On a warm Sunday in the early eighties at age 8, I sat on a brown folded up table listening to a tape of “Farrel and Farrel”, a Christian pop band, with a girl who was about 15 years old. She, myself, my brother, and three other kids were waiting for church to end so we could re-join our parents. Somehow, she received a cue, and we made our way into the sanctuary. We stood in the doorway to the sanctuary, and what we saw was this, or this is how I remember it…. All the adults, who were dressed in nice suits and dresses, were laying on the floor with their eyes shut. The Holy Spirit had come, and we were the only ones left standing.
We stepped over legs, arms, and cloth covered skirts, looking for outfits or hair that matched our parents. I went up to my mom, crouched down, and asked her in a whisper if we could eat out at McDonald’s because church had lasted for so long.
35 years later from a seat behind a pulpit in my Presbyterian Church looking out over all of my church family, I see folks sitting still, pressed, and composed. I am now a Presbyterian minister. At the church where I worship and lead occasionally, I know what is going to happen in every service, no surprises. Even though there might not be much expression, I know the Holy Spirit is moving me as I read the scripture and liturgy. I know that something is happening when our ears hear the word of God and hits our souls. The fruit of the Holy Spirit that I see in our congregation is our desire to give to the poor, our homeless ministry, our support of missionaries, our culture of being involved in justice issues, all movements of the Holy Spirit.
Presbyterian and Pentecostal?
I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 2016 into the ministry of chaplaincy. I worship and occasionally lead worship in our neighborhood Presbyterian church, which is high church- traditional, hymns and liturgy style church. Honestly, at times I miss raising arms and 80’s guitar worship songs, and especially healing services. Sometimes I wonder if I have ended up in a more traditional liturgical Presbyterian church as some sort of rebellion or reaction to my Pentecostal background. That simplistic explanation would be easy, but it’s way more complicated than that.
I spoke in tongues for the first time at a Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia in 1989 along with about 10 other teenagers. It was a cold dark night, and a lady laid hands on all of us on by one, and then we all spoke in tongues. That’s really how it happened.
Tongues became my prayer language when I was too upset to use words. I saw a horrible accident on the highway, and I instantly started speaking in tongues.
I always thought of tongues as a way to let the Holy Spirit pray because the Holy Spirit understood what I was feeling more than my own mind and words.
This is still true for me today. When I was pushing out my second child and felt that I truly might die, I spoke in tongues. When my daughter went missing in a sea of people at an anti-gun rally in DC, I spoke in tongues (and we found her). In my role as a chaplain when I was with a young patient who was seconds from a tragic death, we were waiting and praying. Silently, I prayed in tongues while I also simply called on the name of Jesus repeatedly.
As a chaplain there are traumatic circumstances at times when I feel the Holy Spirit just knows how to pray more than I do, and at some point I receive words. I’m so thankful to have this part of my Pentecostal heritage still with me even as a Presbyterian. The Holy Spirit and my prayer language is an incredible part of my ministry as a hospital chaplain.
Theological Differences Don’t Make a Difference (to me at least)
In the 1960’s main line denominations around the world experienced a move of the Holy Spirit that is known as the charismatic movement or neo-Pentecostal movement. In reading around for this article, I found that Pentecostals and Charismatics have been at odds because of theological differences.
I didn’t know! I thought we were family!!
The main difference between Pentecostals and charismatics is the belief that tongues is a sign of an official Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Charismatics, on the other hand, believe in only one baptism/salvation experience. Pentecostals consider charismatics to be missing a coherent theology. That I believe is true because I consider the charismatic movement to be like a cloud that fell upon many mainstream churches with many different theologies. Therefore, certain churches that experienced the “cloud” became Charismatic.
There are many theological differences between Presbyterians and Pentecostals besides what I mentioned above. Presbyterians have a different stance on eschatology than Pentecostals. Presbyterians don’t believe in the rapture or in a thousand-year tribulation. Of course, growing up in my Holy Spirit, tongues-speaking Presbyterian church, we watched the rapture horror film, “A Thief in the Night.” Subsequently, like many Pentecostal kids I lived with the terror that my parents would disappear, and I would be “left behind!”
As I look back on my experience growing up in both Pentecostal and Presbyterian churches, confusing as it has sometimes been, I’m grateful for the theological mix it has given to me. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my current strait-laced Presbyterian church – perfectly ordered and calm – I feel like I want to raise my hands in worship or have someone lay hands on me and prophesy – speak into my life. There’s a freedom in Pentecostal expression of faith that is healthy and necessary. At the same, the feelings of chaos, uncertainty, and fear that came along with much of the elements of my Pentecostal church experiences have left a mark on my faith. And I continue to grapple with the hurt and untruths some of those experiences have caused. More and more, I accept my role as a Presbyterian, finding comfort in a more intellectual and peaceful expression of faith. But at the same time, I find it incredibly valuable to draw upon the spiritual roots of my Pentecostal background.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.