Once upon a time there were four friends, named David, Ron, Dan, and Ken, who journeyed to another city to hear a certain gospel singer named Deloris. We were a motley crew: David and Ron were both black Baptists, Dan was raised in a Plymouth Brethren group that is similar to the Amish, and you all know what a hopeless mess Ken is, because that’s me.
Now it was with some reservation that I went along, because I don’t like the scratchy-screechy gospel music that black women sing on television, but I let the others convince me. It was about an hour drive by interstate. During the trip, David revealed a personal problem that was causing him much anxiety, and we all discussed it with him.
We arrived to discover that the worship service was to be held in a very dingy basement room, which was decorated in excruciatingly bad taste. The congregation was mainly black and completely sleazy. The only thing that prevented me from leaving early was the fact that I was in a group.
The service began. We sang nineteenth-century gospel hymns until we were hoarse. The congregation clapped their hands and shouted “Amen” and “Praise the Lord” at appropriate intervals. Deloris sang a few astonishingly excellent solos, and preached a passable sermon on what she learned when she spilled her orange juice into her television set. Just as I began to get comfortable, things got really weird: she announced that we were going to sing a certain hymn; during that hymn, she proposed to make her way through the congregation, and if she were led by the Spirit to do so, she was going to lay her hands on and pray for individual members of the congregation. In other words, a sort of altar call with curb service!
Well, I certainly hoped the Spirit had no designs on me!
The hymn began. The congregation swayed to the music, lifting hands high. A few people were praying ecstatically with tears running down their cheeks. There were occasional cries of “Praise God” and “Thank you Jesus” as the room got stuffy and steamy from the over-capacity crowd. I could see Deloris passing through the people, occasionally stopping to lay her hands on some hapless worshiper and offering a brief prayer. This isn’t so bad, I thought, as I craned my neck to see. Then she came to our row! I fervently prayed for invisibility, and it must have worked, because she didn’t come anywhere near me. She marched right up to David! David gasped as she laid her hands on his head. She then proceeded to pray in very accurate detail for the very problem that David had nervously chattered about in the car on the way to the service! I was flabbergasted because I was witnessing the impossible. David involuntarily burst into tears and fell incoherent and blubbering into his seat. Deloris was undeterred and continued to reveal even more intimate details, predicting that the whole thing would be resolved quite easily.
The drive home was very quiet.
Within a few weeks, David’s terrible problem evaporated right on schedule.
Many years have passed. This experience has opened my eyes to the variations of Christian worship. I’ve answered altar calls, I’ve worn vestments in processions, I’ve served as a lay reader in a liturgical service, and once I even discovered that the person speaking in tongues was me! I love the chants in liturgical worship, and I like services where people stand up and testify. I even preached in a Roman Catholic service once. I have my limits, but the Holy Spirit’s limits are obviously much broader than mine.
The moral of the story? The Holy Spirit has spread out a wonderful buffet. It’s okay to like the cocktail wieners on a stick, or the crackers with cheese; but try to sample as much as you can, including the things you’re sure you won’t like. Someday you might get a wonderful surprise!