Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Letter: Lighthouse Christian Center

The congregants' excited moans and chants hit me as soon as the usher opened the door to the sanctuary of the Lighthouse Christian Center.

I was taken aback at first, because I thought I was ten minutes early for the 10:30a service and, thus, was prepared to partake in the usual methods of waiting for a church service to begin: Browse the service program, respond to the occasional greeting--you know, the usual stuff. Today, though, I quickly found a seat and tried to not look perplexed while I adjusted to the initial culture shock.

I've sat in a fair number of pews, but I've never witnessed the unabashed emotion and lack of self-consciousness the congregants of the Lighthouse Christian Center exhibited throughout the service. Most were standing, and almost all had one or both of their hands extended heavenward. Random yells of "Praise Jesus!" and "Hallelujah!" peppered the air, but they were often overwhelmed by the dissonant noise created by the handful who'd occassionally delve into glossolalia (a respectful way of referring to the phenomenon of speaking in nonsensical tongues). After forty minutes of hymn-singing (the verbal outbursts were only occasional while we sang, but they quickly picked up between each song), the music leader requested prayer requests.

One woman requested prayer for a young girl who'd died in a car accident in Caribou. And three women walked to the front of the sanctuary so the musical leader could lay her hands on them while she prayed for their ailments. A heavy-set man in a dark suit positioned himself behind the first woman in line. His knees were bent and his arms were extended by her sides. I didn't understand the man's role until the second woman abruptly collapsed into his arms, and he gently lay her onto the floor. I have to admit, I was this close to laughter when the collapsed woman remained on her back with her eyes closed and her arms rigidly extended toward the ceiling for a couple of minutes. When it was her turn, the third woman began to weep and yell (this wasn't the first or only time a congregant had wept or yelled, by the way) about Jesus this and Jesus that.

Prayer concluded, and the pastor of the church, Rev. Barbara Libby assumed the pulpit. Her sermon for the day was entitled "Two Men Named Lazarus," and it tackled the idea of wealth as sin. Rev. Libby's take was that wealth by itself is not sinful, but a love for money is. She referred to numerous biblical passages about Lazarus of Bethany and Lazarus the beggar and other passages regarding wealth and poverty, but I was too slow with the pen to jot them down. Besides the biblical passages, Rev. Libby injected a few pop-culture references, personal experience, and some humor into the relatively short, mildly repetitive sermon.

The sermon concluded and most of the approximately thirty-five attendees shuffled downstairs to have lunch together.

- John C.L. Morgan

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