At one point, back in college - in the early nineties - the girl I was dating decided that we should find a church. I wasn't a believer, but I didn't have any particular dislike for Christianity, either; she knew this. I decided to humor her. So one bright Sunday morning, we headed off The Church On The Rock in Fort Worth, Texas.
I was raised Episcopalian, so I expect certain things; incense, kneeling and standing and sitting at appropriate times... things like that. Things I think of as part of a normal church service. I also expect churches to have congregations of a hundred, maybe two hundred people at the most.
Apparently I was a little sheltered.
The Church on the Rock was huge - a large building, a giant sanctuary, a congregation easily five times the size of anything I'd seen previously. Their worship was nothing like the Episcopalian services of my youth; they didn't kneel to pray. Instead, the entire crowd raised their arms to the sky, and stood there swaying and praying. You know that scene in the horror movie where the teenagers have wandered into the abandoned madhouse or prison and accidentally triggered the switch the closes all the doors and windows? And you can see them looking around, realizing that it is just exactly too late to back out? Where they suddenly become aware that they have no idea what's coming next, but whatever it is, they're stuck there for the duration? Well, that was me.
But the real high point of the experience came later. By then I'd settled back down a little bit. I might have been completely out of my element, but I was trying to go with it.
And then we got to the altar call.
If you've never seen one of these - and I hadn't, because, y'know, Episcopalian - this is basically just a point in the service, generally right after the sermon, where the priest/pastor/preacher asks if anyone feels called to come forward and (re)dedicate their life to Jesus. Which would have been fine, by itself. But in this case, as soon as he said it, everyone in a forty-foot radius turned to look directly at me, including my girlfriend.
I am not making this up. It could not have been more perfectly orchestrated if they'd practiced it. It was like something out of Village of the Damned. It was creepy.
But I stood there, and I did my best to act completely oblivious, and when the service was over we went away. We, um, we didn't try any more churches after that.