What the Spirit Does, or So They Say

The stage lights illuminate the parishioners rather than the stage at the Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Nigel. While the parishioners sing, ‘Help me run to the shadow of your wings and the comfort that it brings,’ a woman standing in a row of chairs on the right side of the warehouse-sized church moves her arms up and down like a preschooler pretending to be a bird. Closer to the stage stands another woman in a white feather down jacket who dances slowly with her eyes closed and swings her arms around like a windmill in 10-miles-per-hour wind. To the right of her sits a black-haired man in his 30s who closes his eyes and rocks his body back and forth in his chair.
Every Wednesday evening parishioners worship dramatically by swaying, shaking their hands, crawling into fetal positions on the ground and even prophesizing and speaking in indecipherable personal language, what they call ‘speaking in tongues.’ The people change outwardly and then testify that it is a gift from the Holy Spirit.
How could spiritual phenomenon happen at the same time and place every week? The parishioners seem to be acting like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost when they saw tonguess of fire and began to speak in separate tongues. Were the parishioners pretending when they emulated the story from the Bible? Credible options for interpreting the parishioners’ behavior at the VCC are that they are socially pressured, desperate in seeking salvation or a Holy Spirit entered their bodies and is causing them to act similarly to how the disciples acted during the Day of Pentecost.
About 40 adults attend the Wednesday night pre-class worship at the VCC. Most of them stand with their arms raised up and their palms facing the ceiling.
Architect David Dengler sits down and tries to relax. He puts his arms out on the chairs and sings along with the music or prays calmly. To the side of him stands a troop of four or five girls moving their arms like snakes in syncopation with the music. He hears a man softly praying in tongues behind him. After attending the church for about three months, Dengler expects to see parishioners’ dramatic expressions of worship at the Pentecostal church, but unlike most of them he is content to sit still.
When the music fades, Pastor Mike Hudgins stands in the spotlight at the front of the stage. He says a prayer and then the parishioners proceed to their various classes. Twelve adults stay to sit in a semicircle around the stage of the VCC and listen to Pastor Hudgins give a class called ‘Living With the Spirit.’ He has taught the class for three years.
Tall and stocky, Hudgins has thick grey hair. His eyes are a dark shade of brown and somewhat hidden under his eyebrows and thick eyelid skin. When he smiles, he looks like an excited five-year-old boy who just understood a joke. Hudgins sits on the stage and talks into a microphone.
Dengler sits and listens without moving much. He has a calm and conservative style: gelled, short hair, turtleneck sweater and slacks. It reflects his manners. Rarely does he express reactions to what Hudgins says.
After Hudgins talks for over an hour about the Day of Pentecost and his experience with finding God through speaking in tongues, he asks his wife to start playing keyboard music to set the mood for the prayer. Then he talks about people’s moments of desperation and how that can bring them closer to God.
‘Desperate people are always ready for a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit,’ he says. According to Hudgins there are two qualifications for a person to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit: desperation and hunger for more. Hudgins agrees that people in their most insecure moments are more likely to grasp God