roll back in their heads. His father, a Baptist minister, finally
talked him into going to the revival. Waters went as a lark and sat in the
balcony to gawk at the spectacle below. But the music got to him, and so
did the sermon. There were tears in his eyes when the time came for the
altar call, when people are asked to come forward and ask Jesus to forgive
them and come into their lives. When his stepmother pulled Patrick by the
elbow and said, Time to go, big fella, he went. I was crying so hard, he
says. First time I ever cried since my grandmother died. And I didn't know
how to pray. So I just said, God, it's me. Here I am. I don't claim to be
a fruitcake, or nothing like that, but I heard God's voice. And it wasn't
like James Earl Jones or nothing, but the voice just said: Buddy, you don't
know how many times I've saved you. And then it was like one of those Poltergeist
movies, when all the evil spirits come flying out of somebody's chest. All
the evil just came out of me, and I felt this awesome peace. I've got the
joy, man. I'm happy. Even when I'm not happy, I'm happy. Happy people make
lousy bouncers. Waters has cut the hair, shaved off the goatee and found
a new vocation: He is enrolled in the school of ministry at Brownsville
There are hundreds of stories of people who have been restored at Brownsville.
But there are also tales of disillusionment. Not everyone who was present
at the original Fathers Day Outpouring was awestruck. The church lost roughly
200 members when the revival began. Some simply wanted to worship in quieter
surroundings. Others had stronger reservations. A half-dozen former members,
all of whom are now worshipping at Southern Baptist churches, say that they
are bitter about what happened to their church. All requested anonymity,
saying they didn't want to further distance themselves from friends who
remain active at Brownsville. And all of them have a strong belief that
the physical manifestations at the church are inappropriate. All believe
that the Bible offers no support for that sort of worship. I didn't like
it when I looked up there and saw that the pastor was knocked out and another
man was taking over, says one woman. What kind of leadership is that? There
was tremendous pressure to conform, at first, said a man who resigned as
a deacon soon after the revival hit. One time I did kind of collapse. My
legs kind of bucked up on me a little. But afterwards I was looking around
at them all, running after people and catching them, and I said to myself:
This is ridiculous. If God can knock people out, why can't he go ahead and
catch them too? One man said when he prayed about the matter, the message
that came through from God was: My word is sufficient.
But Brownsville's harshest critic is Hank Hanegraaff, the head of a nondenominational
religious watchdog organization in California called the Christian Research
Institute. He's the star of a syndicated radio talk show about religious
matters and the author of Counterfeit Revival, a book that is highly critical
of the charismatic movement. Hanegraaff calls the Brownsville revival psycho-social
manipulation. He says that people who go to the revival hoping to be slain
in the spirit are deluded. If they fall to the floor, it is not because
of the Holy Spirit, he says, but because of crowd dynamics and the power
Linda Smith, a Methodist minister who lives in Pensacola and has taken an
interest in the Brownsville revival, says that its critics are people who
want their religion to be precise and predictable. When God shows up as
he has shown up at that church, nothing is normal, she says. It's as if
he has blown a hole in the roof and is just pouring his power down on that
place. And people become afraid when God shows up. Suddenly he jumps out
of the Book, and they can't close it.
What is going on here is biblical, says Jana Sumner, a legal secretary from
Claremore, Okla. She is first in line at Brownsville, having arrived to
claim her spot at 2:30 a.m. When you come here, you better leave behind
your preconceived idea of church and God, she says.
I soon discover how right she is. The choir members are bouncing up and
down, a hundred people in the front of the sanctuary flying this way and
that and making the occasional mid-song pirouette, their purple robes and
yellow collars flying. Even the ushers are dancing in the aisle. The pilgrims
are freshly packed into the pews, where the fervor and anticipation and
the steam of the long day outside rise up from them like a shimmer over
hot tarmac. For more than an hour they stand and sing, matching the choir
and the back-up band chord for chord, decibel for decibel. They don't just
belt out an upbeat holy tune or two. They work their way through the whole
CD. The songs are imploring, devout, emotional:
I want to know you
I want to hear your voice
I want to touch you
I want to feel your grace
I want to know you, Lord
The lyrics are all like that, the kind of one-on-one appeals that usually
only rise up from children or death beds. The people sing with both arms
held high and their faces thrown up towards the ceiling. Already some of
them are crying. A young man in jeans and a crisp denim shirt is falling
to his knees, then bending to touch his head to the floor in abject devotion,
his shoulders shaking. In the front of the sanctuary, Kilpatrick and Hill
sit in padded chairs, grinning and tapping out time while a man with long
hair and elegant, tapered fingers directs the choir and bangs out melodies
on an electric piano. The man steers the music into one crescendo after
another. Hallelujah! he says.
The choir director is the good cop. Steve Hill is the bad cop. He steps
to the pulpit when the music finally dies down, weighing in with a booming
rasp and a battering-ram sermon designed to put sinners on their knees.
Kilpatrick only preaches on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, Hill carries the
load. In two years, Hill has missed only one revival service, when the small
commuter plane he was flying on ran into rough weather. It was terrifying.
People thought the plane was going to crash. Being a preacher, Hill used
the experience as material for a fear-of-God sermon that goes something
like this: Imagine you are flying somewhere, and you look out the window
and see one engine burst into flame. Then the other engine goes. And then
the plane starts to nose-dive, and you realize your life is soon to end.
Would you have to kneel in the cabin and repent then and there, seeking
eleventh-hour forgiveness for all of your sins? Friend, if you are not ready
for that plane to crash, if you do not eat, sleep, drink and breathe Jesus,
I have doubts about your salvation.
You'll get no fluffy, Twinkie, feel-good sermon from this pulpit. Hill is
not afraid to preach about sin, and he is not above suggesting that, yes,
the end of the world may be near. He is here to tell you just how close
judgment may be, and just how easy it is to fall, to sin. Friend, it can
happen at the check-out line. Look at this, he says, leaning over the pulpit
and turning his head back and forth. This is my neck. It works like this.
The next time you catch yourself standing in line at Wal-Mart and looking
at the cover of Cosmopolitan, just turn your head away and look at the Tic-Tacs.
Do you have R-rated movies at home? Get rid of them. Marilyn Manson CDs?
Throw them away. Because if you think you are a good Christian, but you
can watch a movie that involves a man and a woman taking off their clothes,
you have backslid. You need to do as one man did after a Hill sermon: He
strode to the pay phone outside, called his wife and told her to cancel
Every night, after the sermon, Hill makes the altar call. Sometimes he does
a countdown to dramatize the narrow window of opportunity. Sometimes he
has a trumpet player play reveille to help wake up the backsliders. Hurry!
he says. Hurry! People rush forward and kneel at the altar, many of them
weeping. In four hours they have covered a month of Sundays' worth of wailing
for lost souls, fearing God's wrath, proclaiming their love for their Savior.
By the time the altar call rolls around, I feel like the only person at
the party who is not having a good time. The sermon sounds like stuff I
heard from the nuns in second grade. The music is no match for gospel or
Gregorian. I don't think Cosmo cleavage is sinful. Neither is my premium
movie package with Time-Warner. And I hate it when people talk about the
end being near. It seems so self-indulgent. We're here. We've been born.
Must be time to close down the salad bar.
I still am conducting a lively inner debate on these issues when the sanctuary
lights dim, the music softens, and the prayer teams begin moving through
the crowd. From the balcony, I watch. Soon the floor is covered with a wave
of fallen worshipers. And it is biblical. Because from this point on, the
place is not driven by the bombast of the preacher or the pumped-up passion
of the choir. It comes from the hunger of the crowd for a sign, a touch,
a confirmation that all that waiting in line was not in vain.
I find myself watching Kilpatrick. He seems to linger at his task more than
the others who are praying for people; he is much more likely to pause and
speak a few words in someone's ear before he sends them reeling. He gently
takes a man's glasses off, tucks them into the man's breast pocket. Then
he encircles the man with his arm, holds up a hand, palm out. Shooo! The
man falls backwards.
A moment later a woman comes up to me in the balcony and asks if I want
to be prayed for. OK, I say. She steers me downstairs and through the crowd.
Soon I am standing in front of pastor Kilpatrick. He looks at me. Let me
pray for you, brother, he says. It sounds so casual in the soft Georgia
accent, as if he has just wondered out loud if maybe I wanted that hedge
trimmed up just a bit. Then he leans over, pats me lightly on the back,
and seems to pick up a message from somewhere. Whoo, boy, he says. It's
like you're on a bungee cord.
Nobody touches me, but suddenly it is as if I have been enveloped by a cushion
of air with a mind of its own, and the next thing I know I am on the floor.
It is like fainting, only without the nausea. It is like being drunk without
the headache. It is like being suddenly propelled into that half-conscious
state of mind when you first wake up in the morning. I do not hear the voice
of James Earl Jones or see a burning brush fire approaching me. I just sit
there wondering if I can open my eyes. I can. Then I wonder if I can move.
I do. Then I think: I better grab my notebook. When I stand up, I feel as
if I have just awakened from a catnap.
I don't have enough faith to tell you it was the Holy Spirit. I am not quite
cynical enough to say it was psycho-social manipulation. Whatever hit me
was humbling. It was safe. It was peaceful. It sure broke the ice.
The next night I volunteered to be a catcher, to follow Stephen Hill around
as he worked through the crowd, praying for people. For an hour, I caught
people from all over the world. I caught old people, young people, big people,
little people. Sometimes I got the full weight of them and eased them down
gently. More often it was all I could do to snake a hand through the thick
crowd and put it on the small of someone's back while somebody else eased
them down from the other side. It wasn't an I-believe-and-you-don't situation.
I wasn't judging them, and they weren't judging me. Here, carpet time seemed
to make more sense than sitting in a pew and woodenly responding to prayers
I wasn't paying attention to. Here, I was helping people find whatever it
was they had come for. And there was a real joy in doing that.
I saw an old man falling back. Somebody else had him by the waist and I
cupped the back of his head and eased it toward the carpet. The crowd swirled
on past us, and there we were, him with his eyes closed and this wonderful
peaceful expression on his face and his white baseball cap still clutched
in his hands, me feeling his wiry black hair on the palm of my hand and
just wondering what sort of dream he was dreaming. When I looked back a
moment later I realized a woman, probably his wife, was sitting over him
patiently, waiting for him to wake up. When I tried later to think of a
word to describe that scene, the word I came up with was holy. It just looked
I said when I went I couldn't stay long
I must be home by nine.
But the fire came from heaven
And I fell to the floor
I got home five hours late, but felt fine.
Something got ahold of me
Something got ahold of me
I went there to fight
But oh my, that night
Something got ahold of me.
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