The Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès is situated on the outskirts of Canovelles, among the industrial warehouses that surround this small town. Every Sunday, from 7 o’clock in the evening, more than 100 people meet to worship together.
3.1. Praise: Invocation and First Contact
The first stage of the ceremony, which lasts around 1 hour, is devoted to the practice of praise and consists of a number of canticles sung by everyone in the church. A nonbeliever arriving here to witness this for the first time would probably feel they are in a rather strange place in Barcelona: polished female choirs, cutting electric guitars, noisy drums, many voices and the clapping of a crowd are usually heard throughout the first stage of worship. The impression gained is one of a big party in progress. However, against a background of catchy rhythms in a pop, rock and even a tropical style, little by little gentle ballads also emerge, which gradually slow down the rhythm of this first part of worship. Only after some months of field work was it possible to understand the importance of this practice for initiating communication with the sacred.
Symbolically, praise may be viewed as a key, since every Sunday it serves to open the worship. It has a clear temporal significance, marking the beginning of a period (with a before and an after) in which contact with the sacred will be established. This praise communicates to those present that a period of time devoted to the worship of God has begun, as well as provides this first stage of ritual with a characteristic rhythm. It is also a key on account of the specific meaning of the communication initiated through it, since through the act of praise God is explicitly asked to “open the heavens” so that the Holy Spirit may descend. One of the acts of praise that is frequently repeated provides an example of this function.
On 28 February (2010), as was customary, worship was begun by the church’s praise group and everyone joined in with their songs and dances. After some songs of praise, the young person playing the drums picked up the microphone and, before beginning the next song, announced with enthusiasm:
Now we are going to sing a song. And we are going to ask the Holy Spirit to come to us. We already know that he is here, but we are going to ask him to come to us with all his power….
Hallelujah! [Some of those present shout]
Do you know what happens when you begin to worship the Lord? It is said that the Lord goes silent up there and begins to listen. The Lord cares for those who are worshipping him. Let us all sing together: [praise begins]
Open the gates of heaven, let it rain, let it rain [this is repeated many times].
(Field note. Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès, 28 February 2010.)
These semantics show the role played by praise in this initial stage of ritual: this is an invocation, a true call that seeks to establish the first contact with God. As the young man says, the Holy Spirit is present at every session of worship, but the object is that the Spirit should manifest itself in a special, more intense and powerful way. Through this first contact, the congregation will be able to ask God to literally open the heavens and send down what for Pentecostals is the primary entity: the Holy Spirit.
However, as is usually the case in ritual communication, the explicit meaning of the words of praise sung is not enough to make these entreaties effective. In fact, the characteristic repetition of this praise does not add any new information. Yet its repetition, harnessed with musical dramatization, is necessary for it to be symbolically effective. In other words, socially it is necessary to deploy a number of body communication techniques (Mauss 1971, p. 342
) to make this first stage of ritual invocation effective. Only in this way will it be possible to urge the community to participate and experience the Holy Spirit. This is why, throughout the praise, those present tend to sway their bodies from side to side, with fiery bursts of speech, their voices often cracking, keeping their eyes tightly shut, raising their hands to heaven, dancing, etc. In short, communication needs to be dramatized (Goffman 1970, p. 54
; Luhmann 2007, p. 165
). In this first stage, the body technique that proves most effective is raising and moving the hands, in time with the singing and gentle dancing. In this way, shouts may be uttered for God to “open the heavens”, with believers showing their dependence on him by raising their hands upward in search of this first connection with the Spirit. There is, however, a great variety of praise that fulfills this role, and in very different ways, but these examples serve to explain the purpose of this practice in the first stage of ritual. We will now return to the worship and explore the next stage.
3.2. Sermon: The Pentecostal Tabernacle
After the period of time devoted to praise, there is usually an interlude of a less sacred nature, when the community makes all kinds of public announcements related to the church. Then there is a quick collection before the pastor proceeds to read and interpret the word of the Bible. From a ritual perspective, these activities act as mechanisms of transition (Turner 1988
), necessary preparations prior to the second stage of ritual. They anticipate the new contact that the community will establish with the sacred.
Although it is the pastor who opens this second stage of worship, the sermon is only made possible once he publicly calls on God to make himself present through the Holy Spirit and to direct and deliver the message of the word; thus, the personal power of the pastor is diminished, but at the same time what he does is sanctified. It is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit that can take effect in the sermon, refreshing the listeners and even going as far as to transform their lives. In this respect, although there are a very wide variety of themes that tend to appear in the sermons every week, one of the main, cohesive and recurring points of connection is the “presence” of the Holy Spirit.
The service that was held on Sunday, 13 June (2010) was particularly illustrative in this respect. On that occasion, the pastor stressed that in ontological terms the presence of the Holy Spirit definitively underpinned the church. He added that the conversion of those attending had only been made possible thanks to this presence. Finally, and in a very special way, he declared that one of the clearest manifestations of this presence was the generation of spiritual gifts in the community, an obvious sign of the church’s vitality. Without delving now into the importance of each of these fundamental issues, we would highlight a metaphor that featured strongly in the pastor’s sermon and that is key to understanding the communication practices developed in worship: the idea of the human body as a tabernacle in which the presence of the Spirit is specifically manifested.
That evening, after reading a short verse from the Bible, the pastor began his interpretation by declaring that God’s people had always yearned for the presence of God, an example of which could be found in the story of Moses. The pastor recounted that this servant received specific orders from God, who asked him to build a tabernacle with wood and fabric, and to situate it in the midst of the four tribes of Israel so that God could manifest himself to his people. Moses accepted and did God’s will. After commenting briefly on this passage from the Bible, the pastor speculated on the difference between the church today and the position of the people of Israel as described in the Old Testament. He observed that, formerly, God needed a tabernacle to manifest himself to his people, but after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the situation had changed radically. His words were as follows:
Do you know that God has given us the Holy Spirit, whereby he is no longer with us, but now he is within us? Are you aware of the privilege of no longer needing a tabernacle in the midst of the people, because now God dwells in this tabernacle, in our bodies, and we have become the temple of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is within us, lives in us and resides in us. We have something that is much better. We have the Spirit of life! The spirit of God living within us!
(Field note. Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès, 13 June 2010.)
With regard to this point, the words of the pastor are highly illustrative, for perhaps one of the most sublime and intense manifestations of the Holy Spirit refers to the notion of the body of believers being a sacred tabernacle. Although the idea of the presence of God is a constant concept in the lives of Christians, an internal differentiation is added to this generic criterion of inclusion of God’s people, which occurs after the death of Christ and is a guiding principle in Pentecostalism: Christ has risen and he has sent his Spirit to reside not only with his people, but above all in the body of all who believe in him and in a living way. Thus, the body of every believer becomes a genuine temple. Not only is it an instrument that is required to contact the sacred, used by different cultures and religions (De Heusch 1973
; Douglas 1978
; Giobellina 1985
), but the body of the believer—an entity that unifies the physical, the soul and the spirit—can become a sacred symbol par excellence, a means (medium) of communication in the strong sense of the term, a hierophany of the sacred. This redefinition of the distinction between the presence and absence of the Spirit is key, since it establishes a clear difference between those who are Pentecostals and those who are not.
That day, in his sermon, the pastor explained very clearly the main distinctions and ideas by which much of the Pentecostal world view is governed, and which would subsequently have a place in the worship. However, although the whole community had participated in listening to this sermon about the Holy Spirit and its importance, this dynamic had not yet made it possible to establish more direct and intensive communication between God and believers, which was reserved for the final stage of worship.
3.3. The Manifestation of the Spirit
Someone attending this type of Pentecostal worship for the first time may find it difficult to discern the shift in temporality that occurs in the transition from the customary sermon to the culminating stage of worship. The personal exhortations directed toward the congregation, delivered in time with a gentle musical melody, are clear indicators of this transition.
That Sunday, 13 June (2010), the atmosphere was clearly relaxed and the pastor threw out the following question at the end of his sermon: “How many of those present here are going through a difficult time?” These words were met with complete silence, while some people raised their hand in answer. Immediately, some gentle notes from the piano could be heard, accompanying the words of the pastor. The atmosphere was transformed. We had entered another time. Against the background of the music, the pastor began to increase the volume and speed of his delivery, exhorting those present with greater intensity. The chords became louder and louder, and gradually people began to break their silence, uttering words of approval and praying more fervently.
The pastor continued to talk with great vehemence and without pausing, constantly moving from one side of the stage to the other, as he asked those present about possible suffering in their lives. As he screwed his eyes tightly shut, he declared that that very night there would be a “visitation” from the Holy Spirit, which would lead to closer, more emotionally charged and intense contact with this force. However, this visitation came with a prerequisite. The pastor continued as follows:
This evening, I want you to stand up, or if you want to kneel, kneel or sit… We are going to bow down before the Lord, because the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is here in this very place… How many people want to be visited by God?! [The people raise their hands more and shout: Hallelujah!] God wants to visit us now tonight, but God does not visit unless there is surrender. God will not visit unless we break with a number of things; he will not visit unless we give up what we have, vanity, false wisdom, pride, selfishness and egocentrism. There will be no visitation from God unless we relinquish all this….
(Field note. Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès, 13 June 2010).
The idea of visitation used in this stage of worship is extremely powerful. Although according to the Pentecostal conception God resides in the lives of believers, through these words and the associated atmosphere, the pastor sought to explain the otherness of the Holy Spirit, for all the ritual communication that was being channeled through this worship at that time was aimed at facilitating the manifestation of the Spirit and this “visitation”. However, this could only occur once those present yielded in their hearts and surrendered their personality. Only by surrendering and giving up their identity would they become worthy of this visit.
On hearing these words, almost the entire congregation stood up, leaving just a few people kneeling in their seats, heads lowered. The general murmur, the cheering and the weeping intensified. Gradually, there was a very public provocation of the breakdown that the pastor was calling for.
At moments such as these, it is interesting to note how the body language between the pastor and the congregation becomes a key element for measuring the effectiveness of communication in the course of ritual, regulating to a certain extent the development of this communication during worship. As a result, the pastor can see that people are gradually moving closer to a particular state in which they can communicate with the Holy Spirit because of their personal surrender. In strictly ritual terms, this breakdown is a necessary stage in which a kind of personal and spiritual purification takes place before contact with the divine. It is only once individuals and the group have experienced a certain level of emotional effervescence that the Holy Spirit is able to effectively visit them and reside in them. It is in this context that one can understand the emphasis placed by the pastor in the course of his fiery words on encouraging a state of “total surrender and breakdown” that will cut through the believer and shake them to the core.
Next, the pastor summoned those persons who had problems or who felt they had strayed from God’s guidance and who wished to improve their situation. He asked them to come to the front and the whole congregation would pray for them. “Tonight we are under grace and the God of all grace is in this place,” he added with fervor. Some of the congregation slowly began to rise from their seats and walk down the aisles toward the rear of the room, facing the pulpit. Once there, the pastor invited them to kneel. The believers lowered their heads, while they murmured prayers, others got down on their knees, but all raised their hands toward the heavens. Most of them were sobbing or showing physical signs of suffering, frowning, pouting with their lips or squeezing their eyes tightly shut. The pastor was also overcome by emotion: this was clear from the quavering in his voice and its intensity. He then declared that he would intercede for them one by one, announcing a new ritual practice.
First, he approached a young man who was crying as he knelt down before the pulpit. Continuing to talk through the microphone at all times, the pastor gently placed his right hand on the young man’s head. His voice began to increase in intensity and he repeated his words with greater frequency, while from time to time he applied a light pressure to the young man’s head. The boy’s hands remained outstretched to the heavens. The pastor said:
Tell the Lord: Here I am! Here I am! Here I am! [He says this very loudly.] Your blood cleanses me Lord, your blood cleanses me Lord. I need to return to your care, I want to stand in victory! I want to be restored! I want to be healed! Spiritually, mentally, I want my faith to be healed, I want to rebuild my faith, I want to be restored to peace, to God’s love… father, father, father, father, father! [The whole sentence is spoken quickly.] Lord, Lord, touch me! Touch! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them! Touch them!...
(Field note. Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès, 13 June 2010.)
The boy continued to weep and began to bend over, twisting his body, while the pastor vehemently repeated the words “touch them!”. Finally, the boy bent himself double. The pastor had to squat down to reach him, his hand never leaving the boy’s head, and he continued to exclaim with great energy. The young man lay on his back and then flung himself forward and began to stretch out his whole body against the floor, until he was prostrate. The pastor stopped touching his head and began to gently caress his shoulder and then his back. Finally, the leader stood up and moved away from the young man to continue walking among the congregation. The murmuring of the crowd drowned out the weeping sounds of the boy, who was calmer now, lying on the floor, where he remained for some considerable time.
An excellent example of the radical importance of body posture in communication with the Spirit can be seen in the practice of the laying on of hands (thaumaturgy) described above, mediation that is intended to cure both the physical and spiritual ailments of the believer. Once it is clear that the person has surrendered and broken down, the pastor becomes a mediator between the believer and the Spirit. The pastor is largely unaware of the particular circumstances of those who come to worship and can only read their body language; by laying his hands on the believer’s head, shoulders or another part of their body, he establishes a genuine channel through which the Spirit may flow, powerfully infusing the body of the believer and curing them. In fact, the sequence of the words “touch me, touch, touch them” reflects the meaning of this action on a linguistic level. The power of God, manifested in the working of the Holy Spirit, must act first on the pastor (“touch me”), who becomes a true medium. It is only subsequently, through the laying on of the pastor’s hands, that the Spirit can flow into and act on the young believer (“touch, touch them”).
In this practice, there is clear expression of the performativity of Pentecostal rites on a number of different levels. First, the repetition of words that cry out for the presence of the Holy Spirit really makes it possible for this force to appear and for what is requested to take place. Repeating certain words over and over again generates redundant information, as a result of which the communicative meaning of these actions is established, thereby contributing to their ritual efficacy. On the other hand, a certain theatricality is necessary to suitably stage the operation that is taking place, in which the body and its movements play a central role in mediation. Finally, in this practice, specific roles are assigned to the participants, with a clearly defined distinction between actors and spectators, while those acting as mediators adopt a strategic position, making it possible for this sacred operation to be channeled.
However, let us return to the worship. After the stage we have just described, night was beginning to fall and the atmosphere became increasingly charged with emotion. The believers continued to sob, praying aloud, and many of them hugged each other, as the pastor spoke without respite and the music from the piano became louder. All of a sudden, a drum and an electric guitar added their rhythms, seeking to up the tempo and make the atmosphere of worship more intense.
The pastor declared that the prophetic word that evening was clear: “Call to me, and I will answer you,” so they had to seek the “presence” of the Lord, calling on him to intercede. Speaking with greater force, he said they had to understand that “the Spirit is power,” and that the Book of Acts talks about the Spirit and its manifestations. He proceeded to open his Bible and, with great emotion, he began to read:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. [The pastor omitted part of the verse.] All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
(Field note. Iglesia Evangélica del Vallès, 13 June 2010.)
As the pastor read, the voices of the congregation rose in volume, uttering various cries of “Hallelujah!” and “Glory to God!” in addition to prayers. Just as the pastor finished these words from the Bible, a woman of about 50 who usually sang very loud and danced a lot during the worship began to speak in tongues. With her eyes closed and her hands raised, she slowly twisted her body from left to right, almost without moving her feet, and began to emit a sound like the sound made when the tongue is rapidly moved up and down inside the mouth. She was speaking in tongues. She continued for some time. Then she knelt down, sobbing inconsolably, as she continued to speak in tongues. After about 5 min, she fell silent, prostrate on the floor, while her daughter, who had been at her side at all times, slowly caressed her back and gently took one of her hands. Meanwhile, the pastor began to intersperse his fiery interjections with lengthy phrases in tongues, which were somewhat different from the woman’s earlier exclamations: “Oh shirabadshai, rabadshu. Oh yes Lord, oh yes Lord.” His words were echoed by one or two members of the congregation.
The passage from the Bible read by the pastor is of relevance on account of its content, but also because of what it contributes in this context. On the one hand, it is the first reference to be found in the Bible of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit after the death of Jesus. This phenomenon and its various manifestations provide the central theme of the Book of Acts. Furthermore, the words read are drawn from the verses that clearly recount the presence of the Spirit in the form of strange tongues (glossolalia), a distinctive practice of Pentecostalism. In this respect, if we consider the radical importance of the figure of the Holy Spirit and its manifestation in Pentecostalism, the public reading of this significant passage from the New Testament serves to remind those present of the legendary origin of the movement.
On the other hand, if we bear in mind that most Pentecostals are more than familiar with this extract from the Bible, the question has to be asked: What is the purpose of reading this text? What information does it provide? While it fulfils the need to recall the origin of the movement and to demonstrate the veracity of these words, above all it shows that this seminal occurrence may be witnessed again in this particular context, having the effect of stirring up the community. Indeed, the pastor gave a public reading of this passage at a moment when the act of worship had begun to approach its climax, with a high degree of collective effervescence, and when the Holy Spirit had already acted on some of the believers before the eyes of the congregation.