Posts Tagged ‘ Pentecostal ’

Iglesia de Dios Casa de la Restauracion, Clover SC, Part II – Visited on 7/3/12

Clover, SC lay in the grip of a record breaking heatwave on the evening of July 3 when Churchspotting met with Noelia Quinones, the pastor of Iglesia de Dios Casa de la Restauracion.  The cool and dark of the church building’s interior was a welcome change from the baking humidity outside, which persisted even towards sunset that day.  Inside, Noelia and her husband Raphael took seats behind the desk in a room marked ‘Pastor’s Office’ to answer our questions about themselves and their church.

Noelia Quinones was born in Puerto Rico in 1957 to a family of five: mother, father, one sister and one brother.  She was the daughter of her father’s second marriage, and her brother and sister were step-siblings.  The whole household was Catholic, and Noelia was raised as a member of the Catholic Church.  Noelia attended high school in her teens against her father’s wishes, and went on to study teaching at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.

At eighteen Mrs. Quinones transferred to the King’s College in New York City, which she attended while living in nearby Newark, New Jersey.  It was in Newark that she met her husband, Raphael, and began to attend a local outpost of the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination based in Cleveland, TN.  Churchspotting covered two other Church of God congregations previously.

Her transition from the Catholic Church to the Church of God was apparently as much for Raphael’s benefit as her own spiritual inclinations.  By his own admission Raphael smoked and gambled as a younger man, but during their time in Newark one of his friends claimed to have left those vices behind after starting attendance at a Church of God congregation.  They began attending themselves, and have remained Church of God members ever since.

After college Noelia worked as a Spanish teacher in New Jersey until her retirement in 1997.  She and Raphael moved back to Puerto Rico, where she spent a few quiet years as a real estate agent.  Raphael suffered several heart attacks during this time, which prompted them to move to Clover, SC as a place for Raphael to relax.

While living in Clover, Noelia became involved a Spanish language Church of God congregation in Gastonia, NC.  Though she began as a volunteer helping to maintain the church, the pastor there suggested that she should pursue ordination and a more official position in the Church of God.  Though at first reluctant, Noelia eventually began taking correspondence classes over the internet and subsequently passed the church’s ordination tests in Charlotte, NC to become an “exhorter minister” of the Church of God.

After receiving her ordination Noelia started her search for a place to found a new church, and settled on a rental space on Highway 321 in the north of Clover in November of 2010.  After slightly less than a year in that space Noelia moved to the location of the Clover Church of the Nazarene, where her group shared space with is usual membership.  In January of 2012 she moved the church to its current location, formerly the space of a congregation from the Assembly of God, from whom she rents the property.

Raphael’s role at the church is multi-purpose.  During services he runs the sound system; during the week he mows the lawn and takes care of its building.  Preaching and teaching is the province of Noelia and the church elders.

Noelia’s congregation numbers at about sixty individuals, including children.  Most live in the area of York and Clover, SC, and come from blue collar backgrounds.  The congregation is a nearly 40/60 mix of immigrant and born Americans, mostly of Mexican descent with some Colombians and Puerto Ricans, as well as a single Honduran and a single El Salvadoran member.

The church maintains ties with three other Spanish language churches in Gastonia, NC, as well as at least one in Lincolnton, NC.  Mrs. Quinones goes to preach at them on special occasions, and vice versa.  Aside from its special relationship with the Clover Church of the Nazarene, the church maintains ties with the local Church of God bishop in Lake Wylie, SC.

The church provides local charity in the form of food and clothing for the unemployed, though as a rented space their ability to raise large operations on the property are limited.

On the subject of Church and State, Mrs. Quinones said that the Bible tells her to obey the law, but not when the law goes against what’s found in the Bible.

Haven Ministries: Church of God of Prophecy – Visited on 11/20

This week we return to Southeast Clover, South Carolina.  The object of our visit is Haven Ministries, a member church of the Church of God of Prophecy.  In the past Churchspotting covered two other Church of God affiliates, Greater Life Ministries (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-1c, http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-1c) and East Clover Church of God (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-1Y).

The Church of God of Prophecy is a Pentecostal Christian religious association based in Cleveland, TN.  At approximately seven million adherents worldwide it is one of the larger Protestant denominations.  Past Churchspotting experiences with Church of God affiliates included: worshippers speaking in tongues; a style of prayer where each member of the congregation conducts their devotions at a volume and with words of their choosing; and a general trend towards low-income, family-based membership.

Haven Ministries is a small, tan building on the shoulder of Hilltop Lane.  Its neighboring homes are trailers and low-cost construction.  Its porch looks out upon exposed ridges of the mossy grey stone that lies beneath much of the town of Clover.  Inside a short wood-paneled hallway opens onto the sanctuary: a low, square room filled by two columns of pews facing a stage ringed with purple bunting.  A flag stands to either side of the stage, one American, the other Pentecostal.  A wooden pulpit stands at the center, draped in garlands of autumn leaves and set with Fall-blooming flowers.  Behind stand racks and seating for several guitarists and a full drum set.

Haven Ministries is a small church in terms of its congregation as well as its architectural footprint.  On the morning of 11/20 the church could boast of around twenty-five adult participants in the congregation, with a maximum of thirty-five including children.  Many members of the congregation were absent due to family illnesses; according to the church’s pastor, Olivene Martin, a more average size is closer to forty or fifty.

Worship at Haven Ministries is not for the faint of heart.  The service observed by Churchspotting began at 9:45 AM and continued till past noon, with a second service planned for that evening.  That time includes a Sunday School class on Biblical scripture taught after the initial recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer of thanksgiving.

That morning the prayer of thanksgiving began by asking for God’s blessing on the United States Military, then upon the nation’s schools and teachers, then for individuals put forward by the congregation.  The service’s sermon, delivered by Pastor Olivine Martin, followed the Sunday School and took up the remainder of the worship service.

It is worth the time to explain the phenomenon of Pentecostal prayer to the uninitiated.  At the prayer leader’s prompting, be that the church’s pastor or some secondary leader, the congregation commences to pray.  This is done at a volume of each worshipper’s choosing, discussing matters also of their choosing.  Thus any number of congregants begin speaking during the prayer time, at independent volumes, with individual words.  The result is what Churchspotting now terms “cacophonic prayer.”  Each individual’s words blend together into a pulsating river of sound, swelling before it diminishes as each worshipper completes their devotions.  The service moves on only once everyone finishes speaking.

After the morning’s worship I sat down with Pastor Martin and her husband, James, for a brief interview.  Olivene and James Martin are an older couple; Pastor Martin described being ‘saved,’ i.e. giving herself to her faith, at the age of 17 in 1954.  She has lived in York County since at least that time as a member of the York Church of God, before being named pastor of Haven Ministries in 1982.

When the original Church of God of Prophecy candidate for that Haven post, an elderly man at 82 years, passed before construction could begin on the church the duty fell to Olivene.  At the time the Church of God organization owned the plot of land in Clover, but no church yet stood.  Pastor Olivine led the foundation of what is now Haven Ministries nearly thirty years ago, and has served as the church’s pastor from then till now.

Pastor Martin believes that the End Times, and the Rapture of Pentecostal tradition, are near.  During the interview she and James referred to the Book of Matthew, where scripture describes an age of war, upheaval and false prophets as precursors to the second coming of Christ and the end of the world as we know it.  They believe that our modern era fulfills those criteria.  She and her husband spoke of how the weather has grown more unpredictable since their youths, and of earthquakes striking in areas where they were formerly unknown until recently.

She also spoke of a diminishing of love and trust in American culture, which she attributed to a decline in the power and prevalence of American Christianity.  In language very similar to that used by Rev. Raymond of Will of God Ministries (http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-4P) she claimed that America is now awash in foreign religions, and that the government favors these groups, whom Rev. Martin referred to as ‘pagans’, over Christians.  In her own words, “The love of many would wax cold, and you don’t find people who have that love that they should have, like with back in the 40s and the 50s.  It’s diminished.  When the 60s era came in with their “free love,” that’s when Christianity began to diminish.”

The Martins cited the removal of prayer from public schools in 1962 as a key grievance in the struggle they see between American Christianity and these ‘pagan’ influences.  Regardless of the societal decline they see in the United States, regular donations and attendance at Haven Ministries have remained stable since before the global financial collapse of 2008.

East Clover Church of God – Visited on 10/2/11

The entrance to East Clover Church of God fronts onto SC 55, a two-lane road that winds from east to west through the middle of the small town of Clover, SC.  The church’s drive stands between a combination KFC/Taco Bell and the local Chevrolet dealership, bisected by a wheeled blue billboard displaying the church’s name and times of worship.

Head down the drive, and the seeker finds a wide oval of road garlanded with well-appointed homes, a playground, and an athletic field.  Beyond them a pond glistens in the sun.  The church squats to your left hand, a single story templar’s cross of brick and mortar crowned with a white steeple.  Inside the ECCG is clean and fresh, a relatively new building still under expansion.  On the left-hand side of the entrance hall a wooden table and a wheeled cart stand side by side, set with the church’s bulletins and publications from other Church of God pastors.

Like Greater Life Ministries, visited a few weeks previous to this article, the East Clover Church of God is affiliated with the greater Church of God organization based in Cleveland, Tennessee.  At approximately seven million adherents worldwide, one million of those in the United States, it is the world’s largest association of Pentecostal churches.  The ECCG sits amidst a 32-acre plot of land that includes its long driveway, the three houses and playground equipment lining drive, the pond, and some of the forest beyond.  It is the first church pastored by its current spiritual leader, Rev. Jerry Lee Hibberts Jr., and is home to a congregation of between fifty-five and sixty people.

Beyond the book cart, a turn to the left brings one into the church’s sanctuary.  Like everything else in the ECCG this chamber is clean and well-maintained, two columns of padded seats set before a raised stage, itself lined with two more rows of seating along with facilities for the congregation’s musicians—drums, guitar, electric organ and keyboard piano.  Behind the seating a windowed enclosure holds the church’s two sound technicians.

At the start of the service the main seating is largely vacant.  Most of the congregation is in the stage seating, ready to lend their voices as a choir, all dressed to the nines in their Sunday best.  The church’s membership is skewed towards older members, from middle-aged to elderly, though a handful of children sit at their parents’ sides for the opening ceremonies before being led off to ‘children’s church.’

The service I witnessed began with one of the church’s lay members taking the stage to brief the congregation on recent news in the ECCG.  Next comes a combined Happy Birthday/Anniversary song, apparently sung at the first service of each month.  “May you find Jesus near…” went the song, to a lyric and tune unfamiliar to me.

Then Rev. Hibberts, seated on-stage and off to the side before the keyboard, leads the congregation in prayer.  The pastor’s voice flows with the practiced cadence the classic revival preacher, his voiceover mingling with the murmurs of his flock.  At the ECCG group prayer is done aloud, yet singly, each individual’s divergent words rushing together to fill the chamber with their voices.

As the prayers fade out music takes its place, and here the church truly comes alive.  Even elderly members of the congregation take to their feet, hands raised, clapping and singing as men and women pace around the borders of the seating, waving their arms and chanting in tongues.  Never before have I seen so many old men and women swaying and clapping together.  To the left a bald man in glasses, whom I never saw speak during the service, slaps a tambourine with skill and aplomb, playing in counterpart to the band’s bass section.  Throughout all this the pastor sings along, a tenor worthy of any old-time gospel singer.

At length Rev. Hibberts begins his sermon, though even this is interspersed with more singing and clapping.  At intervals members of the congregation voice “Amen,” and every so often one man in the crowd shouts “Come on!  Come on, Preacher!” egging Hibberts on.  The sermon itself is brief, for all this pageantry.  The pastor remarks on how the Rapture, when God will take the faithful away from the Earth and into paradise, is near at hand.  How the world is set against the faithful, but how Hibberts himself is “not worried about what the outside world thinks; I’m not worried what the religious world thinks.”

By the end of the sermon Hibberts is standing on his Bible to show how it supports him, preaching of ‘spiritual warfare’ against temptation and doubt, and of enduring the trials of this life in the name of faith.  With the sermon’s end the service is over; the congregation trickles out through the door in ones and twos.  As they leave I take my seat on the stage to conduct a brief interview with Rev. Hibberts.

According to him the ECCG was founded five years ago, and began with a congregation of seven.  He bought its associated land and paid for the church’s construction through donations and fund-raising; there has been no financial contribution, he said, from the greater Church of God association.  Of the three houses on the property one is his family’s, the other belongs to Brother Loftus, a retired Church of God minister present at the service I witnessed.  The third was originally owned by another ECCG member family, but that group has since sold the home to a family outside the church and moved out.

On the matter of the Rapture, Rev. Hibberts does not have a specific date but believes indeed that the event is nigh.  He describes it as a “catching away of the church,” and believes that signs and prophecies in the Bible related to this event indicate that it is near at hand.  On more conventional matters he said that the ECCG is not currently involved in any charitable works in the community, but it does donate as a group to sponsor an orphanage in Kenya, as well as giving to provide food during famines in Kenya and to support Kenyan sister churches.

Finally, regarding the relationship between church and state, Hibberts’ beliefs were concise and to the point: “The Founding Fathers, in writing our constitution, never intended to exempt government from religion, but to keep government out of religion.”

Greater Life Ministries, Part II – Visited Again on 9/25/11

Greater Life Ministries of Clover, SC holds two full worship services each Sunday: one in the morning from 10AM to Noon, and another 6PM to 8.  On the weekend of 9/18, visited on behalf of Churchspotting to observe the morning service; a week later I returned to observe the evening devotions.

The crowd is lighter at GLM in the evenings–the morning service boasts up to two hundred worshippers, but the evenings draw somewhere between 100 and 150 into the cool half-light of the sanctuary.  The congregation’s welcome was even warmer this week, when I was known to a surprising number of Greater Life Ministries’ worshippers as ‘that blogger’, than it was the week before when I might’ve appeared as a possible new member for the church.

The lobby where members of GLM wait before the service begins in earnest hummed with churchgoers young and old who seemed eager to welcome the stranger back, shake his hand, and wish him well.  Truth be told, there was no shortage of good-feeling or welcome for anyone in that hall–the most striking characteristic of Greater Life Ministries must be how freely the congregants there express their emotions, and the last fifteen minutes before a service begins is full of hugging, back-slapping and welcoming on all sides.  The sense of community, even before worship begins, is palpable.
That night’s sermon arose from themes I’d seen taking shape on my first visit a week before.  Pastor C. Milton Smith still drew from the allegory of the “wall” that underlay his sermon on the 18th–if anything, he’d refined the concept considerably over the previous week.

On my previous visit Rev. Smith drew copiously from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament, in which the eponymous Nehemiah directed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls after that city’s invasion and overthrow by the armies of Babylon.  The Sunday I watched as Smith appointed his “wall-builders,” a half-dozen older men from the congregation to each of whom he presented a brick and a Bible, which he named “the sword of the Word.”  That week the “wall” served as an allegory for the unity and community of the Church, and its struggle to protect itself from what the pastor described as the surrounding society’s corruptive influences.

This week the function of the “wall” broadened further.  Rev. Smith described in detail how the battlements of Christian moral rectitude in America were torn down over the last several decades, leaving the souls of its people open to corruption.  He criticized pastors in California who’d opened their church for a performance by Lady Gaga, “in her nudity and ungodliness,” and associated her act and similar media with an overall moral decline in the United States.
To counter the climate of unbelief and sin he attributed to modern society, Rev. Smith called on his congregation to work on rebuilding the wall of their faith: “We need to build a wall and say to the devil, ‘The families of God belong to God.'”  Time seems to be running short for such spiritual self-correction–almost in passing, the pastor remarked on how the End Times grow near.  As a sign of this he pointed to the Church’s rising generation, whom he claimed would be a new generation of evangelists preaching in the strip malls and fast food restaurants of America, winning hearts to man the “wall” in preparation for a final reckoning with the forces of evil.

Like my first visit to Greater Life Ministries, the evening service was peppered with moments to set it apart from other religious groups observed thus far.  At times the entire congregation went silent as the church’s music coordinator broke into tearful glossolalia; Bobby, a particularly fervent member of the church, paced the back row of sanctuary, murmuring hosannas under his breath; towards the service’s end the pastor called upon the whole congregation to join him before the stage, heads bowed, as the men of his “Armor Bearers” laid their hands upon his shoulders and joined him in directing the church’s prayers.

The Armor Bearers drew my particular interest.  One of their number, a younger convert to the church named Jake, explained to me who the armorbearers are and what they do. They represent a small sub-group within the church, approximately eight lay members plus two seminary students, who act as a kind of support staff for Rev. Smith.  The society draws its inspiration from Old Testament passages that describe the kings of Israel making war alongside their rather more literal armorbearers, the squires who prepared the king for battle and guarded him on the battlefield.
The group formed less than a year ago, prompted by complaints from Rev. Smith that he felt he was taking on all the burdens of the church alone.  The armorbearers answer that complaint by acting as a “spiritual pillar that holds him up,” to use Jake’s words.  They pray with the pastor before each service, as well as during the week when Rev. Smith calls upon them.  They provide him with moral support when the pastor feels overwhelmed by his tasks, as well as acting as a kind of public relations buffer for Rev. Smith–Jake described how the armorbearers sometimes have words with detractors and the discontented within the church.  Each member of the armorbearers must read “Where are the Armorbearers,” by Bryan Cutshall of the eponymous Bryan Cutshall Ministries.

After the service on the 18th, Rev. Smith sat for a brief interview with Churchspotting.  As a young man he served in the US military, as an enlistee during the Vietnam War and as a soldier of the National Guard afterwards.  During his sermons he describes at length how he turned to Christianity during his time in the National Guard; he received his theological education at East Coast Bible College, a seminary affiliated with Lee College of Tennessee, which is in turn affiliated with the Church of God, Cleveland, TN, an international Pentecostal denomination with some seven million adherents worldwide, over a million of them within the United States.  Greater Life Ministries is one of several churches in the York County area affiliated with the TN Church of God.  He has served as a pastor for the Church of God for the last thirty years.

Regarding his church’s charitable works, Rev. Smith described a battery of mission programs as well as bi-annual program where church members service the cars of those in need, free of charge, with a DMV representative on hand to provide certified inspections.  Finally, when asked about the proper relationship of Church and State, Smith said that a division exists between the two but that Christianity should have an effect on government; govt., meanwhile, should no legislate to churches.  Greater Life Ministries disagrees with certain extant practices of the US government, particularly on the issue of abortion, but acknowledges the government’s secular authority.

Passage of the Day, 9/29

Today’s reading comes from the KJV Bible, Psalms 11:12.  Check in tomorrow for Part II of Greater Life Ministries.

Greater Life Ministries, Part I – Visited on 9/18/11

Travel south down Highway 321 from the town of Clover a few miles.  Keep your eyes to the left.  Eventually the trees shouldering their way up to the roadside retreat, hacked back to reveal a broad green field.  At the top of the gentle, grassy slope a building rises, its tan, unadorned metal walls framed by the hewn edge of the surrounding forest.  A sign by the roadside announces the property far more effectively than its boxy, aluminum exterior: this is the home of Greater Life Ministries, a Pentecostal church whose staid exterior hides the most fervent practice of faith yet recorded by Churchspotting.

The entrance to Greater Life Ministries is an antechamber scattered with low chairs and tables, notices tacked to bulletin boards, and summer camp t-shirts laid out in ranks on fold-out tables, where members of the congregation prepare morning coffee and gather before worship.  Contemporary paintings of biblical scenes adorn the otherwise bare walls; two sets of double doors in the far wall lead to the real purpose of the building, the sanctuary.

Services at Greater Life Ministries take place in a single chamber that comprises a majority of the church building: the sanctuary, a cavernous space filled with rows of padded, portable chairs in lieu of traditional pews.  A low stage dominates the far wall, while speakers from the church’s audio equipment hang from the ceiling.  Though not an inch of the building was built of bricks, the wall behind the stage boasts an uneven coating of false brickwork raised by the congregation in recent weeks, hung with a banner displaying a passage from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament: “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together to the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.”

The people who trickle into that sanctuary wear their Sunday best for the service, whatever that shakes out to.  Some look as though they’d be at home in the office parks of nearby Rock Hill and Gastonia townships; others more clearly resemble York County’s working class, mustering the best they can to greet the morning.  The congregation represents an even spread of age and sex, and is the spiritual home for young and old, families and the unattached.

Once the congregation takes its place around 10 AM, scattered in files and clusters throughout the ample seating, the music begins–and does not wholly end until noon.  Though it lacks a full band, the church does boast a music coordinator and musician, and between themselves and the church’s sound system those two manage a complimentary tune for every turn of phrase and recitation of scripture that follows the beginning of worship.  Added to the music is the stylized, theatrical delivery of the church’s preachers, which can shift from the easy cadence of a stage comedian to the howling fury of a revivalist.

Any visitor to Greater Life Ministries must be prepared for the sheer emotional intensity the service can reach.  At his highest highs the pastor, Rev. C. Milton Smith, storms across the stage, roaring his sermon to constant and enthusiastic musical accompaniment as members of the congregation chant in tongues, or sing, or simply pray aloud.  For two hours the whole congregation throws itself into the experience, praying with an open fervor entirely at odds with the quiet, introspective services of most other area churches.

The service observed by Churchspotting was unique beyond even the usual fervor of Greater Life Ministries, according to members of the congregation that day.  The preceding Sunday, at GLM’s evening service, Rev. Smith was apparently “seized by the spirit” and inspired to single out a half-dozen older men of the congregation.  At the morning service on the 18th, he called these men out again to address them before the whole congregation.

Hearkening back to the passage from Nehemiah hung upon the stage wall, Rev. Smith called these men his “wall-builders,” and gave them each of them a Bible, which he named “the sword of the Word.”  The ‘wall-builders,’ he declared, would be the strong supports of GLM’s community, building up the church as book of Nehemiah described the rebuilding of Jerusalem after its sack by the Babylonians.

The end of the morning service is a breathless affair–the pastor, not mention some members of the congregation, has likely shouted himself hoarse after two hours upon the stage.  Come noon the worshippers tickle out of the sanctuary to rest and eat, but their reprieve is only temporary–they’ll return with sunset to take part in the church’s evening service.

—–

This concludes Churchspotting’s first article on Greater Life Ministries, Clover, SC.  Later this week we’ll be proud to give you Part II, with coverage of an evening service at GLM as well as information from our interview with Rev. Smith.  Stay tuned.

Tomorrow’s Update

Tomorrow Churchspotting visits Greater Life Ministries, a Pentecostal church south of the town of Clover.