Let me begin by saying that I have a great appreciation for the charismatic element in the Church Universal. Although I am not a member of a charismatic denomination, I have read deeply in the writings of spirit-filled authors and have benefited greatly from this endeavor. I enjoy an animated worship service and I am not one of those stick-in-the-mud traditionalists that refuse to hold their arms above their waist.
Still, it is a wonder I have ever set foot in a charismatic or Pentecostal church after an early experience I had with this type of worship. In fact, I had forgotten about the whole episode until a week ago.
Last week I was going through a box of odds and ends and found an old term paper I wrote 30 years ago while a junior in college. The paper was for a Sociology of Religion class and my mind quickly began to wander back to that class in general and the professor in particular.
If you think I am weird, believe me, Dr. Spratt had me beat by a country mile.
Arnold Spratt, PhD, taught this class and he was, in addition to being one of the homeliest men alive, as exciting as an empty coke bottle. Truthfully friends, this man could bore the leg off a piano and put the stoutest caffeine addict to sleep.
Dr. Spratt used to stand behind the podium, speaking in a low monotone voice that most resembled an electrical humming sound. Add to this the fact that I had his class right after lunch and it is easy to see why half the class would be nodding off 10 minutes into his lecture.
The other half was stone cold asleep.
Professor Spratt was a small man, weighing about 110 pounds soaking wet. Sitting atop his short, lank frame was an even smaller head that sort of sloped backwards at the forehead, accentuating ears that would have made an elephant bellow with envy. The smallness of Dr. Spratt’s cranium was magnified by the fact that he always tied his necktie with a knot as big as a tumor.
When the good professor lectured, his voice never rose above a loud whisper, but when he wanted to emphasize a point, he would sort of pull his thin lips up across his large front teeth and sort of hiss out his words like an agitated Copperhead. Combined with his bird-beak nose and sloping forehead, Dr. Spratt looked more weasel than human.
In spite of all this, Dr. Spratt was a nice man, cordial and polite. Because our class was a seminar, there were only nine or ten students on the roll. He often invited the entire group over to his house for wine and cheese, minus the wine. You see, Dr. Spratt and his wife were Pentecostal teetotalers.
Mrs. Spratt was the physical opposite of the good doctor. She was an ample woman who, to put it mildly, was way on up there in tonnage. The professor’s wife owned and operated a bakery and obviously sampled her wares frequently. However, it was not Mrs. Spratt’s size that I remembered. Instead, my clearest memories of the lady came from a time when Professor Spratt invited my good friend David, myself, and a Russian exchange student named Alexander to his church. We were all in the Sociology of Religion class and Dr. Spratt thought witnessing a Pentecostal worship service would broaden our perspectives on the Protestant Church as a whole. Alexander, it should be noted, had already attended the church several times, had a spiritual experience which he talked about endlessly, and converted to Pentecostal Christianity. In our eyes, even though Alexander had quickly become somewhat of a zealot, being Pentecostal was better than being a Pinko Commie, which is what he was prior to seeing the light.
Professor Spratt gave us no warning of what to expect and it was the first time David had been to a charismatic sort of worship service. I had only been a couple of times myself, as a teenager. Our neighbors two doors down were members of an Assembly of God congregation and, on occasion, I accompanied the family.
Nothing, however, could have prepared us for what happened that day.
After a long, long sermon (delivered by the soporific Dr. Spratt, who it turns out was pastor of the church), the music started and everyone present slowly but visibly began to get worked up. At one point, a couple of folks started speaking in tongues and flapping their arms about.
As the spirit mounted in the room, all of a sudden Alexander screamed something unintelligible and started running down the center aisle and, taking a sharp right turn, began making laps of the sanctuary, babbling in what we assumed was Russian. From time to time he would grunt loudly and shout something that we could not interpret but sounded amazingly like “Ooga Booga.” He continued to orbit the sanctuary for about 20 minutes before collapsing in a heap halfway down the center aisle. From that day forward we never called Alexander by his given name again. We simply referred to our Russian friend as “Sputnik.”
All the while, Dr. Spratt was going down a line that had formed in front of the church, slapping people on the forehead and sending them crashing to floor, where they lay writhing, panting, and making babbling sounds that must have also been glossolalia. Like Clark Kent, Dr. Spratt was transformed from a mild mannered milk toast of a man into a loud and powerful soldier of God.
Just about two orbits before Sputnik crashed, Mrs. Spratt hoisted her bulk from a pew in the back and ran screaming down the center aisle with her arms thrashing above her head like two swollen tentacles. She beached herself on the alter steps where her drooling, incomprehensible verbalizations left the carpet soaked with blubbering spittle. All of a sudden a deep rumbling sound rose up from somewhere deep inside her. I don’t know what she said, but she sounded a lot like an old Dodge on a cold morning. Just before she passed out cold, her ample physique quaked and trembled and, combined with her bright green dress, she looked for all the world like a big bowl of lime Jell-o.
A group of folks circled around Mrs. Spratt and prayed for her in tongues. David and I, meanwhile, made our exit. Sputnik was still lying in a motionless heap on the floor…
I mean to cast no dispersions on anyone’s religious expression here. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have a deep appreciation for the charismatic arm of the Church. I am just relating what all of this looked like to a couple of young, impressionable minds that had not been prepared beforehand. It would have helped if the good professor had front loaded us with a bit of information as to what we might expect to witness.
For what it’s worth, David is now an Episcopal priest and Sputnik has his own large Pentecostal congregation in Virginia. As for Dr. Spratt, we never looked at him the same after that memorable Sunday.
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved