Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pentecostals, Baptists & Wrestling

My siblings and I were raised in church. That is an understatement along the lines of “Hey, that President Clinton fibs every now and then.” If the doors to the church were open, we were there. I’d like to say we were there willingly – and mostly we were – but there were a few times that we struggled with the concept of going to church when a particularly good program was on TV. This struggle was usually resolved by my father and occasionally Mr. Belt – who never came down on the side of TV.

This is not to say any television show was more exciting than when the Holy Spirit moved and Brothers and Sisters began to dance and holler and generally shout Heaven down. When I was about eleven or so, I invited a friend to our very Pentecostal church, and we had an exciting service with much noise and activity. He turned to me, his eyes wide, and said, “This is better than Championship Wrestling!” It doesn’t get any better than that.

Some people don’t like their churches that active. I’ve been to a couple of churches where nurses wander up and down the aisles checking for pulses and occasionally administering CPR if needed. Personally, I prefer knowing my pewmate is alive and kicking – and in the case of true Pentecostals – running and whooping, too.

And singing. I mustn’t forget that. Pentecostals can sing the Heaven out of song. Don’t worry if they don’t get it right the first time. They will the second or third or maybe 20th time. I’ve seen song services that have taken over the Sunday morning service, moved right on into the evening service, and have started making eyes at Monday morning. Listen, if you want a Pentecostal to stop singing a song over and over and over, the best thing to do is to sing loudly and clap vigorously. They won’t stop, of course, but you will be participating and getting exercise to boot.

Having been raised in such exciting churches, I had never thought much about it until I went to college and met Baptists who regarded the Pentecostals as primitives, along the lines of natives dancing around bonfires. If I had told them we made burnt offerings each Sunday, they would not have been surprised.

These young Baptists were fascinated by stories of our “rites” and would talk nervously about donning pith helmets and venturing to the nearest Pentecostal church. “Is there any night better for speaking in tongues?” they would ask, apparently not wishing to risk their lives for a quiet night. I can only remember one of my college Baptist friends who was brave enough to attend a service with me. He did fine. Last I heard, he is still a Pentecostal missionary preaching the Gospel to cannibals (former, we hope) in South America.

I don’t mean to imply Baptists are stoic and don’t show emotion. I attend a Baptist church and have seen displays of outright emotion that would certainly fit in any moderately Pentecostal church on a very slow night in the dead of winter during a blizzard where only two or three people show up. Just last week, I actually saw a deacon with a tear in his eyes. Of course, he was immediately ushered outside, but it was still emotion.

All kidding aside, we are all children of God, and I try to not get hung up on whose denomination is more correct. While mine is obviously more right than that of other folks, they have the right to get to God as best they can, poor ignorant souls. You can only hope  whatever misguided church they attend at least offers decent church dinners.

Ah, church dinners. A definite advantage to being raised in church is you get to attend many good church dinners. And by good, I mean tons of delicious food and fine company. Strong tea and fried chicken. Homemade pies and cobblers. Children running around. People laughing and talking as fast as they can. Folks gathered around a piano singing favorite hymns and old standards. Through all of that, if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of angel wings. It’s not Heaven, I know, but it’s close.

(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From Floozy & Other Stories, available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, BooksAMillion, and other retailers.)

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