The Dancing Church

At one point during (I think) winter quarter of my first freshman year at Georgia Tech, a friend down the hall named Steve and I decided about the same time to straighten out and get right with God. He ended up inviting Stan Kimer and myself to go to church with his aunt and uncle who lived somewhere in the Atlanta area. I don't know exactly where the church was (just as well, perhaps). I do know we drove on an awful lot of little roads to get there; it was in what I would describe as the ``urban sticks''.

Stan and I only went twice, and the two times sort of run together, so I will treat them as one.

The sanctuary (still under construction by the congregation, and still unfinished inside) would probably seat 250 or 300, but there were probably only 40 or 50 present. The Sunday School class we attended was basically 7th grade through college. The main thing I remember about it was that there were only 5 or 6 of us, and it was rather cold; they didn't even have insulation on the siding yet.

The services, on the other hand, defy short descriptions.

The minister, probably around 60, spent quite a bit of time running around and jumping all over the stage, and got extremely red in the face. The main reason I didn't worry about him was that everyone seemed to think this was normal. If he hadn't overtaxed himself before, he probably wouldn't now. His stamina was pretty amazing. He kept this up for about 30 minutes.

What really got our attention, though, was when his dad, just out of the hospital the day before from some sort of major heart surgery, did the same thing, for at least 30 minutes more. The guy was in his 80s, and did everything but cartwheels, and those wouldn't have surprised me a bit.

All the sermons we heard were pretty much the same; that the only name of God is Jesus (therefore it's a ``Jesus Only'' church), and that if you were baptized ``in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost'' you really weren't baptized, and perhaps not even saved. They kind of jumped around between a lot of scriptures really quickly, then ran (sic) with a point for a while, roared through some more scriptures, and so on. It was a wee bit intimidating, because I had expected someone to demand at any minute to know under what name we were baptized.

(As it was, we were eventually asked if we believe Jesus was God, or something else that we could honestly answer ``yes'' to, and hence escaped unscathed.)

Despite their having no actual liturgy, and believing in freedom of worship, there were apparently ordained times that everyone was to do certain things: praying, singing, listening to the preacher...

...and dancing.

And I mean everybody danced. It was obvious that you did what you were supposed to do or else, bud. While the ``or else'' was implied, I don't think Stan, Steve or I ruled out stoning, drowning by immersion (as opposed to sprinkling) or all manner of other annoying deaths. Fortunately, swaying apparently counted as dancing (although I was prepared to do my sort of free form wild man dance so famous at a couple of local clubs if necessary).

One sprightly old (in her 70s at least) lady on the pew in front of us was really cutting the rug (ok, the concrete) in the aisle. Stan somehow recognized it as jitterbugging (I was afraid to ask how he knew) and talked to her afterwards. Turned out she had no idea if she was a Christian, and nobody had ever asked her before. She just felt like she should maybe go to church, and at this one she could dance. I guess the dancing was all the testimony they needed.

I had stolen a PA system from another church a couple of years before, and decided God wanted me to give it back to the church. But my weasel mind decided that since there is only ``the Church'', any congregation would do, and these people needed one, so I just gave it to them. They were extremely appreciative. And while I suppose it's possible this was really what God wanted, I tend to suspect it was just my chicken guts self reacting adversely to conviction, and taking the easy way out. After all, this way I didn't actually have to face the people I'd stolen from. (And if you suspect that with this attitude I wasn't much of a Christian, you're right. It wasn't too long before I was back into the whole drug culture, even more than I had been before this. Of course, eventually something had to give.)

I have no idea whether this was representative of any other ``Jesus Only'' churches. I do know it did very little for me, and they couldn't have paid me to go back. (I suppose they could have, but it would have taken them awhile to collect enough money, and by then I'd have been gone.)

I think Steve dropped out of college and went to stay with his aunt and uncle. I have no idea where he is today. He could be an awesome minister or a glazier (his part-time job, I think) who can really jitterbug.

Last updated: 18 September 1996

Copyright 1996 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

Miles O'Neal <> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514