Thursday, April 7, 2011

Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world

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 to 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.


  1. I think I've been to that service. Also unnerving is when they altar call is made and everyone else feels compelled to go to the altar. You and two other people were the only ones who weren't emotionally stirred enough to make the trek. That draws some stares. Like, wow, they must not have a soul.

  2. The church my in-Laws attend has sort of the opposite problem: they're breaking in a trainee Pastor, and he keeps trying to do altar calls even though A) everybody in the room is a long-time member and established Christian, and B) it's not that sort of church, anyway.

  3. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine in high school, a Hispanic Catholic who was taken by his girlfriend to her megachurch. At the end of the service, they did the same thing, all descending on him, demanding to know if he had "accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour", to which he replied, "yeah, I think so." Apparently that wasn't the right answer, as he had the added fun of the ride home with her parents, who apparently spent the entire time explaining why Catholicism wasn't Christianity.

    I've never understood alter calls - who would actually feel moved to do anything but run by a massive crowd of people demanding to know your beliefs?!

  4. Oh, yes, that's the way to go. Take that culture shock and then add an extra layer of "your Christianity isn't really Christianity" for bonus points.

    I've had that conversation, too. (It started with, "Have you been born again?" Apparently, "I was raised Christian," cannot be the right answer. In fact, it cannot even be true, since it doesn't fit the script. I finally just fell back on staring at them like they'd taken to wearing tin foil hats on their heads.) But I've never had anyone try to explain to me - explicitly, as it were - that my denomination isn't really Christian.

    It's a moot point now, of course.

  5. >>>shudder<<<

    The Christianity® as a Product crowd really disturbs me. That would be a "Church®" that I would attend once, then never step foot in again. I do not like being put on the spot. I am not a public speaker, and prefer people just freaking leave me alone. Especially when I'm in an environment that I find rather uncomfortable.

    Gotta love the MegaChurch® girlfriend's parents denigrating the poor kid's faith because it isn't exactly like theirs.


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