“You can sit down here and get a first-class view of the service,” Gabriel tells me, beckoning at a seat that’s about three rows down from the altar, and very, very close to all the action.
“I’m not sure I want to be that close,” I blush. I had no idea I was hanging out with one of the worship leaders of this church, and I had no intention of being front and centre of the action. In fact I didn’t even want to be here; a little white lie is what’s got me in this fix.
“It’ll be fine,” he says. “I’ll come join you once we are done with our bit.”
The church organ strikes a note and the congregation starts to trickle in and take their seats. About 20 minutes later, a group of people, Gabriel included, walk onto the stage. One of them, a young, pretty lady wearing a nice, formal skirt suit, takes the microphone and ‘opens’ the service. “It’s time for us to warm up by praising the Lord!” she says. I look around the church; almost all the seats are full now and everyone is standing up and beaming from ear to ear.
As the band strikes up the first few notes, a large screen that’s been suspended above the stage flickers on and starts to display the lyrics of all the songs the group is singing. I alternate between reading these words and watching the rest of the crowd gyrate to the lively, disco-like music. I even see a few dance moves here and there that I thought would be reserved for the club… but who am I to judge?
After what seems like an eternity of singing and vigorous dancing, everyone calms down and goes into a more somber mood as the music slows down a few beats. I figure this is a good time to rest my feet and sit down, but I notice that everyone else stays up, eyes closed, hands raised, uttering things I cannot decipher. I wonder if this is a good time to make my escape.
I am casing my escape options when suddenly, a man bursts onto the stage and grabs the microphone. Judging from the firmness with which he grasps it, and the authority with which he commands the stage, he must be the lead pastor. Everyone hushes while he says a prayer. And then:
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he bellows as the singing group makes their way off stage, “welcome to this week’s service!” There are shouts of “Amen!” from all around the church. Gabriel makes his way towards the empty seat next to mine. “Today we are going to have a POWERFUL time with the Lord-a!” the pastor shouts, waving his arms about. “We are going to have a STUPENDOUSSSSS time with the Lorda-ah! We ARE GOING TO MOVE MOUNTAINS for the Lord-ah!” The congregation is in a frenzy. Some people stand up and start jumping about. I feel too introverted to participate. “People, let’s WORSHIIIIIIPP the Lord-AH!”
Everyone erupts as I shyly clap my hands and turn to Gabriel. From the way his eyes are shut tight and his arms are flapping about above his head, I guess I am on my own. I sit down in my chair, feeling instantly terrified and exposed, like I am a sheep who accidentally wandered into a lion’s den and I don’t know to blend in so that the lions won’t notice that I am not one of them and eat me – well, in this case, kick me out.
“And let us begin,” the pastory says, bringing the volume of his voice down so steeply that I am instantly confused about whether he is the same man from a few seconds ago. I reach into my bag to pull the Bible I slipped into it out; there’s the one thing I know will show others that I am, indeed, a member of the flock. But alas! Everyone – including the pastor – pulls out a tablet or a cell phone and starts whipping through it. Gabriel looks at my paper book and raises an eyebrow; I hold it close to my chest in defiance.
And thus it starts; so many faux pas and we haven’t even got to the preaching yet.