Mountain Movin’ Miracle Service Word of Faith World Outreach Center

AS INVOLUNTARY as a patellar reflex after a collective blow below the kneecap, the well-dressed crowd of several thousand jump to their feet on cue and raise their arms in a gesture of exaltation, clapping and singing to the music from the 12-piece band and singers. Inside the multimillion-dollar Word of Faith World Outreach Center at Stemmons Freeway and Valley View, it’s the Sunday night “Mountain Movin’ Miracle Service” led by Pastor Bob Tilton, and as proof that the revivalist’s tent has come to the TV tube, the evening’s “Family-The New Awakening” message by Edwin Cole also will beam out to homes and 1,800 affiliated churches in North America on the Word of Faith Satellite Network.

And dressed in an impeccable dark suit, graying hair sprayed tight, occasionally glancing up at the crutches, canes, walkers, braces and prosthetic devices mounted on the balcony walls-It’s Brother Bob Tilton! “Let’s join hands. We are the body of Jesus Christ. Amen! Hey, if God speaks to your heart, give a little extra on this first offering for the new Word of Faith 24-hour Success-n-Life Satellite Network.”

Incorrigibly sunny, Brother Bob prowls the set copied from late-night talk shows-trompe l’oeil Elysian Fields mural, chairs, greenery-’I think this stuff deserves prime time to bring the uncompromised gospel, the Good News, all over this country. Thank you, Father! Yeah. You know, I had a vision one Saturday night to do this satellite network, and with your help, by golly, we’re going to do it. Make those checks out to Word of Faith Church. Hallelujah!”

Holding his cordless microphone, Brother Bob Tilton strolls into the congregation, working the crowd with a chatty, humorous, elbow-in-the-side monologue-cum-testimonial. “I had a bad marriage, bit my fingernails to the quick, drank, cursed. I was a craaazy person. Listen, now I’m free, I’m happy. I didn’t get religion, I got JESUS.” After the clapping subsides, he introduces the main speaker, Edwin Cole, who will be ministering on family and sexuality for four nights.

Ed Cole has a feisty vitality and a good opening line. “GOD made sex goooood. WE make it bad. With LUST. Lust is love of self. GOD wants sex with love. Love is the desire to benefit others. Prayer with your wife brings intimacy, communication. You men NEEED to communicate. You ladies: If he wishes, make love to your man after church. The disgrace comes when a woman uses the sex God gave her to enter in competition with HIM. He will RESENT your Jesus if you’re too holy after church.”

The author of Maximized Manhood booms out his message after the nervous laughter dies down. “What God wants in a man is consistency, strength, decisiveness.. .the four things kids want in a home are acceptance, approval, a sense of belonging and authority. . . never never, never, never, NEVER disagree with your wife in front of the kids; that’s when you lose authority.” Finally, he gets down to business.

“I want to talk to just the women. If you’ve been raped, a victim of incest, molested, fondled, lost your virginity by force, I want God to touch you, to set you FREE, give you back your uniqueness. If you’re here tonight and want to be HEALED, get OUT of your seat and come DOWN!” Pumped up with copious injections of Ed Cole’s powerful, histrionic plea, the crowd’s emotional temperature rises dramatically as 40, then 50 women make their way forward to receive Ed Cole’s blessing.

Leaning down from the stage he says, “You look like you need this. How long has it been? Twenty-five years you’ve suffered? TONIGHT is your night.” Placing his hand on another woman’s head, Ed shouts, “I FEEL the Holy Ghost moving through you from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Now. I want to stand right here and BE that man who defiled all of you. Identify me with that sin, that man. ’If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ John 20:23. Say out loud, I FORGIVE you. I forgive that sin right out of my body.”

Looking toward the camera, Ed Cole implores, “You out there, stretch your hands out toward these women that Jesus gonna cure.” Weeping and shaking, several women fall back into the arms of the waiting ushers in their mustard-yellow blazers with Word of Faith emblems on the pockets. “Let her down, Father, let her down,” Ed Cole soothingly advises as the congregation’s applause accelerates. Later, he asks for men who have been sexually abused and 15 come forward. “Father, in the name of JESUS, you make me a man again and forgive the man who abused me, HURT me. I’ve needed this all my life. RECEIVE my manhood in the name of Jesus.” Noticing a man bouncing up and down, his fists clenched in the air, his eyes closed, Ed shouts, “Yes, yes, JUMP with joy; how about you sir? Since you were ten? Fourteen? Say out loud, ’Father, I worship you and can call you Father, JEHOVAH!’”

Slowly the pandemonic mood quietens and Brother Bob Tilton returns and extends the traditional invitation to the spiritually delinquent-both present and watching at home-to accept Christ as their personal Savior. Thirty or so come forward, including several teenagers filing past the “No Young People Seated in Balcony Without Parents” sign and the Christmas announcement requesting items for the needy that reads, “Please, no Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, etc. [toys]. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is our only superhero. . .”

“Welcome to the family of God,” says Brother Bob Tilton, beaming.


Businessman’s Prayer Breakfast Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church

THE AIR SMELLS strong of breakfast eggs and bacon and the added tang of aftershave as the businessmen’s prayer breakfast group at the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church gathers in the church kitchen just after 7 a.m. They sport large round yellow badges with their names printed prominently across the middle. “So we can read ’em across the room,” jokes one man. Soberly affluent, emotionally reserved-no back slaps, no butt pats-45 or so men sit at tables and chat about the Southwest Conference football scandal, real estate and restaurant adventures. Not many fail to drop a $1 or $5 bill in the offering basket at the table where Hawkins Menefee, Fuzzy Clark and five others sit talking about Austin’s good old days.

The group looks to be evenly divided between young and old with the edge toward late middle age. A few fathers have brought their sons, now young businessmen themselves. Sweaters and open shirts under windbreakers mingle with the predominant blue-gray-black background of business suits. White shirts and lace-up black shoes far outnumber any other style.

The Reverend Jerry Shetler, senior pastor, stands against the south wall as the morning sun casts wavy shadows through the windows. He begins to speak of raw “deals” found everywhere in the daily newspapers. Shetler has a winning conversational style, just the right amount of breezy, casual language and manner mixed with erudition and ecclesiastical authority. “What about the raw deals in the Mexico earthquake tragedy? Some lost everything except their lives.” He mentions a raw deal that touched his denomination, the 15-month captivity in Lebanon of the Reverend Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian preacher, and the visit to Preston Hollow Presbyterian by Weir’s wife, Carol, who urged the congregation to write letters to the president. Shetler seemed to be saying our ships are borne along by no calculable tide, and when unexpected disaster strikes, what then?

Grasping his Jerusalem Bible, used most often by Roman Catholics, he reads about that raw deal expert, Job. God had tested Job by striking him and his family with terrible disasters, and visiting on Job a loathsome disease. The suffering Job, bewildered by his bad fortune, stoutly maintained to his friends that God was just. But at length he began to question God’s justice and to believe he had been unfairly treated. “But still,” Shetler asks, “what did Job do?” An older man responds from the corner opposite: “Praised God.”

“Fell to the ground and worshiped God,” agrees Shetler. “Job said, if we take happiness from God’s hand, must not we take sorrow too? All of us have raw deals. Job gives us a model of how to respond. Curse the Lord? Never. And the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says, is that Job got double of what he had lost. I sort of wish it hadn’t ended that way; it’s important to trust God regardless of the outcome.”

Although he ministers in one of the city’s most affluent areas, Shetler, like many other church men, perhaps believes riches are overestimated in the Old Testament: The good and successful man received too many animals, wives, she-goats and peacocks. Promptly at 7:45, Shetler asks the men to pray for the success of the Geneva arms talks and weapons reduction. After a brief silent prayer, he leads them in reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the meeting ends.


Charismatic Prayer Meeting The Christian Community of God’s Delight

JUST AS THROUGH a vine there flows physical substance that enters branches, giving them life, so a spiritual substance, the Holy Spirit, flows from the resurrected Christ into his followers; “one Spirit, many gifts,” as Paul said in the Bible. So believe the 50 or 60 charismatic Catholics who have come to a stuffy room at Mount Saint Michaels on West Davis.

Charismatics, or neo-Pentecostals, form a subcategory of evangelicals. They are members of traditional Christian denominations but follow Pentecostal practices, especially “Holy Spirit gifts” such as speaking in tongues, faith healing and the giving of prophecies thought to come directly from God. Formally organized about 15 years ago, The Christian Community of God’s Delight, one of the city’s charismatic Catholic prayer groups, currently numbers about 600. They attend regular Sunday mass in their respective parishes and gather at midweek for prayer.

Except for the continuous hymn-singing in the first half of the service, the prayer meeting closely resembles the “meeting for Worship” of the Quakers. No ritual, no ordained leader, no outward sacraments or formalized program. Out of silent waiting may flow spiritual messages, vocal prayer, testifying, Bible reading- from anyone who feels called to participate. Worship is under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot be programmed.

The first 30 minutes, however, resemble a Sixties hootenanny: Two guitarists-singers lead the rest in hymns (many written by members and usually based on Biblical chapters) that sound like a collaboration between The Kingston Trio and The Weavers. After the song, each person gives thanks in prayer, holy mutter, praises, “Amen and thank you Jesus,” an enthusiastic babble that runs down after a few minutes.

After the clamorous first half of the prayer meeting, members wait patiently in a tranquil, becalmed atmosphere, a pleasant ground of expectation, for God to break His silence.

. ..a middle-aged Hispanic woman stands: “Before, I felt God was way up high and didn’t notice me, just a pebble on the beach. Now I feel like a sponge with God saturating me completely through.”

. . .a young woman bursts into tears before speaking, gradually lapsing into a child-whimper: “I’ve had a personal problem; last night God told me we would sing that last song tonight and we did. I want to declare my love for Him in public.”

. . .Andrew, a tall, pale man about 30 with a Scottish accent: “A year ago today I came out of a coma from a heart attack. Then last January I learned I had terminal multiple sclerosis. The Spirit awakened me after I met you all about the same time, and by July the M.S. had gone into remission and I’m healthy. I am going to be written up in an American medical journal. You have to work very hard for Christian healing, fight it with all you’ve got.”

An old Hispanic man reads from Ezekiel; another hymn is sung; a young man recites his own prayer; a red-haired woman tells of her husband’s return to the church, an answer to her prayers; then another scriptural reading, another hymn. Almost all the songs and Bible verses come from Psalms, perhaps the book of the Bible most revered by charismatic Catholics with its overall message of “trust”; throughout, David states his philosophy on how to live in the midst of the wicked: Do good, trust God, don’t worry.

Finally, a young man stands and reads his notes, reviewing the high points of the evening. He sums up the night’s message by reading probably the best-loved Psalm, number 23, the Shepherd Psalm. Then, clasping hands, he leads the group in a prayer of intentions, bringing Louise forward and praying that her upcoming hospital tests show no evidence of disease; that God will meet the good intentions of those in marital trouble, the unemployed seeking work, those struggling with the question of committing to Him. At the prayer’s end, everyone shouts in a final victory cheer, “Three, two, one. . . GLORY!”


Choir Practice Concord Missionary Baptist Church

THE MUSIC RISES and falls and reverberates in the empty sanctuary. “I shall wear a crownnnnnn.. .when it’s all ovah.” The Voices of Concord Choir hold on “crown” for harmony shadings that blend together like ripples on a pond.

Director Leonard Leach signals his singers to stop and lectures the altos, one of whom is cradling a tiny baby, before turning to the organist and drummer to demonstrate emphasis. “Stronger chords and rattle those drums on ’hooome,’” says Leach, hands whirling like a football referee’s backfield-in-motion penalty sign. Then he sings, “soon as I get hoooome” in a clear tenor. “Now let’s start again: I’m gonna put on my robe .. .tell the story.. .how I made it ovah.”

They begin weakly, aimless rather than inspirational. Leach waves a stop. “Now let’s do it with great determination as if the Lord was listening.” Approaching the end of the hymn-’soon as I get hooome’-the choir for the first time leans into the music, the muscular melody lifts with goosebump-raising power and- there is no other word for it-joy. On the third and final “hooome,” Leach brings them to a crescendo. Rising from a crouch and pointing heavenward with both arms for the finale, his body language draws the voices upward until the sound is almost physical. His arms drop. Silence. “Lord have mercy,” Leach mutters with a wide grin of pleasure.

In the seven years Leonard Leach has served as minister of music. Concord Missionary Baptist Church in South Oak Cliff has become one of the largest black churches in Dallas with four full-time pastors, 3,500 active members and almost 200 people singing in two large 8 and 11 a.m. Sunday morning choirs, a singles’ choir and a male chorus. The music is unfailingly powerful. After the classic hymns of white Protestantism, many written by religious giants like Martin Luther, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, their 19th Century counterparts degenerated into vagueness and sentimentality. The religious songs of black Christians, however, remained vigorous and compelling, partly because of their stronger existential roots in the slave experience. Time and time again, the hymns sung by Leach and his choir during the two-hour practice contrasted the deepest valley, the longest night of Peter and Paul in the dungeon cell, with the promise of sweet salvation and an end to earthly pain.

Before beginning again, Leach critiques their previous performance. “You have to have confidence in a different leader. We have to work on your diction, particularly on the next one. You slurred last Sunday. I know he was sitting down, and you in the back couldn’t see. It takes a strong choir to overcome these problems, and we can do it. Praise the Lord.”

“I Will Look To The Hills” rocks out, and the group bites off each word cleanly and quickly as they surge into “the Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my strength, my brother, my salvation, my hiiigh tower, my help cometh from the Lord.” Leach stops them. “Like this: ’Cometh. From. The. Lord.’ Break it up, a definite break. Now be careful here.” They sing, “there is now no condemnation. ..” Again Leach calls a halt. “I’m hearing West Texas, East Texas, South Texas, North Texas. I want no Texas. And run it together but cleanly: ’there is-thereforenocondem. .. naaaa shun tothemwhichareinChrist.. .Jeee .. .Zus.’”

He sparks an ignition somewhere. The many voices blend as one, and the music soars in purity and passion. “If you really, truly, really, really, truly, dearly love the Lord… So you say you have the Spirit, where’s your fruit, the fruit of the Spirrrrit.” Ten times the choir repeats “fruit of the Spirit,” building each time, swaying with eyes closed. Sweat flies off Leach’s face as he stamps his left foot, bends, writhes, claps, exhorts to the finish. It is indeed “a joyful noise unto the Lord.”


7:30 Worship Union Gospel Mission

ONCE THEY WERE dockers, truckers, spot-welders, rough mechanics, pleasant bank tellers, beauty operators, housewives; they’re still our fellow men but now living eyesores: the grime-whiskered, the haggard slant-eyed, the toothless, the skinny old woman mumbling to herself, the pock-faced young man staring straight ahead. They are clad in frayed coats, patched western shirts, torn dresses, baggy pants held up by rope, jogging shoes bound together with twine and stuffed with newspapers to ward off the cold. The ranks of the displaced and unwanted in Dallas are growing each year.

Inside the Union Gospel Mission’s worship hall, they sit in boredom of spirit, no energy visible, people with nothing on tap for tomorrow, ready for the nothing that usually occurs, as Brother Rick Holland leads them through a droning “He Lives” and “Trust and Obey” before asking “for fresh things that God has done in your life. I want to hear a testimony. Rise if you’ve heard the Word.” A man empties his nose on his shirttail before standing. “Since 1982,I quit drugs and drinking and gave myself over to the Lord. Praise Him.” Another in a worn suit and sunglasses stands and wearily says, “I want Him to bless everybody in this room and the mission.” A lady rises from among the women sitting together at the back. “Thanks to God for helping me share my Bible verses with my friends at dinner.”

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but trust and obey.

Similar missions were called “Three Sixteens” in New York’s Bowery during the Thirties because they often had part of the scriptural quotation from John 3:16 over the door: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son.” More appropriate, perhaps, is Jesus’ message painted across an open Bible behind the mission’s simple pulpit. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

Since 1949, only the drunk, drugged or violent have been turned away from Union Gospel, where on this cold night about 200 of the city’s homeless have come for the 7:30 service and hot meai afterward. For no charge the mission offers two religious services each day (three on Sunday), three hot meals, a shower, clean pajamas and sleeping space for 82 men and 20 women.

The hymn winds down and Brother Rick Holland’s sermon begins, a blizzard of Bible verses vaguely relating to giving your life to Jesus, banishing the devil, coming out of the darkness into the light, getting out of the devil’s territory and crossing the road-as he himself has done since May 8, 1979, when he gave his life to Christ. The message is punctuated throughout with an accompaniment of death-rattle coughs, a woman’s mindless giggling, sneezing and nose-blowing and an almost incidental dry retching from a red-faced man suffering from a ripple of nausea, no longer cheerfully inebriated.

None of it fezes Brother Rick as he drives on (“Hebrews chapter two, verse 14”) toward the customary conclusion. “If you’re here without Christ, I’m asking you to come forward. I don’t know why, but there’s something important about going public with your commitment to Jesus. I’m asking you to gain eternal life by accepting Him.” No one moves tonight, but the mission’s “Searchlight” bulletin shows 828 new souls committed to Christ, part of the 53,723 people who have attended Union Gospel’s chapel services as of August 1985. The men move only after the final announcements by T.J. Sullivan. They shuffle toward the dining room doors and form an unraveling queue, waiting to receive the evening meal.


Evan Fetter’s Bar Mitzvah Shearith Israel

The DENSE EESSENCE of 40 centuries permeates every Sabbath service at Congregtion Shearith Israel. Most historical minded of all religions, Judaism finds holiness and history inseparable-especially this Saturday when the congregation celebrates both an important Jewish holiday and the bar mitzvah of Evan Fetter, a fifth-generation member of a synagogue first organized in Dallas 102 years ago in a storefront on the site of what is now Old City Park.

Shearith Israel is part of the Conservative movement of American Judaism. While Orthodox Jews steep an amazing portion of their lives in Sabbath, dietary, home and other rituals, changing almost nothing, and members of Reformed congregations observe very little, Conservatives fall in between, trying to make tradition compatible with modern life. Members of Shearith Israel hear a service almost entirely in Hebrew, wear headcover-ing during worship services and do not allow organ or choirs.

It isn’t so different from Christian church programs: psalms of praise, scripture reading, sermon, a concluding prayer only omitting the eucharist or holy communion. Like Catholic worship, it is dominated by liturgy, rituals and customs set in ancient law and order.

The bar mitzvah ceremony marks the initiation of a 13-year-old boy into the adult Jewish religious community. He is now a “man of duty” committed to lifelong religious and ethical obligations. As part of the service, he receives his first tallit, or prayer shawl, and prayer book. To Jewish parents it is a proud landmark of high symbolic meaning: their son’s dedication to the lofty precepts of an ancient people and tradition.

Rabbi Jordan Ofseyer is a tall, handsome man with a foxy, amused face that reflects high intelligence; it’s a face you would want on your jury. After the last of the morning prayers and psalms, sung and chanted by cantor Bernard Lowe, he speaks of the importance of the holiday, Simchat Torah, or Rejoicing in the Law, which marks the end of the yearly cycle of reading all the Torah’s 54 sections, and then invites Evan Fetter and his parents up for the removal of the Torahs from the ark, signaling the beginning of Evan’s bar mitzvah.

In earlier days, the honored boy was expected to deliver a scholarly address on some aspect of Talmudic law. Now, however, he is honored by being permitted to chant aloud the Prophetic portion of the week known as the Haftarah. Rosy-cheeked and with a sheepish smile, Evan Fetter, in a piping tenor, tells the story of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) in Hebrew, then stands facing Rabbi Ofseyer.

“We’re very proud of you, Evan. Judaism combines a vision of the future with all the troubles of the past and with the present symbolized today with your bar mitzvah. I hope you take seriously your obligations, for in years to come you’ll be an ancestor and we hope you pass on to your children the lessons of the Torah.” Then the president of the congregation, Stanley Kaufman, tells of appearing before the city council to speak against a proposed shopping center just north of Solomon Schechter Academy, Shearith Israel’s day school in far north Dallas. It would be nice, Kaufman suggests, to write appreciation letters to members Ragsdale, Rucker and Lipscomb. “Speaking of letters, Evan has one of congratulation here from his friend in Austin, Mark White,” Kaufman says, showing the governor’s letter. Then he presents the boy with his own copy of the five books of Moses.

The rabbis then carry the Torah scrolls around the synagogue, followed by Evan and his parents, as members of the congregation offer congratulations and touch the holy objects with their prayer shawls or prayer books, kissing them afterwards. Shortly before the Torah procession, Rabbi Ofseyer leads his members in a prayer for Israel, “our country.”

Unlike the Reformed and certain sections of the Orthodox community, Conservative Jews have been pro-Zionist from the beginning. And as the Torahs are returned to the ark behind the special curtain and below the perpetual light, the gathered recite, as always, a line from Proverbs: “It is a tree of life to those who grasp it.”

Evan Fetter, wearing his new prayer shawl, a gift from his parents, faces the ark and Torahs and gives his special prayer of thanks to his parents, rabbis and teachers, relatives and siblings and to his God.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Related Content