Recently, I heard a comedian joking about people who say they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The first time I ever heard anything about anyone “feeling the spirit,” being “filled with the spirit,” “getting the Holy Ghost,” or “getting happy” was when my dad’s mother started crying and praising the Lord at what seemed to me to be a very random time in the living room at my childhood home. So, as a young child, her response to welcoming “the spirit” into her presence seemed very strange and weird. As I remember the experience, I was headed into the living room with a light, skippy kid gait and froze in my tracks when I saw my grandmother twitching like she was having a seizure. Huh?! What the heck was going on? She didn’t see me or realize I was there because she was definitely in the middle of some type of experience I did not understand. I took that foot that was going to step forward and I put it down behind me, pivoted, and moved quickly and quietly in the other direction. I went to find my daddy to tell him that something was going on with Big Mama. I told him that she was reading her bible and singing a song and then something happened. He said, “Oh, she’s ok. She just got the Holy Ghost.” The thought bubble over my head read, “Oh, ok. Thanks for making that clear, Daddy.”
“Getting the Holy Ghost” was not a normal occurrence in the church I grew up in where hymns and anthems were the custom. My Big Mama was an evangelist who had a Pentecostal background. My church experience at Old Ship was a more formal service with a scripted format. Outward expressions of your spiritual encounters were not discouraged; however, they just rarely happened. In my church, you might have seen someone wipe a tear or give a head nod in approval of a point made by the pastor or in response to a scripture reading. So, my Big Mama’s actions were pretty foreign to me as was my experience in my church one Sunday. There was an older sister who had been a visitor in the church for a few Sundays and she asked me to sit by her because she thought I was a sweet, cute little girl. My mom thought it would be fine. So, I agreed and took a seat way up front on the left side in about the second pew next to the lady. I normally sat on the right side in the middle with other kids my age. So, this move to sit with a woman who seemed very old to me on the far side of the church felt strange and uncomfortable.
My mother sang in the choir so I spent a lot of time staring at her for reassurance. She would give me her gentle smile and a head nod to assure me that I was performing an acceptable service to this old lady who needed the comfort of a young child. Well, things were moving along like normal until the choir started singing a song. We didn’t have a gospel choir at that time and even if we did they couldn’t have been singing that Sunday because my mom sang in the Cathedral Choir and a gospel song still would have sounded like an anthem if the Cathedral Choir sang it. The pianist, the organist, and the choir had the melody bouncing from the stained glass windows and the dark wooden pews. We had excellent musicians in our church who were very accomplished and respected. My experience with the “Holy Ghost” had only been related to gospel music and the Pentecostal worshipper. Because of my limited insights on this subject, I never expected that the Holy Ghost was even in my church and it never occurred to me that the Cathedral Choir and the gifted musicians could play anything that would invite the Holy Ghost up in that church.
Well, as the choir sang the selection, I soon figured out that my youthful worship experience was much different from that of the old lady next to me because she seemed to be the only one on the pew or in the general vicinity who knew that the song was ushering the spirit into the sanctuary and into her personal space. I had no idea. I was not aware until the smoothness of her black leather pocketbook slammed into my face as she sprang from her seat flinging her arms out to either side and proclaiming the name of the Lord and His goodness. Shock and confusion overcame me. I don’t believe there was any bruising, but I do remember the stinging sensation that followed the whack to the face. What’s funny to me is that there was probably not a person, including the ushers, in my church who new the proper response to manage this worship expression. I am almost certain in a church oozing with formality and protocol that there was nothing in the usher manual for this situation. I don’t remember anyone coming to save me. As I remember it, there were a lot of surprised looks and their thought bubbles probably said something like, “Oh my. Who invited her?” They might have also been thinking something similar to what I was thinking, “I will NEVER sit by this lady again in life!”
Writing about this experience reminds me of a time Big Mama was visiting us and my daddy dropped her off at Day Street Baptist Church. She was always talking about how she wanted to find a church to attend when she was visiting our house. I am not sure who told her that the service at this church would be more in line with her expectations for a worship service than my church. But, in all fairness, the black Baptist church had a reputation for being a bit more spirited than the A.M.E. Zion church my family attended.
Based on Big Mama’s intel, my daddy dropped her off at the church for the eleven o’clock service and came on back home. At some point after the service began and prior to the scheduled end of the service, the phone rang at the house. My daddy answered and I heard him say, “Ah huh. Ok. I’m on my way.” He jumped up and grabbed his keys and I went too. I said, “Where we going?” He said, “I gotta go check on Mother.” (He called Big Mama Mother.) We hopped in the car and headed to the church. When we drove up to the church, there were some men standing outside waiting for my father to arrive. I think they were deacons or officers of the church. I was sure Big Mama had gotten sick and needed medical attention. I remember an “Aw hell, Mother” before my daddy went into the church. The story was that they were having trouble moving the service forward because Big Mama had turned the sanctuary into a track meet. She was running laps around the sanctuary exclaiming her love and gratitude for the Lord. Like my church, this baptist church clearly had no protocol for this type of spiritual encounter either because they had to call my daddy and wait for him to get there to quiet the spirit and remove her from the church. Oh my gosh, that had to be one of the funniest church memories.
I don’t know what experiences you have witnessed in churches, but these two and the one with the lady who rolled under pews in a Tennessee church after being “hit by the Spirit” made me cry with laughter. The funniest part of that story was watching the ushers start to fan her with the church fans donated by the local funeral parlor then seeing the looks on their faces when she appeared to collapse even after their efforts to provide calmness and coolness. We thought she fainted until we saw the ushers bending down and peering under pews like they were hunting Easter eggs. Eventually, after rolling under three pews she surfaced at the front of the church. They quickly popped a white sheet and covered her to prevent us from seeing all of her business. Haha! Too funny! But, at least they had a plan.