One of the more interesting episodes in my lifelong hobby of recreational religion, involves one of my favorite activities, which is going to events or services of kooky religious people, and immersing myself in their world for a day (or for however long I can stand it). The episode involved me actually going to Pastor Corbin's Southie Bible Baptist Church in Boston's infamous South End, known for it's gay bashing incidents, and Irish mobsters. I had the time of my life that day (one of many "times of my life" which I try to have a lot of), and interestingly enough, came out more atheist than I was before the service!
I had been dating a confused and troubled Christian woman, whom I met in Harvard Square a couple of weeks prior to our rendezvous with kookiness. She vassilated between wanting to be her fun-loving self and being a strict, guilt-ridden fundy. During one of her religious moods, she talked me into going to church with her. We went to many churches together, some were boring, others were slightly amusing, but Pastor Corbin's church was hands down, the funniest and most kooky church I have ever attended. An hour in any one of a number of typical, run-of-the-mill fundy churches will be boring, provide a sentance or two of strange quotes, and will leave you with a shrug of the shoulders and an "eh..." feeling. Pastor Corbin's church will have you rolling on the floor in laughter, and squirming in your piew trying to choke down belly laughs.
We arrived at his church at around 10:00am, as advised by Corbin's lovely and obviously much more intelligent and polite wife. The Corbin's church, which is located in the basement of their apartment, is makeshift, and has an air of "just thrown together-ness" about it. The building looks very shabby on the outside, and is in the most crime-ridden and poverty-stricken part of South Boston. The beloved Pastor Corbin, my dear readers, lives in a poverty zone. The church has about 6 to 8 piews, obviously recovered from other churches that were closed down, and a few rows of wooden folding chairs. The altar rests on a small step-stage, and is flanked by a second-hand baby-grand piano, and an antique upright Casio electronic organ.
After being welcomed by the pastor and his wife, we answered the usual questions of "why are YOU here" (The Pastor and I know each other fairly well, and he's not only aware that I'm an atheist, but has put up with my heckling and taunting of his wacky sermons in Harvard Square), and waited while the Corbin family had a meager meal of frozen fish-sticks, escalloped potatoes, and peas. We declined an invite to their Sunday brunch, as we had just been out for breakfast, and were full. Shortly after their meal, other parishoners began to arrive, and at about 11:00am, all were assembled in the lobby, and the Pastor gave the high-sign for everyone to be seated for his service. In all, there were only about 11 or 12 people, including the pastor's wife and 3 children -- a very tiny congregation indeed. Everyone who attended the service was white and rednecked (including me). I think my girlfriend was the darkest person there (an olive-skinned Armenian).
The service started out with a hymn. Pastor Corbin's wife played the seriously-in-need-of-tuning piano, while his oldest daughter accompanied her with the electronic organ. Good old Corbin bellowed out in his tone-deaf tenor voice, and the congregation complimented him by singing along -- each in their own individual keys. The dissonance was comical. I nearly busted a gut before the first bar was complete. My girlfriend looked at me with a big smile -- she obviously had the same reaction as I to the cacophonious harmony of the mighty "Southie Bible Baptist Tabernacle Choir".
After the hymn, Pastor Corbin began a quiet and well-thought sermon on obedience to the Lord, which was unusual, since the only Corbin I had known was the screaching, hollering, mannic street-preacher. I was taken by surprise. Had Corbin smoked some pot or something? He was so mellow! Maybe it was his food digesting that kept him from ranting and raving -- after all, sometimes too much excitement can make people hurl up their meals. Whatever the case, Corbin was congenial and controlled, which was unusual. After his sermon, the congregation belted out two more out-of-tune hymns.
The next event was a slightly more energetic sermon by Corbin, but this time it was about those dirty Homosexuals who are trying to take over the world and make everyone turn gay. Though my girlfriend will dispute it, I could have sworn that he mentioned a line about "niggers and queers" in the government, but our memories of that day are faulty. I think he did mention it, only because I know of the background to the Pastor's flock -- they broke off from their original Church in Wellesly, Massachusetts, when a black minister was elected to head the church. The dissenters felt that the "children of Ham" (a buzzword that many radical Christian groups use when referring to black people) were forbidden from being leaders, and left in protest. During this slightly rousing sermon, a couple of people in front of us stood up and yelled "Amen!", then sat down quickly. Obviously the good Pastor hit their jolly-spot with a choice phrase or two. More of these sudden bursts of religious energy would pop up later in the service, as the Pastor's sermons became louder, more mannic, and more energetic.
Another wonderfully dissonant hymn or two followed, and the next sermon was standard Christian esoterica (Bible quotes-a-plenty, combined with Christian jargon), but much more energetic than the previous sermon. More people in different parts of the church began jumping up and shouting "Amen!" and "Allelujia!" more frequently. My girlfriend and I were having difficulty maintaining our composure. This was too weird and funny. I was squirming in my seat trying to keep from laughing. The sermon kept going, until it was apparently time for a couple of more hymns.
This time, the hymns consisted of a solo by Corbin's daughter, who played the Casio organ as she sung. She actually had a singing voice, and the congregation and I all seemed to sigh with "oh, ain't she cute" on our minds. The next Hymn, however, was a rip-roaring Gospel tune, played by Corbin's wife and daughter on the piano and organ, respectively, with clapping from the audience to give it that extra rousing quality. During this fun musical number, Pastor corbin and a couple of other men would occaisionally jump up from their piews, shout "Amen!", and dance around the church -- up and down the aisles! At this point, I was literally chuckling and letting myself go. I couldn't stand it. I had to giggle. Luckily, however, the music, singing, and clapping was loud enough to cover my utterences. I believe that the people who sat directly in front of my girlfriend and I, probably thought I was speaking in tongues or something.
This process went on and on -- a sermon by Corbin, followed by one or two hymns, with the energy and pace getting more intense each time. After a while, even women joined in the shouting of "Amen!" and dancing in the aisles. This whole thing went on for about 2 hours, and I'm sure it would have lasted even longer, but my girlfriend and I had to go, as we had plans for a movie, and we left the church before the service was concluded. Outside, as we walked to my car, we broke out in laughter and cracked mocking jokes together. Yep -- Going to church really made me feel good that time! My girlfriend was so happy from laughing that I was sure she had been cracked, and would no longer pester me with her desires to be a conservative Christian woman. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and she soon began to put herself on religous guilt trips again, shortly afterward. But we had a really good time, and the movie wasn't bad, and we had plenty of good memories to laugh about for months afterward. I have toyed with the idea of going to Corbin's church again, for a laugh or two, but I haven't found the time for it. Since my current girlfriend has no religious desires, I figure that she'd probably be bored (or frightened) by the whole thing. The only thing stranger, funnier, weirder, and perhaps more frightening than my day in Church with Pastor Corbin's zany congregation, is the trip I once made to a holiness church, where handling snakes and setting one's self on fire is a regular part of the service -- but that's a whole other story, for another time...