The Rev. Al Greens Full Gospel Tabernacle
The name of it suggests that you are in for something big even before the service starts. Church here is going to be really, really full on.
I got there at about 10.30 expecting the service to start at 11. Though when a group of us dragged on in we were just at the tail end of Sunday School, I think. They finished up at 11.15, took a short break and then started the service at about 11.30.
The first thing I noticed about the tabernacle is that the structure is _very_ loose. While they do have a printed sheet of what's going to happen, they seem to flow very smoothly from each of the parts of the service.
The church itself is very lush, it's quite a large and regal looking place. It's an hexagonal structure with a large stage and choir stand up the back behind the Rev.'s Chair and the alter. Looking at the stage the band is set up to the right - at the front, on the floor, there is a grand piano. On the stage behind the piano is a hammond organ, each of it's speakers are situated at the far end of the stage. When runnin' full tilt, that organ filled the room. It was spine tingling.
Around the room are the Deacons. There are about four or five of them, youngish, very nice and very helpful - though you don't realise how helpful they are going to be until much later in the service.
Managing the ceremony was an older man, though, judging the age of black folk is very hard...the old adage is true - black don't crack. This guy could have been 100 and not look a day over 35. I'm not sure what his 'rank' was in the church - he may simply have been the MC but he was happy to get things going and speak of Gods glory, "Y'all are lookin' at a corpse. If it wasn't for God's glory - I'd be six feet in the ground." On and on he went. To rousing Amen's and Hallelujias from the congregation. It seemed as though he'd fallen from the sixth floor of a building and his body was badly broken up - but, thanks to God's Awesome power, he was able to stand, take a few shaky steps - then dance. And man - did he dance. He was skippin' and turnin' all over the place.
All the time though his story the band was playin'. I've heard about the importance of dynamics in music, loud and soft, light and shade - but I haven't heard it executed with the skill of the band playing for the Tabernacle. These would have to have been the best, the absolute best, musicians I have seen on this journey so far. They kept a groove going for three hours. Three. Hours. It was never dull, it never lingered, it got fast, it got slow, it got funky, it got deep. It was indescribeable.
Inbetween the story, the Choir was invited to sing, and the congregation would stand and clap and sing 'Yeah'. Sometimes, you just couldn't keep your mouth closed. You just had to sing 'Yeah'. In response to some magnificent call from the choir.
Then the MC went lookin' for a preacher. See the good reverend Al Green, very rarely, attends his own services. So, our keyboard player, a very young preacher, who preaches at some other church, came on up and started to preach the word.
At first he seemed really timid, and spoke very, very softly. This only made you want to listen more closely to what he was saying, since the church 'elders' who were close to him were already in agreeance with what he was preachin' on. But it wasn't long before this young man was in full flight and preachin' the word. He was amazing. I can't recall too many specific phrases, but the theme of his sermon was about "Comin' Out"
"Turn to you neighbour, take their hand and tell them, 'I'm comin' out!'. Let them know that you is no longer going to be held by the chains, by the trouble that is keepin' you hidden away. Say it, 'I'M COMIN' OUT!'".
"When you rise to the next level. There's always another devil. Be ready for the temptations and watch the signs. Don't listen to what people are sayin' about you. People will always be talkin' about people. Don't listen to them. You just take your stand and say, 'I'm comin' out."
All the while, the band was there, groovin' on a hook, rising and fallin - but mostly rising to a great cresendo.
Then some members of the congregation started to line up before the preacher. Firstly some memebers of the choir. He'd whisper something quietly to them, holdin' them real close to him, then he'd stand back and announce to the congregation the greatness that that person is heading for. Or, in other cases, he cast out their troubles and free them and as soon as he'd finish they'd be flying around the church - running and dancing up the isles. Bending over and then heavin' backwards wailing 'Hallelujia' with eyes full of tears to the ceiling. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Then it came. One woman, too weak to get up, had been sufferin' from strokes. She'd had a whole bunch over the last year and she wanted to the preacher to cast out this devil that was in her. The MC came over to the preacher with a tiny little bottle, holy water I imagined, and poured a few drops into the preachers palm. He then laid his palm on that womans forehead, whispered quitely into her ear, stood back and screamed, "Get out! Get out demon! Let this woman live and leave her from he suffering." While he was shouting this the MC ran, I mean bolted, from behind the preacher and ran to the door, flung it open, ran through the foyer and flung the outside door open. All the while screamin', "Get out deamon. Get out." My eyes were as big as saucers, spine tinglin'.
This went on too. More people came up and were exorcised by the preacher. That's where the Deacons came in, as soon as the preacher finished whispering, most folk would just fall straight backwards and the Deacons would have to be there to catch them and lay them down gently, they'd fan them and cover them with sheets. This went on and on.
The sermon and preachin didn't finish till about 2.30. I was exhausted. I wanted to stay 'till the end. I'm glad I did. There were some other Aussies who go there at 11 and had arranged for the taxi to pick them up at 12.30 - the service had barely got started by then. They were still gettin' warmed up.
The Full Gospel Tabernacle was truly one of the most amazing things I've seen, heard and felt.