oh boy.....some of you knew this was coming. I promise to keep this all in English and not switch into the language of angels.
We were watching one of those "year in reviews" where they play snippets from all of the famous people who died in 2009 when they flashed a picture of Oral Roberts on the screen. I said to my wife...I didn't know he died....holy cow! There aren't many of the old-time televangelists left, and I believe my pastor was the first to go.
You see, there's a bit of my past that many people know nothing about. Not that I'm ashamed of it or anything, it just doesn't typically come up in conversation. And it seems that when my friends find out their jaws drop in dumbfoundedness. I grew up Charismatic. Now, there's a difference between Charismatic and snake-handling religious types. I was of the prior persuasion. When I was about 5 years old my parents started dragging us off to evening prayer meetings in Bremen at the home of the Zeltwengers, who had been attending Lester Sumrall's church in South Bend (I didn't mind, I had a crush on their teenage daughter who played twister with me ;) lol)...wait-what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Soon a good chunk of our Church of God congregation were also secretly attending the Sunday night Holy Ghost filled prayer meetin'. The pastor caught wind of it, the church split and we started attending Christian Center, Lester Sumrall's church, in South Bend. Grandma even went to the Holy Land with the church and all we got was this photo (in place of a t-shirt I suppose).
So at 5 years old I was exposed to people being "slain in the spirit" (that means passing out in a spiritual fervor), speaking in tongues, dancing the hallelujah 2-step around the altar, and the always popular-exorcisms. When my brother and sister and I get together and talk about growing up in the church we can get to laughing so hard that you'd think we had come down with that laughing spirit making its way out of Toronto several years back. I think it embarrasses my mom a little too, but she just smiles and threatens to "haul us down to the altar" which was a common threat we heard throughout the week leading up to Sundays.
Now, life wasn't always easy for us Charismatic kids. As much as we liked to hope that we could call down lightning bolts it rarely, if ever, worked. And since we three kids attended a Baptist school, life was particularly hard because we constantly had to be on the defensive. I know it doesn't take much to be a rebel at a Baptist school-but try being Charismatic! You'da thought I had cloven hooves.
Truth of the matter is I loved going to Christian Center.....except for the surprise sermons by Brother Murphy (Pastor's brother in law) who always insisted that all kids had to go down front to the altar to be prayed for. And you could easily get lost in the crowd of thousands. Seriously, Sundays were unpredictable and the music had a beat. One Sunday evening I remember a guy busting through the back doors and charging the pulpit down the center aisle with a dagger in hand threatening to kill the preacher....that was probably the height of charisma I can remember. Well, throw in the occasional miraculous healings and red hot revival services where hundreds would participate in an organized sprint around the altar (at that time we had moved into the church "in the round") and church was certain not to disappoint.
In all seriousness, despite many folks' disregard for tv preachers, Lester Sumrall wasn't like the other oily sorts who promised miracles for cash. No, Pastor was someone with incredible knowledge of God's word and a compassion for others that the church is only now starting to understand; his Feed the Hungry world-wide ministry beginning long before other global relief efforts by protestant churches. Pastor's authoritative wisdom is something I sorely miss since his passing in 1996. His grandson, who we called "little Lester" showed up on a friend's facebook page so I friended both he and his cousin, David; both are in the ministry today.
Today my brother is the pastor of a Missionary church. After 25 years in a Charismatic church, I began attending my wife's Evangelical Free church. Both certainly less charismatic than what we were used to, but we still have those "leanings". We plan to write a book entitled "growing up Charismatic" to share our experiences with the rest of the world. I don't believe there's been a book written quite like this one yet; I think it will be a best seller, particularly when I tell about my concern one evening that I would be pulled over by South Bend police and they would find Lester Sumrall in the trunk of my car.