A First Date: The Pentecostal Way

If there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to marriage, it’s that you need to stick to marrying someone who is close to what you are used to. That is to say, when considering marriage, the person you choose should have a similar family background and upbringing. Of course, if you grew up in a toxic environment, by all means, please get some counseling, break the cycle, and find a more stable family to marry into. When you are young, you think you know what you’re doing, but you don’t. That’s where I went wrong . . . I was sixteen when I met Lynn, and he was eighteen.

My first clue should’ve been our first date. Lynn picked me up in a car that had no floor on the passenger side. It was cold and rainy, so he had covered the hole with duct tape and then warned me not to step on it when I got in the car. He informed me that he was taking me to a revival at a Pentecostal church. Now, this was not uncommon to take a date to church in the south in 1976, but I was raised Presbyterian, and I was wearing pants. He could’ve at least given me a heads up.

We arrived at the church, and Lynn dragged me down the aisle to sit close to the front. I was wearing pants in a holy rolling, tongue speaking church while sitting as close to the front as a person could get. Everyone seemed nice enough, but I felt like we were being stared at, and I was right. Maybe it was because we were the only visitors attending that evening, but it was probably because these folks thought there was a Jezebel in their presence.

You see, Pentecostal women don’t wear pants, and they definitely don’t wear makeup or jewelry. They wear modest dresses, no bright, loud colors or prints, and definitely no red. Their hemlines fall well below the knee, and the neck line covers all the way up to the neck. No cleavage is allowed. Their sleeves must fall below the elbow. The bit of leg below their dresses are covered with thick stockings. High heel shoes aren’t acceptable. All the women have long hair, from young to old, but they don’t wear it loose. It must be kept pulled back in a bun, or piled up on top of their heads in the Southern beehive style. I was guilty of all of the above, including the jewelry and free flowing hair. I scandalized the congregation; I apparently needed saving.

The men had it easier, of course. The lucky devils can wear nice pants or modest jeans, although while in church, they must wear long sleeve dress shirts in muted colors, and a tie. Men must tuck in their shirts, and wear belts. Long hair, tattoos, and gaudy chains are disallowed, but unlike the women, they can wear more than a wedding ring if they choose. Lynn fit right in with his black slacks and white button down shirt.

The service began promptly at 6:00, as a lady with a huge hive on her head started playing an old country hymn on the piano. Pentecostals don’t believe in organs. They use pianos and sometimes acoustic, but never electric guitars.  The music was very loud and everyone was standing, singing, clapping, and raising their hands. No one needed the hymn books provided. This worked for me. I knew the words to the hymn. Besides, to keep myself from being knocked over by the swaying of the folks around me, I needed my hands free.

It didn’t take long for the worship to crescendo into verbal praising. There was shouting, lots of shouting. “Praise God! Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” And then the tongue speaking started. I’d never heard anyone speak in tongues. It was like no language I’d ever heard before. The only way to describe it would be if you mixed all languages together and started speaking random sounds and syllables. There was no rhyme or reason to what was being spoken around me. To make it worse, Lynn began to join this insanity. Needless to say, I was becoming very uncomfortable, but this was only the beginning of the chaos to come.

As I stood there surrounded by all this strange behavior, people began to dance. Some moved out into the aisles while others danced where they stood. One old woman seated in front of us, who must have been in her 70s, started to dance and stomp. Then she just flat out took off running around the aisles, up and down, across the front of the church. I thought she was going to fall and break a hip. One of her thick stockings had slipped its garter and was flapping around her ankle. This Presbyterian girl, only saw a chaotic, frightening mess. By this time, I was white knuckling the seat in front of me.

You see, Presbyterians are more reserved, and everything is done in an orderly fashion. We’re ushered to our seats while the organist plays a traditional hymn.  We follow the bulletin, standing, sitting, and praying quietly, when directed. We respect one another’s space, and we don’t raise our hands, shout, speak in tongues, or run around. The pastor delivers an organized message in a reasonable tone of voice for 25 minutes. We all go home after an hour, and nobody leaves scared witless. 

In this service, the confusion continued for what seemed like an eternity, until people began to cry. First, the man standing next to us, who’d been contributing to the loudest yelling, burst out in wailing tears. Then, some of the folks behind us joined him. Before I knew it, almost the entire congregation was wailing away in tongues and in English, including Lynn, my date. I wanted to cry too, but not for the same reasons.

After about ten minutes, the weeping and crying and gnashing of teeth dropped in volume to quiet sobbing. This is when the preacher took the stage. In Pentecostal churches, everyone addresses each other as Brother so-n-so or Sister so-n-so. So, Brother Jones took the stage and everyone took their seats. Brother Jones began to preach, delivering his sermon in a firm, controlled manner, at first. But, just like the worship service spun out of control, so did his delivery. Before my eyes, he became wound up, yelling and stomping and pacing back and forth in front of the church, while the congregation chimed in with “Halleluiah! Amen!” and “That’s right, brother!” It was a fire and brimstone sermon to rival no other. Hollywood couldn’t have produced a better scene if they’d tried.

He was preaching on the morality of men and women in this sinful world. Every time he mentioned the woman part of morality, he’d shake his pudgy finger directly at me. As he continued to gyrate in front of us, I was reminded of Joe Cocker and John Belushi’s performance together on Saturday Night Live. Brother Jones was almost as comical, but I dared not crack a smile for fear that all hell would break loose. The Brother was so worked up that he was sweating profusely, not to mention spitting a lot. I was glad we weren’t sitting in the front row.

This was the longest sermon I’d ever witnessed, and when it looked like Brother Jones was finally winding it down, I was probably the happiest person in that room. But my happiness quickly was replaced with a feeling of foreboding, as Brother Jones began the last phase of the evening, the alter call. This apparently happens at the end of every service in Pentecostal churches, especially revivals. The preacher calls for sinners to come to the front to “get save.” As people heed the call and arrive before the preacher, they’re joined by numerous member of the congregation, who lay hands on them, and pray for their deliverance from Satan.

There was no reason for me to go up there. I was already a Christian and didn’t need saving again, but somehow, I found myself being gently ushered to the front. I think Lynn was in on this conspiracy, but I couldn’t be sure. My head was still spinning from the evening’s experiences; things had gotten a little fuzzy to me. I found myself surrounded by many of the women in the church, and there must’ve been twenty hands on my back and shoulders. In addition, Brother Jones had laid his hand on the top of my head. All of those hands were pressing on me as if they wanted me to fall to the floor. I was working as hard as I could to stand my ground. While speaking in tongues, they were calling out to God and to Jesus for my salvation.  I wanted out of there so badly, but I was literally surrounded, with no escape.

Eventually, they stopped chanting. I think they realized that I was not going to fall to my knees. Every one of them, except the preacher, hugged me and said, “Bless you child.”  I remember thinking, “what just happened here? I know I didn’t get saved again,” but I wasn’t going to mention that to these people. Whew! It was finally over . . . mmm, not quite. Now they wanted me to get baptized! This is another difference between my Christian upbringing and theirs. Presbyterians baptize their children when they’re young. They stand in front of the pastor and promise to raise their child in the Lord. Then, the pastor sprinkles holy water on the head of the child and blesses them. Not surprisingly, baptism in the Pentecostal church is a big production. What lay behind the pulpit wasn’t a small fountain of holy water, but a whole vat of it. The baptism wasn’t going to be a sprinkling on the head, but a full body dunking.

By this time, I was so exhausted from this entire nightmare of a date that I would’ve done just about anything to get out of there. But I drew the line at being baptized. There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going for a swim. Now, no self-respecting Southern girl would ever cause a scene in public, much less in church. But I’d reached my breaking point. I turned to find Lynn, who thankfully was within shouting distance, and for the first time that night, I raised my voice. I yelled “Lynn, we’re leaving, right now!”, and I did. I ran out of that church as fast as I could.

Amazingly enough, Lynn quickly followed. He unlocked the door for me and I climbed back into the car with the duct tape floors and locked the door behind me. He asked me what was wrong . . .  that was a big mistake. We drove the rest of the way back to my home in silence.

This became the first day of what would eventually be a five-year marriage, and it was just the beginning of many strange times to come. Our relationship wasn’t a happy or healthy one, nor was it in line with the example set before me by my parents. I stepped out of a relatively normal, balanced family dynamic into a world filled with submissive obedience, bound by male control and behaviors that were justified by out-of-context interpretations of the word of God. Nothing about our relationship was funny at the time. It has taken a few decades and a lot of prayer on my part for me to see the true humor that lay beneath the surface of most of the events from those early years of my life. This is how I choose to remember them.

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Susan Andrews has been a resident of Colorado for 26 years. She is currently pursuing a degree in Fine Art with a focus on painting and photography. Susan loves the outdoors and spends her free time gardening and painting.

1 Discussion on “A First Date: The Pentecostal Way”
  • Thanks for sharing this, Susan. It’s a fine piece and a fascinating story. I can relate, thinking back to when some friends talked me–a twelve-year-old Baptist kid–into going to a Jimmy Swaggart crusade in New Orleans. It was one of the most terrifying and hilarious experiences of my life.