This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Holy Spirit this week. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how divided we Christians are when it comes to the story of Pentecost, charismatic worship, etc. The precise Gift that should unite us ends up being a reason that some of us cannot worship God together.
I call it the Battle of the “Holy Rollers” vs. the “Frozen Chosen.” I’ve encountered it in multiple settings and contexts. Some people are absolutely convinced that whatever way they worship is the only “valid” way. I’m sharing my experience around that, in hopes that it will be beneficial to someone.
I was born, bred, and raised Pentecostal. My earliest memories include seeing people shouting, dancing, speaking in tongues, and being “slain [read: falling out] in the Spirit.” It was not until I was an adult that I exposed myself to other churches and other forms or styles of worship. I’m going to be honest - at first, and for a long time, I could not fathom why people who didn’t shout, dance, speak in tongues, etc., even bothered to go to church. My upbringing led me to equate the presence of the Holy Spirit (who we often called the “Holy Ghost”) with those outward demonstrations of God moving among God’s people. That which I later heard referred to as “high church” was, to me, a sad, misguided, and colossal waste of time. Everything was so liturgy-driven, as opposed to Spirit-driven, as I saw it. (Because, in my days of “either/or” thinking, instead of “both/and” thinking, a worship service could not be driven by both liturgy and Spirit.) How could a pre-written prayer that was being read possibly come from the heart? And if it did not come from the heart, how could it be worthy of God’s attention? What kind of Christians would withhold praise from God and how could they call that worship? I went to “high church” services and did not feel a thing; except sorry for those people who obviously did not know what they were missing. Somebody clearly had failed to teach them about how much more was available to them if they were open to it.
… whether I feel God in a worship service has more to do with the openness of my heart than anything else going on in that room.
That’s where I started. And then I joined St. John’s MCC, where two services are offered each Sunday, described in their literature (back then) as offering “two distinct styles of worship.” I knew immediately that I was a “night person.” I attended the 7:00 pm “Bapti-Metho-Costal” worship service, which often looked and felt just like my Pentecostal roots. I think I went to the morning service once, right after I started going there, and did not go back for a couple of years, probably. What I remember, for sure, is that I was appointed the Director of the Discipleship Ministry and I was also just landing on saying “yes” to my call to preach. So my pastor, Rev. B. Y. Boone said, “Marilyn, you have to start attending the morning service. You need to get to know them, and they need to get to know you, too, in order for your ministry to be effective for them.” Or words to that effect; words that made it clear that this was a non-negotiable directive.
And so I started attending both morning and evening worship. And the most amazing thing happened. I learned - no, I experienced - that the Holy Spirit doesn’t always move in a mighty rushing wind. Sometimes Spirit moves in the form of a gentle breeze. And I experienced that the purpose of Spirit’s moving is not always to ignite ecstatic praise. Sometimes it is to melt internal icebergs of old pain and the only evidence of that to be witnessed by others are cleansing tears rolling down one’s face as one sits perfectly still. I was reminded that God is everywhere; and where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, God is in their midst. And there are no other conditions placed on that promise. I learned that whether I feel God in a worship service has more to do with the openness of my heart than anything else going on in that room. I learned that if I am busy judging the experience of others, I am the person getting in the way of my blessing - not those whose experience I am busy judging.
Sometimes it is to melt internal icebergs of old pain and the only evidence of that to be witnessed by others are cleansing tears rolling down one’s face as one sits perfectly still.
I believe this is equally true for “Holy Rollers” and “Frozen Chosen.” I have heard folks from both camps express such disrespect, even contempt, for the others. The fact that you have not had an experience does not mean that no one has had it. The fact that God does not work in certain ways with you does not mean that God does not work in those ways with anyone. I believe that God meets all of us where we are; speaks in ways that God knows we will understand; moves in ways that God knows we can receive. As Christians, we should be models of mutual respect. As lovers of God and disciples of Jesus, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit should operate to unite us, not divide us. I believe it’s okay for us to have our different traditions, preferences, and comfort zones. It’s okay for us to worship in those places and those ways that we find most comfortable and most edifying in our respective spiritual journeys. I don’t believe it’s okay for any of us to insist that the way we worship is the only right way and every other way is wrong or, somehow, “less than.”
This Sunday is Pentecost. There is no “al” at the end of that word. Pentecostal is a denomination. Pentecost is a gift, intended for all believers. It is God in us. God in all of us. If that doesn’t compel us to respect each other, what ever will?