The music was loud and raucous, but that’s not what disturbed me the most. It was what happened to the woman in the front.
New Year Eve’s Watch Night Services have gone the way of organs, suits and ties on ministers, and Sunday Evening services for many churches. They just don’t have them. Gone are the Christian films, singing and sermon proceeding the elongated prayer session before the clock strikes twelve, sirens blare and fireworks pop outside. Families are now left to their own devices bringing in the New Year—whether it’s going to a party of friends or just staying home and watching others party on TV as the calendar flips. Many fall asleep waiting for the apple to drop and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.”
But there was no falling asleep at the service I attended. The music was too loud even for a guy who is hard-of-hearing. In fact, the hearing aides were removed at one point and I wished for ear plugs or my Bose noise-canceling headphones.
The minister said, in English for my benefit as if he was asking permission—“just one more song before you preach.” This would be my third time speaking on New Year’s Eve at this church across the railroad tracks, down a muddy street, up an ally, through an open metal door and up some very steep, narrow steps. My friend, Dr. George Verghese, introduced me to the church but did so with a cautionary note - “I don’t really know anything about them.” I had asked if he’d find a place for me to preach. The pastor who is bi-vocational (owns his own travel agency, from whom I’ve been receiving rides while in Delhi), welcomed me with open arms. The church, which started a few years prior to my first time preaching, is non-denominational with 2 morning services averaging several hundred and has started a few daughter churches. Also, the pastors are self-trained—therein lies a potential problem.
I came forward to the platform during this last song which went on for a good 10-minutes or more. Front and center was a petite Indian mother, maybe 28, with pearly white and perfect teeth. I don’t often look at people’s teeth, but the contrast from the dark skin made them stand out, plus her mouth was wide open as she sang. She was worshiping God in song from her heart and with all her might.
The song, which didn’t have verse and chorus and no bridge, was just two, maybe three lines long. But it was sung over and over and over again, getting louder and louder. The keyboardest sounded pretty cool when he banged away at the high notes (think Jerry Lee Lewis). The drums kept the beat and now this lady started to sway and dance. She was not alone dancing. Two rather plump women (who am I to call someone plump) in sarees started dancing together. Everyone was standing, clapping, singing, except for me. I had no idea what they were singing. I suppose since it was the same thing over and over again, I could have taken a stab at it, but I was watching this lady get more and more into the song and about to knock into people. Folks spread out giving her room as she danced harder and harder. Some pushed her away from trouncing on her sleeping child. Then she swayed over to the young boys’ section and fell. She was helped up and continued to sway and dance. It was like she was drunk, the way she stumbled and fell. Finally, she fell forward hitting her head on the slightly raise platform. Several boys attempted to lift her but the pastor shooed them off saying “Leave her be.” Well, I’m not sure he actually said that. He’s talking in another language and the music was too loud to hear. There she lay almost at my feet, motionless. I could see she was breathing, but did she suffer a concussion. I didn’t see any blood.
In a minute or two she awoke and crawled over to where her son was sleeping, curled up in a ball to sleep some more. I couldn’t see her when I was preaching because the podium blocked her location, but from the back, after I was done, I noticed she was sitting upright. I hope she’s okay.
Was this of the Spirit and, if it was, what spirit?
I’m probably going to offend my charismatic brothers and sisters, but I do not believe I witnessed a positive moving of the Spirit. The loud rhythmatic pounding of whatever the people were singing long left the state of worship and was affecting the psyche of the individuals putting them into a trance–like–state similar to tribal dances that often lead to ones subjecting themselves to bodily harm by cutting or throwing themselves to the ground. In my ever–be–humble–opinion, this had overtures of what Moses and Joshua must experienced as they came down the mountain to see the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf. Yet, I don’t think this was idolatress or sinful it was just the byproduct of intentional or unintentional mind manipulation.
I noticed shortly thereafter one of the female worship leaders on her knees with a visible tear dropping from her eye. She might very well have been moved to holy convictions or worship, or, she too was drawn into the emotional web that had ensnared this other woman.
Somehow the song came to an end with shouts of “Hallelujah” and it was time for everyone to sit on the floor and listen to this rather staid preacher attempt to open God’s Word. Trust me, it was anti-climatic. The people were exhausted, but they may have needed the 30-minutes to recoup before the pastor would rile them up again for a few minutes preceding the ten minutes of prayer, which, too, was loud with 3 men in the front shouting prayers in microphones (that’s when I think I removed my hearing aids). Then the strike of twelve and shouts and another loud song just like the last one . . . or maybe was it the same song?
I don’t mean to be disrespectful to those who are more emotional in their worship. Feelings can and should be apart of our time with God. He wants all of us and our feelings are included in that. Moreover, there are different worship styles. I appreciate these differences thinking that it will be interesting to see how they blend together in Glory. And I know I’m old school and perhaps a spiritual fuddy duddy, but what I witnessed was not a spiritual movement, nor was it sinful. Rather, it was the result of the loud, drum-beating music that took control of her and others.
Unfortunately, I think that was my last time walking across the railroad tracks, down a muddy street, up an ally, through an open metal door and ascending those very narrow and steep steps into a Watch Night Service.
Does anyone know another church in New Delhi that has a Watch Night Service and wants an aging preacher?
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