While setting up the tent, Emily thought she heard music. She realized she probably hadn’t gotten enough sleep over the past 48 hours. Maybe she was imagining it. “Lewis, do you hear that?”
“Mmhmm, I think so…sounds like church music.” They both moved towards the sound. Emily hopped over the fence at the edge of the campsite and Lewis followed. They crept through a small patch of trees and found themselves in a field. A hundred feed away sat a large yellow circus tent.
“This looks like a revival tent,” whispered Emily. As they walked closer, they could make out the words.” Glory, glory, glooo-ray. “I haven’t been to one of these meetings in years,” said Emily.
“You used to go to church in a tent?” Lewis crinkled his face.
“Shh, let’s sneak in the back and find a seat.”
As they approached the entrance a greeter peeked his head out from the tent and quickly flashed a smile. “Welcome!” he yelled, far louder than Emily or Lewis would have liked. So much for sneaking in Emily thought. “Here’s a program,” the greeter said in as quiet a tone as his loud greeting had been just seconds ago. They each took a program and walked over to the back row. The two seats they found were next to a family with five kids. From the looks of it, they all had to be under the age of 10. Emily nodded at the mother and sat down next to one of the middle children. The worship band was just finishing up, setting their instruments aside. A single guitarist remained, strumming along to keep the mood going. The air in the tent had a heaviness to it, a weight that one could not be certain where it came from. Mothers and fathers and singles and children found their seats, sweat dripping off their brows. This was not a church where dancing was forbidden.
The preacher climbed the steps, four steps to the stage, which was most likely constructed that very afternoon in preparation for the service. For the first fifteen minutes of his sermon, the preacher was methodical. He laid out his points one by one. Supported each with a a referenced verse. The congregation turned its pages, following along and hanging on the words, both the preacher’s and the holy book’s. Then the preacher shut his book. The proof had been put forth. Now it was time for the experience. “Is there anyone here tonight who feels a neeeed in their body or in their soul for a touch from the Lord?” the preacher shouted, his own sweat sliding down his forehead and then his cheeks. Yeses and amens filtered out from the mouths of the congregation, emerging from patches in the front and the back and the middle. The next ten minutes were filled with anecdotes coming from the preacher’s mouth. Healings and miracles. Salvations, baptisms, and demons cast out. All in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. All with amens from the crowd. The back and forth continued.
Emily sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t participate with the back and forth chatter, but she was not caught off guard by it either. The banter brought her comfort. Not because of its substance. She didn’t believe in any of it. The comfort came from the familiarity. Dozens and hundreds of hours spent in a similar seat in a similar tent when she was five, six, seven, and eight years old. The story of redemption and deliverance, played out not in the history books but in the real life of now for the congregation.
She felt the pain too. Of empty promises and healings that didn’t last. Of mothers and fathers parting ways with dollars that should have gone into savings accounts. All to feed an itinerant pastor who wouldn’t ever have enough to have a savings account, barely enough for gas and food to get to the next town. Never enough to keep a wife and her kids, even a wife willing to travel the country for months and years with no guarantees. Months and years turn into decades unless they don’t. And without decades a marriage doesn’t last. Emily thought of all these things as she sat in her chair. She thought of them with less pain than she used to though. Three years ago she wouldn’t have entered the tent, couldn’t of seen the whole shebang for what it was without internally yelling at the family next to her to run.