Speaking in Tongues: The Phenomenon of Glossolalia Within Pentecostalism
The following represents a topic I researched many years ago. The views and opinions I had then do not necessarily match those I have today. Names have been changed throughout the hub in order to protect peoples' privacy.
The following took place in the latter part of the 1980s.
Intro. and Background
Because of my fascination with glossolalia (speaking in tongues), I decided to do some observations of this phenomenon myself. I have witnessed glossolalia many times at various churches through the years and was always amazed and intrigued by its occurrence. The most incredible display of this practice I have seen was at the Gospel Church in Ohio.
During one particular service several months ago, participants at this predominantly black church got "drunk in the Holy Spirit." Four to five people at this evening worship service spoke in tongues, several swayed to the rhythm of the inspirational music in the background, and one lady collapsed on the floor, wildly convulsing about.
I knew then that I someday wanted to study this type of phenomena more in depth. To find the motivating force or philosophical foundation upon which glossolalia is based was a primary objective. I planned to critically observe the "manifestation" of glossolalia in three visits to Gospel Church, to take notes and, to possibly record glossolalic utterances. I also planned to interact with the members of this church to obtain as much knowledge concerning glossolalia as possible. My objective was to learn all I could about glossolalia and to gain insight into its cause, origination, and social functions.
I was dumbfounded as to the cause of glossolalia so my research was not impeded by some mental fixation or lethargy that many fixated people have. I tried to avoid causation inferences and to take into account as many variables as possible. A factual, straightforward approach was not a consideration for my writings; instead, I added as much description and passion as possible. The reliability of my study concerning this church cannot necessarily be linked to other churches because the activities involved in worship services varies from church to church.
Through this undertaking, I discovered what I believe to be contributing factors to the true causes of glossolalia. I tried to ignore the opinionated rumors and heresy which surround glossolalia and tried to form ideas and opinions of my own. I felt that I could possibly offer a synthesis of the conflicting opinions that surround the mystery of glossolalia. Objectivity was adhered to as rigidly as possible and a humanistic approach was utilized. Eclectic methodology was utilized because I refused to become a victim of methodological dualism.
Prior to my first visitation to Gospel Church, I was able to talk to Steve, a Pentecostal and speaker of tongues that works at the E. Fieldhouse at the local University. Steve said in order to vocalize an utterance of glossolalia, one must turn off his/her intellectual thought process and remain open to the Holy Spirit. He said that in a way, people are lending their own vocal cords to the spirit so the spirit can speak or channel through them. This spoken word, according to Steve, is an utterance unto God; that it is a prayer praising God or praying to God for the betterment of something. Steve said people must have faith in God, then the utterance will come thereby strengthening a person's faith in God and glossolalia. Steve explained why he thinks tongues are necessary when he said, "God gave the planet to Adam, Adam and Eve gave the planet to Satan (by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge), so now God has to operate through believers with some kind of manifestation, sometimes tongues."
There have been several theoretical assessments which have tried to explain the social phenomenon of glossolalia. The theologians, at least the Pentecostals and charismatics, believe that the practice of tongues is still very much alive today. In fact, they utilize this practice regularly. Their belief is that the glossolalic gift is inspired by the Holy Ghost. Other theologians, usually non-Pentecostals, believe glossolalia died out with the passing of Jesus' apostles.
Socioculturalists believe glossolalia is a learned, internalized behavior. They believe a person learns to speak in tongues much the same way a baby learns to speak his/her language. At first, the participant starts speaking or "glossolaling" with a few syllables and consonants. After repeated utterances, the person expands the original utterance by perhaps repeating the original phrase many times very rapidly as to sound like a foreign language. Many think glossolalics unconsciously form rhymes or alliterations with the original segment. This would result in sentences and even entire dialogues.
Many sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, etc. believe this phenomenon takes place in the participant when he/she has dissociated him/herself from his/her conscious mind and his/her physical surroundings. In other words, the phenomenon takes place when a glossolalic has by mimicry or learning, internalized a set sequence or pattern of randomly grouped vowels and consonants and, while in a dissociated state, spews forth these utterances in a rapid and fluent manner. The result, according to the professions listed above, is glossolalia.
The last group of views on glossolalia I wish to discuss are in accordance with those who believe that glossolalics are faking or acting. They believe the phenomenon is a show.
Although it would be more logical for me to extrapolate on a theory after my study is completed, I believe I am already forming one. My theory concerning glossolalia is much the same as the one mentioned above which many socioculturalists subscribe to. I believe glossolalia is a learned behavior. However, I cannot disprove the Pentecostals claim that it is a gift from God.
On my first and second visitations, I only wrote about the portions of the sermon that dealt specifically with glossolalia or other manifestations of the spirit. I outlined an entire sermon via tape recorder in my third visitation to better enable a reader/reviewer to understand the many different parts of a Gospel Church service. This extensive outline can be read later in this hub.
On my first visitation, there were 23 people present. Of these, twenty were black and three were white. I also noticed that the majority of people present were females, including the pastor, Sister Mary. The inside of the church looked like most other churches except for one thing, this church had a miracle wire. Hung on this wire were various objects that people had given up because of miracles. Marijuana pipes and other drug paraphernalia hung on the wire, evidence that by miracle someone had given up their drug habit. Also on the wire, were a pair of baby shoes. They were hung on the wire to symbolize the miracle that had taken place when the crooked feet of an infant had mysteriously begun to straighten. I have been in many churches and never before had I seen a miracle wire.
Sister Mary started off the service by saying that just like at an AA meeting when the first thing a person says is "I am an alcoholic", to be saved a person has to first recognize that he/she is a sinner. She said that when we do get saved Christ will be our overcomer. According to Mary, we must not forget that we belong to Christ. This is important to realize, especially when one comes in contact with Satan. Mary made it clear that being born again is not enough, that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not enough, because demon spirits can still plague a person. She made it a point that God loves us, but when he wants us to do something, he really means it. She said "God is love, but can be Hell when he wants to."
I found it interesting when Mary suggested that it is harder for a saved person to live a demon free life then it is for an unsaved person. She pointed out that there are demons who are constantly trying to get the Christian to again fall back into sin. The reason the sinner is not plagued by demons is because they are already Hell-bound. Mary specifically said that there is a demon called Memory Recall. Once a person is saved, the demon of memory recall makes one remember what they used to do and tries to get the Christian to backslide into a life of sin. She also mentioned that there are demons called Jealousy and Anger which evoke the emotions corresponding to their names.
During my second visitation, Sister Mary talked somewhat about the Holy Ghost. She said that once someone was baptized in the Holy Ghost that this event would lead to all truth. According to Mary, if a person's mental attitude is right, the spirit within one's self (the Holy Spirit) will never grow old. She also made it a point that the power of the Holy Ghost is so mysterious that a person would lose his/her mind if he/she tried to understand it. During a part of the service when Mary was laying hands on a person, two utterances of glossolalia came from her. The first one was "hosha makoh al a sha ma kai" and the second one was "hola makosha." Mary was speaking in English and then all of a sudden the first utterance came forth. She then switched back to English only to exude the second glossolalic utterance. When this happened, her body grew very stiff, her eyes tightly shut and her body shook. It is interesting to note that these two utterances are very similar in sound, and similar in the configuration of consonants and syllables.
Towards the end of the service, a glossolalic utterance came from the song leader of the church. She was leading the church in a song and as the song was winding down, the following utterance came forth:
shan do lan da can do shan
da see yah con do
la shan da shan do la
This utterance, like the ones Sister Mary had uttered earlier, also contained similar phonetic patterns. This seemed to indicate that the utterance was not a real language but a conglomeration of sounds from the "phonetic brain files".
As the last part of the service was approaching, Sister Mary informed the church that two people wanted to be baptized. Being familiar with usual Christian baptisms, I was expecting Mary to drip a few drops of water on each person's head while reciting some prayer. I was in for quite a surprise. Two men walked into the Bible school section of the church (which was in plain view of the congregation) and each bent over and grabbed a latch that was built into the floor. I was amazed to know that there were latches on the floor, after all, I had walked many times over the very section of the floor at which they were now tugging. They pulled on the latches and a large section of the floor came up, opening much like a cellar door. To my surprise, there was a baptismal pit built into the floor. The pit was about eight feet long and four feet wide with about two feet of water in it. The people to be baptized climbed into the pit via a stepladder and there were met by a man who was to baptize them. Sister Mary was standing above the pit and recited certain prayers from the Bible that dealt with baptisms. When she finished the recital, the man in the pit grabbed the person to be baptized and completely submerged each person under the water. He then brought them up out of the water and the newly baptized persons climbed out of the pit.
During the altar call, one woman had a peculiar request of Sister Mary. She told Mary she was trying to lose weight and couldn't because a demon was responsible for increasing her appetite. Mary prayed for the woman, laid hands on the woman's forehead, commanded the demon to stop plaguing this woman and asked the Holy Spirit to control the woman's appetite.
Another woman went to the front of the church and told Sister Mary that a demon had caused her to fall and hurt her ankle and knee. Sister Mary anointed the woman's ankle and knee with holy oil. Sister Mary laid hands on the woman and condemned Satan for making the woman fall. Mary then charged the swelling to subside in the glory of God. Mary then asked that the entire congregation come to the front of the church to pray for the woman. It was at this point in the service that various glossolalic utterances came forth from several people. These utterances all happened simultaneously making it impossible for me to write down what they sounded like. This was the only time during the service that glossolalia occurred. Although I did not get any valuable information concerning glossolalia, this visit did provide me with a foundation upon which I could base and prepare for my other visitations.
As the altar call was nearing an end, Sister Mary put me on the spot in front of the entire church. She asked me if I had ever been saved. I told her I had. She then asked me if I had ever been baptized in the Holy Spirit. I told her I had not. Then, in front of the entire congregation, she asked me if I would like to be baptized. Not wanting to, and yet not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, I told her that I would like to learn more about the Holy Ghost before I accepted it. She received my response with kindness and the members of the congregation quit staring at me. This type of pressure made me feel very awkward and I felt as if it made me look like a bad Christian in the congregation's eyes.
3rd Visit With Extensive Transcription
This visitation was recorded and later transcribed from my miniature tape recorder. The parts of the service that I transcribed have been transferred into this hub verbatim. This being my last visitation, I decided to outline the entire service. I was given permission to use a tape recorder by the pastor of the church (via an earlier phone conversation). No one else in the church was aware that I had the tape recorder. I did not take any field notes during this visitation because I knew that later I would transcribe the tape recording onto paper. In this service, as usual, church was started by an opening prayer by the pastor. During this opening prayer, most of the congregation was simultaneously saying their own prayer. This made it very difficult for me to hear what any one person was saying. No glossolalia was present, at least I didn't hear any. Upraising of hands was a prevalent occurrence and emotional vocal tones could be heard. The opening prayer by Sister Mary was as follows:
"Let's lift our hands up to the lord. Father, in the precious name of Jesus we do thank you for our sermon this morning and we recognize your presence being in the southern book. Thank you lord that the van came out here today, for Oscar the driver and the students that came, and we're looking forward to those that are coming over the highway; sister Cheryl in a station wagon, and the members of her family are coming here today. For each and everyone that's here we invite you dear God as we give you this service-the morning service and we give you the afternoon service. And followers are yet maybe upon the highway; we want to plead the blood of Jesus all over them in the stable of righteousness and safety and everything that you have desired is to be done today and be done in the glory and honor of you. We praise you will release the anointing of the word this morning and may you find a heart in the name of Jesus to set somebody free and we just praise Lord that you rain down your joy and that the captive will be set free today O God, understanding will be opened and maybe some will give their heart to you today and others may want to be filled with the Holy Ghost, and still others may want to be baptized in water. We just give you praise for whatever you desire, whatever you want to do and that will be just fine with us. In Jesus name, Amen."
When the pastor says she wants to "plead the blood of Jesus" she is referring to a process that will protect those on the road. The blood of Jesus is seen as a purifying agent; one which no harm or danger can overcome. If someone prays or pleads that something or someone be covered in the blood of Jesus, this means that the person being prayed for has been covered in Jesus' blood. To release the anointing of the word means that with God's help the word (Bible) comes alive. Instead of the pastor preaching a planned sermon, God leads her through the sermon. To be filled with the Holy Ghost or to have a rain of joy fall down refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the prelude to glossolalia. To give one's heart to Jesus is another term for getting saved. As mentioned earlier, this merely means to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that God is real and that Jesus Christ is God's son. This is also the point where the person in question repents for all their past sins and adopts the Christian way of life. The next part of the sermon was the recital of the Apostle's Creed (entire text of the creed per this hub omitted).
The recital of the Apostle's Creed reaffirms the beliefs and ideas common to this church. This creed embodies what the church stands for. The next part of the sermon was led by the music director.
Song leader : This is the day the Lord has made and we shall rejoice and be blessed, Hallelujah; be sure to say Amen.
Congregation : Amen, Amen.
Song leader : We come to give all the credit and honor to the lord because he's due. Hallelujah
During all of the songs that followed, driving was used in the form of clapping and drumming. This type of rhythmical sound has been said to bring about glossolalia. I did not write out the words to the following songs because they mainly consisted of one verse. This one verse was repeated continually. The congregation stood during these songs and many of the members swayed back and forth. Most of the members had their hands uplifted and some of them had their eyes closed and looked as if they were experiencing pure joy. All four songs were led by the person to whom I have referred previously as the song director. The main lines to these four songs are shown below.
Wherever I am, I'll praise Him;
I'll praise the name of Jesus,
I'll lift up the name of Jesus
For the name of Jesus lifted me.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let all God's people praise the Lord.
Shake off those heavy hands,
Lift up those holy hands,
Let all God's people praise the Lord.
Our Lord God has made the heavens and the earth.
Nothing, absolutely nothing is too difficult for He.
In Him we live, and move and have our peace.
The next part of the service involved more songs. As above, I did not write down the entire song, only the main line/s. Driving was once again present in the form of drumming and clapping.
There's something about that Holy Ghost,
I can't explain it, but I've got it.
Song leader : Does anybody else desire to testify; if not were gonna go into worship. I've learned some new songs.
Testimony, More Singing and Lots of Speaking in Tongues
The above statement was followed by an unusually long testimony. There was too much background noise to accurately transcribe the testimony. It was about how God had fulfilled a man's dreams, wants and desires. A few songs followed. These songs were passed out in church and I retained a copy. During a repeat of the second song, an utterance of tongues rumbled forth from the song leader. Actually, this utterance was in the form of singing. In other words, the song leader was singing in tongues. Many other people also began singing in tongues, but this made it extremely difficult to discern the separate utterances. I could distinctly hear the song leader sing in tongues because she had a microphone. The utterance is shown below.
shan do lan do lan yah con do shah kai
shon do lan yah shan doan ya ke
shun du lan yah kun dola
shun do lan yah kundulu
shan do lan yah do can do shakakai
shan do lan yah show do lan yakai
shon do landa sanyo sola kai
shun do lan yah kundanyolo
shan do lan yah sheendolo
shan do lan yah codo shah makai
Definite repetition of words and syllables in this utterance are obvious. This would suggest that every time this person speaks in tongues that much the same utterance comes forth. This would further suggest that the person in question has at one point in the past internalized a certain sequence of words either by mimicry or out of the existing "brain files of commonly used phonetic sounds". Although I believe some people fake tongues, I believe most of it takes place as part of an unconscious process. What with the belief system, the driving and the group pressure, it is not surprising that glossolalia occurs.
A song was then sung by Sister Mary. Phrases such as "Father we thank you", "we praise ya" and "hallelujah" followed and were prevalent. It was at this point that the most incredible utterance of tongues I have ever heard occurred. I saw John rise up out of a pew and walk up to the front of the church. His eyes were closed, his movement was convulsive, and his arms were raised. His voice was filled with emotion. I found it interesting that he went to the front of the church before the glossolalia began. This would suggest he wanted to make sure he had the undivided attention of the entire church. It's also incredible that he could walk around in trance without tripping or falling. He was in a seemingly dissociated state, yet was conscious of the spatial arrangement which surrounded him. The utterance was as follows:
ya caya ma shandala lai kayah asitica shotomokandala sil
ya caya ma shoyya coya blitica macaya
yah ya silla mashandele caya muy coya
yo coma sitica ya lo
ya showah yandala sitica ma ya lakaya
oh sitica shandalo la cola shataca la c
yo coma seen do la kai
yo sitima shanda la la cola santa a la key
yo coma seen del a kai
ya cay a la machine del a shoya makoy
ya lie mashya koya maseen
yan do la sitico a malacoyah
kyete a la maseyah
myete a la coya
yo kitty don a la seeya mashan dai
yo seendai coya moseka mellow ala key
yah coya mosanda dellashando ala see
yah la coya masandai
yah shotica masitica la coya mashanda a la see ya
oh o lo seya la shandala a la seya
yai kaya maseya caya ma show o kodolo maseeyah
yah caya por son del a aqui
sitima makeya shandai
ala seeya shoticah ala ceya campo de la ceya shandala a la ceya yando a la cy
yandala a la seyah show ya co ya sin del a kaya yando a seenda a la mashanda ya sen a la ma keya
Oh thank you Jesus, thank you Lord.
No One is to Leave Unless the Church Catches Fire
This prolonged utterance was followed by a long prayer and more shouted Hallelujahs and clapping. A period of small talk and church news was given by the minister to the congregation. The small talk was followed by a very surprising statement that I found interesting. The preacher told one of the congregation to guard the door in the back of the church and to not let anybody out. Mary said:
"Sister Shari, little Shari-when your back there on the door if the spirit of God is true and if anybody wants to get out tell them they have to stay in. Could you do that? We just have to, from time to time whenever the Holy Spirit is moving--it's time for everybody to get kneeling, to get somewhere and stay in. It's not time to run outdoors. The only time you can run outdoors is if the house is on fire; then you go, but other than that, when the Holy Spirit is moving, you reverence him. He cannot come in and do his type of things if you are disrespectful to his presence."
This statement was kind of scary to me because I did not like having my freedom limited. With a person guarding the door, that was exactly what was taking place. Often, a person who leaves church when manifestations of the spirit are taking place is thought to be possessed by Satan. In other words, the pressure to stay in the church is strong and those who don't are looked down upon.
Another session of small talk and church news took place at this juncture of the service. Sister Mary discussed the need to preach the valid word of the Bible and she praised those who preach the truth, or as she often says, the unadulterated word. She strongly believes that people must live according to the Bible. This she says is the only way a person can go to Heaven. She says that if she dies and her soul is lost in Hell, that it is her own fault. This part of the service lasted about 10-12 minutes.
Just watch the first 10 minutes
The next part of the sermon was fascinating because it included personal testimonies from members of the church. Members of the congregation stood up and told what God had done for their lives. At times people got highly emotional and started running their words together at a rapid pace and this made it difficult to understand what the person was saying. Others cried and some people jumped up and down with joy. Several examples follow:
Song leader : Somebody testify. Somebody testify. Hallelujah. He's mighty, I want to thank Him for being the mighty God He is. I want to thank Him for being Jehovah Jalome, our peace, Jehovah Gyra, our provider, Jehovah Mekeesh, the sanctifier. I want to thank Him for being everything that He is. Hallelujah, somebody else testify.
John : I would just like to thank the Lord for being here this morning and waking me up to be a part of this service and for showing mercy to me and my family. We all try to stay as perfect in the Lord as we can and elevate His word to be a part, but we gotta keep on going and I just thank the Lord for seeing over people who mean a lot to me [Amen]. Praise God for His mighty works, He's just delivering me--it's like Sister Mary said the other day, He's giving em up from the North, South, East and West-they acomin' [Amen, Hallelujah] and I just thank Him for that and I just ask that you'll pray for me [Praise the Lord].
Song leader : Anybody want to testify?
Blue : I thank the Lord that He's let me live for 57 years [Hallelujah] and that He's kept His hand upon me and I plan to serve Him all the days of my life [Hallelujah]. I plan to serve Him with all my heart, soul and mind [Hallelujah].
Song leader : Somebody else testify
Young man : I just thank the Lord for Sister Mary coming and asking me to her service [Amen]. I want to believe. [Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen followed by clapping].
Wife of John : I just thank the Lord for bringing me here-for having mercy upon me and my life, He's working with my parents [Hallelujah 4 times].
Song leader : Go ahead Penny
Penny : I thank the Lord for setting me free and waking me up today and I just thank Him for helping me with the problems I got at work--everybody comin' at me left and right. I'm dealing with it [Hallelujah] and I thank Him for reuniting me with my family [Hallelujah] and I praise Him and give 'em all the joy. [Amen-That's it, two Hallelujahs]
Old Woman : I thank the Lord for being here. I thank Him for yesterday. I thank Him for everything He's given me. I thank Him for watching over me over the highway [Amen] and I just thank Him cause God has been good to me and I thank Him for how He strengthens me--yes, He has me all along. I know without Him I would surely fall. I thank the Lord cause He's been my provider--He's made a way out of no way [Amen]. Just pray for me that I'll continue on and trust in the Lord. [Amen, Hallelujah]
Song leader : Anybody else want to testify? Praise God.
Altar Call With Many Happenings
The altar call was accompanied by many strange happenings. One elderly lady went to the altar and told Sister Merle about how her arm ached. Sister Merle anointed the lady's arm with holy oil. I also saw several people collapse. John, the man who earlier spoke in tongues, was the first to collapse. He was up in front of the church and requested that people lay hands on him, and several did. John had his hands raised and eyes closed as two people were laying hands upon him. Sister Mary grasped him by the temples and was shouting religious instructions and intermittent glossolalic terminology at him. He then collapsed. While lying flat on the floor, John still had his eyes closed and arms raised and was whispering to himself. After about three minutes of lying on the floor, John rose and the same process was repeated on three others.
One woman, instead of collapsing, remained on her feet, all the while convulsing about. These activities were followed by religious comments such as "just put it all in His hands, we give you all the glory, thank you Jesus, we accept you in Jesus's name and thank you Father". A few utterances of tongues directly followed the above happenings, but they were too distorted to be heard properly on the tape recorder. However, I did hear several utterances from Sister Mary. This is because she was close to a microphone and also because she is naturally loud. She uttered:
colashilianda mandayand nina matoe
If you compare this utterance with the utterance I wrote down from Sister Mary last week, the same pattern and sounds can be observed. After the above glossolalia many "thank you"s, "Hallelujah"s, "Amen"s, moans, wails, "Praise God"s, and clapping could be heard.
While all the commotion and upheaval was going on, I was able to record two more glossolalic utterances from Sister Mary. They are shown below. Notice the similarities between the two following utterances and the previous utterances by Sister Mary.
hoy makohya makaiyah
hamde mekolia mecanamakoliamakai melia kolamakolamakolamakai
It was directly after the above utterance that all attention was shifted to me. Sister Merle said a prayer for me while the rest of the congregation looked at me. I felt very uncomfortable and awkward.
I Become the Center of Attention
"Mr. Missing Link, the Lord would say unto you, you have not chosen this path on which you trod, saith God. Thou hast entered into a field of intellectualism, and yeah though I have brought you to this place, the low ground, that I may ground you in faith saith God. If things were begin to happen to you that you cannot explain accept it from me saith the Lord, for I do hold the world in the palm of my hand, I do charter a man's life as it's given to me and yeah even in your room when thou asks questions, yeah I will give thee an answer. Shortly thereof thou will raise thy hand and feel me, raise thy hands to me, and you shall know then that my power is real. Thou shall begin to praise me in the language that I have chosen, so saith the Lord. [clapping, Hallelujah] I don't believe you will be in a crowd when you receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some people will not receive it because it is a controversial issue. Those that want the reality of God, expose your heart to Him and He'll come."
I think the reason Sister Mary said that if I ever did receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that I would be alone is because she somehow sensed that I did not want to receive it, or maybe because she sensed that I did not believe as her church did.
All I know is that this type of pressure was very difficult to cope with. It's also interesting that she makes my "field of intellectualism" (college) look like an evil institution, one which keeps me from knowing the "truth" of the Bible. It's not surprising that my "field of intellectualism" was denoted negatively; no one else in this church had ever been to college.
CURRENT NOTE: After all these years I look upon Sister Mary's words in a very different way. I can relate much better to her now than I could back then. In fact, I can now look back on my college years and see how I was seduced and indoctrinated in certain ways via college culture. Educated people can be devoid of common sense and have a blind faith in their delusion of power and those who didn't go to college can be wise and have great common sense. I detest pundits on TV who suggest if I don't believe as they do I must not be as progressive and sophisticated as they are. God works in mysterious ways as they say and one way, it seems, is through the passage of time. Thank God for Sister Mary and for all the people she helped and touched throughout her life.
I think several people did not like me just for the fact that I was a college student. They seemed threatened by this. Perhaps in the past, the people of this church have had negative encounters with the educated. Perhaps they have been mocked or laughed at in the past and thought I would do the same.
Sister Mary saved a couple of other people and laid hands on some others. Mary uttered her last glossolalia of the evening which sounded similar to her earlier utterances. It was :
shandala koyah [and] handalah makosha.
Towards the end of the altar call, five people were speaking in tongues at one time and needless to say, I could not make out the utterances. These last utterances were followed by many religious statements such as "Thank you Jesus, put it all in His hands right now", and "Hallelujah". Much crying and lamenting also took place.
Collection, Sermon, Call to be Saved
The next step of the church service was the collection of the offering. Just preceding the collection of money, Sister Mary talked about the need for cooperation and unity in order to solve economic problems that the church often finds itself in. This statement or plea was followed by a prayer more or less saying the same thing. Sister Mary also talked about how good our life is compared to other people's lives.
The offering was followed by more singing and shouting of "Hallelujah"s and "Praise the Lord"s. The sermon took place at this point of the service. The sermon took up the majority of the service and lasted approximately one hour. Sister Mary's sermon was based on the evil of envy. I did not transcribe the actual sermon because I felt it added nothing to my study, since no glossolalia occurred.
After the sermon was finished, Mary talked for several minutes about the importance of getting saved. To persuade people to get saved, Sister Mary started to preach about the horrors of Hell. Her plea for people to get saved is shown below:
"So if you're here this morning and somebody here wants to be saved the altar is always open. You come. There's some men here that are filled with the Holy Ghost. They will pray with you. Say yes to God-right today. God, I will pattern my life and I believe the word that if I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth I shall be saved. We'll pray the sinners prayer with you and you can go home saved today. If you come back this afternoon at three o'clock we'll baptize you in the pool as long as there's water in it and you can live tomorrow a free man or woman in Jesus Christ. It's your will, God has already willed that the whole world be saved. The world might not believe that but God is able to take what you give Him and make you what He wants you to be and I get happy down in my soul praise the Lord."
Communion and Fellowship
Sister Mary then told the church that they could take communion if they wanted to. Communion is a ritual in which people symbolically partake of Jesus' body and blood. In this case, grape juice was passed around to symbolize the blood and bread to symbolize the body of Jesus. Partaking makes the worshiper an actual part of the body of Christ. The prerequisite for taking communion is to be saved and baptized. Since I have never been baptized, I did not take communion. When the juice and bread were passed my way I passed it on to the person sitting next to me. When I did this many people within the church looked at me as if I was evil or a bad person. Once again I felt caught between a rock and a hard place.
Communion was followed by a prayer; the organ player could be heard singing in the background. The prayer indicated that the service was over and that the time for fellowship was at hand.
Fellowship consisted of people hugging and shaking hands. Many people were dancing as the loud drumbeat dominated the auditory background. The place was literally in a state of pandemonium, while I awkwardly stood by. People began to stare at me as if I was weird for not dancing and since I knew it was now acceptable for me to leave, I did.
Subsequent Analysis and Conclusions
I classified the level of study that I analyzed as one of practice/s. Practices refers to a recurrent category of talk and or action which the observer focuses on as having analytic significance. Within the Pentecostal church that I targeted, I found it interesting that they considered the speaking of tongues a normal yet remarkable feature of their life. It was normal in that it was an expected part of the church service such as singing, but at the same time glossolalia was considered remarkable because it was believed that it came from the Holy Ghost, a divine religious figure. It was the practice of glossolalia that I focused my energies upon.
As indicated throughout this hub and through my own personal experiences at Gospel Church, I feel that glossolalia played a significant part of the church experience, not to mention an important part in those people's lives.
Obviously, the unit I studied was of a religious type. I was concerned with the types of religious practices (mainly glossolalia) that were exhibited among the worshipers in this small, predominantly black, rural, church. This study enabled me to better identify with the church system and to understand what made it tick.
I found that the authority within the church resided within the individuals who in some way led the congregation. There were three main people who did this, the organist, the song leader and mainly, the pastor, Sister Mary. Compliance to the expectations or "rules" that these three expected, mainly the pastor, largely determined the functioning of the church. If one were to ask these three people who their authority is, they would most likely tell you that their authority is God.
Formalization and utilization of rules were adhered to according to how the pastor interpreted the Bible. The teaching of her sermons were based upon the writings within the Bible. How she interpreted these writings depended much on how she chose to interpret the scriptures as a whole.
Participant behavior was subject to "loose" inter-church scrutiny according to their "ways". There were expectations within this church, and when they were not met, the transgressor lost status and respect from the viewpoint of the rest of the congregation. I experienced this personally when I refused to take communion and when I did not want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. No harsh or severe punishment or ostracizing followed deviant behavior.
Within the Gospel church there was a high degree of social relationship. There was a dependency upon one another as far as providing comfort and fellowship. This dependency and fellowship was always stressed by the pastor to be very important.
She made it a point that if the members of the congregation were always nice and polite that people might notice this and want to be as the Gospel Church participant was. This might get people interested in the church and maybe they would become a Pentecostal. Besides being a good Christian, the Gospel church recruited new members by appealing to people's personal needs and beliefs. The long term incentive of course was that of eternal salvation. Sister Mary also made it a point to tell people that the church services would not take much of their time. The Gospel Church service took place twice every Sunday, once at 10:30 a.m. and once at 7:30 p.m. The frequency of glossolalia of course could not be accurately measured since it occurred randomly. However, it seemed that most of the time when certain conditions were present then glossolalia took place.
Glossolalia appeared most often when the service was at or near an emotional climax. The occurrence of glossolalia also often happened when someone was involved in a highly religious ceremony such as being saved or baptized. Although glossolalia most often occurred under the above conditions, it could have theoretically taken place at any time during the worship service.
Many people are often interested in what facilitates the occurrence of glossolalia. The Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit facilitates the occurrence of glossolalia, but there are other opinions which deserve mentioning. Some say the rythmical beats of clapping, stomping and drumming creates a psychologically induced state in which a participant's unconscious mind takes precedence over the conscious mind. Faking, or trying to make other people within the church believe that one has the gift of tongues when one does not is also a possibility. There are other theories, but I do not think it necessary to mention them here.
The consequences of this congregations type of worship resulted in some interesting social factors. The main consequences are listed below.
1. cohesion among group
2. gives people reason to live
3. helps to eliminate past emotions or stress concerning failures and tragedies (helps people to cope with the death of a loved one).
4. gives people status-can say they know God
5. their beliefs create a resistance to external influence-makes their life an adventure-good against evil-makes them feel necessary because they are helping fight against the influences of Satan.
6. eternal salvation
7. an abiding part of society
I learned much about glossolalia from my experiences at Gospel Church. It was obvious that the frequency of glossolalia was closely related to the status or position a participant had in the church. In other words, there appeared to be a relationship between those who most often spoke in tongues and the hierarchy that existed within the church. Every utterance that I recorded from females came from two people; Sister Mary, the pastor, and the song-music director. These two women held the highest positions in the church and were also the ones that spoke in tongues the most.
There also seemed to be a relationship between the fluency of the glossolalic utterance and the amount of experience the participant had had in utilizing the practice. The song leader was much younger then the pastor and her glossolalia was not as fluent as the pastor's. The fluency of Mary's glossolalia led me to believe that she had spoken in tongues for years. This is just like saying that a person who has spoken Spanish for five years will probably be more fluent at the language than someone who has only spoken Spanish for three years. Although I can't be positive about this specific conclusion, all observations and a gut feeling led me to believe this. John, the only male who spoke in tongues, like Mary, had a fluency to his glossolalia. This led me to believe that he also had spoken in tongues for a long time. John was also the most noticeable male in the congregation as far as participation.
As stated earlier, glossolalia is more likely to occur during a part of the service that is emotional or highly ceremonial. The majority of the glossolalic utterances that I recorded were vocalized during the altar call. Although the two longest utterances were not vocalized at this point of the service, the majority were. This conclusion might be skewed because every glossolalic utterance I recorded during the altar call came from Sister Mary.
None of the people who regularly attended this church had ever attended college, and some of them had never graduated from high school. With this information, I assumed that glossolalia was most often uttered by those of lower education. I am not making this conclusion as a comparison between the people within the church but as a comparison between the church and other churches. If one were to go to a Catholic church, where the congregation tends to be more educated, I am reasonably sure that little to no glossolalia would be present.
The occurrence of glossolalia also seems to be related to the economic level of the participant. The people who attended the Gospel Church were very poor and hence, glossolalia was prevalent. Again, if one were to attend a typical Catholic church, one would probably find a higher economic status among the participants, and the occurrence of glossolalia would be unlikely.
The ability to speak in tongues seemed to add meaning to the lives of the people at Gospel Church, a life which would otherwise be constantly smothered in poverty and hopelessness. The desire to someday go to Heaven offered hope to these peoples' lives.
In regard to the above conclusions, it is imperative that the reader be aware that the conclusions are not concrete. If I had done my study at a different church, my conclusions might have been different. Also, it is important to remember that the above conclusions cannot be generalized to other Pentecostal churches. These conclusions were based on my observations at Gospel Church and nowhere else.
For several years, I was obsessed as to the cause/s of glossolalia and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Now, thanks to my research and observations, I feel I understand these manifestations as human creations, creations which are learned. Like Samarin, I feel that
"Glossolalia is made of common human stuff. It is, in itself, profane. But this should come as no surprise. All religion is incarnated in man. Its dimensions are those of homo sapiens. (Although the believer adds another dimension, the supernatural, he cannot escape the fact that even that is mediated through the carnal. The supernatural is perceived and manifested through a physically-and culturally-bound creature.)" Some of this I now disagree with.
"The material of religion is human: bread and buildings, wine and water, crosses and colors, liturgy and language. They all figure in man's being religious and experiencing religion. They constitute the monuments to and the edifice of religion (a/Samarin 1972:229)."
Never will I forget my experiences at Gospel Church or the phenomena that I witnessed there.