Nearly all of the roughly 400 people present when Andrea Grimes and I visited Agape in November 2005 were engaged in what, from the outside, might have looked like an extremely high-energy worship service.
This was actually my second Sunday visit to Agape. My first was in June 2005, right after Bishop Terry Hornbuckle had been released from jail--the first in a series of arrests and releases over the months to follow. That day, he had a message for his congregation: Our "anointing" comes when we're under the greatest attack. This anointing precedes promotion in our lives. It even produces greater sex.
Anointing? Promotion? Hot sex?
I was confused.
Now, on this second visit, with Hornbuckle back in jail and his wife, Renee Hornbuckle, taking up pastoral duties, I'm even more baffled. Did the guy on the keyboards just tell me to turn a cartwheel? For Jesus? Here--in the sanctuary?
Almost on cue, church members flailed and flopped around. There was wailing and the piercing shrill of whistles everywhere. That's right--whistles. Several congregants blew coach's whistles during the worship service. Others were overcome by emotion, rocking back and forth as if in a trance.
And it was in that trance that they flocked to the front of the church tossing white envelopes filled with money at the stage.
A security guard stood at each corner of the pulpit, carefully watching everyone who came to the front to throw money. When the steps of the pulpit were sufficiently covered with white envelopes, a church staff member gathered them up. But the people continued to give throughout the service. Renee Hornbuckle publicly commended their obedience, which prompted others to sashay down the aisle and toss their own white envelopes on the steps.
Andrea and I caught the attention of Agape's security detail. We were obvious outsiders. In fact, anyone who wasn't enraptured in worship stood out. We knew we were being watched by these burly men. They tried hard to look as intimidating as possible.
To my right, I noticed that a tall, dark-skinned woman with spiked hair had zeroed in on me. Every time I looked around, my eyes met hers.
As Renee Hornbuckle's sermon about being under an attack from outside forces reached its climax, Andrea and I felt increasingly tense. We knew the service would be ending soon, and the security guards and the lady with the spiked hair were watching our every move.
At some point Hornbuckle and a large entourage of ministers began to weave through the audience, shouting, praying and laying their hands on people. People ran to the group, hoping to get prayer from the anointed ones. They chanted at the top of their lungs for prosperity and houses and healing and the blessing of a supernatural anointing from God.
Meanwhile, the worship leader banged away on his keyboard, singing and shouting louder.
Hornbuckle was still moving through the audience prophesying and declaring prosperity to all the people she physically touched. She was edging closer to Andrea and me.
She moved down the aisle where we were sitting, hands extended in front of her. She touched people along the way, but her eyes were fixed on Andrea.
Poor little Andrea, a white girl from Mansfield who'd never experienced a black church, much less a black church like this--and now she was being confronted by a woman who was determined to release an anointing on her.
Right when Hornbuckle reached out to touch Andrea's head, Andrea ducked--brown hair flying everywhere--but she wasn't quick enough. Renee got her. Andrea looked confused, and I started laughing. But my turn was coming. One of the lady ministers in the group who was following close behind Renee figured I needed some of the anointing too. She half-pushed, half-slapped me on the forehead with her palm and then did the same to my stomach. I guess I needed a double dose.
The entourage moved on to the next aisle.
It was time for us to go.
But the lady with the spiked hair had other plans. Before we could move, and while we were still seated, she approached me from behind.
"What's your name?" she asked in a loud whisper while church was still in progress.
"Stephanie. What's yours?"
"It's good to meet you, Pat."
"Stephanie, I sense a spirit on you."
"On me? Really?" I was nervous but terribly curious too.
"Yes. What was the name of that guy on the news who died of lung cancer?" (Emphasis on DIED and CANCER.)
"Peter Jennings?" I asked, a bit confused.
"Yes. Him. I sense the spirit of Peter Jennings on you. Are you a reporter?"
I had to use diversionary tactics to shake her. I told her I was a full-time seminary student, which I am, and that I was doing a little seeking, which I was. Just then she was summoned to the pulpit.
I told Andrea to grab her purse and let's go.
We all but ran out of the sanctuary and into the parking lot. Without looking back, we sensed we were been followed. And we were right.
Just as we began to pull out of our parking space, a golf cart driven by two of the Agape security guards pulled in front of us, blocking our exit. Three more security guards stood to the side and back of the car, blocking us in on the left.
They asked us to get out of the car. We wouldn't.
The security guard who did the talking told us that someone saw us taking pictures in the church--a total fabrication.
"I'm calling the police," I said. I dialed 911.
Arlington dispatch answered, and I explained to the lady that we were being held by security guards at Agape Christian Fellowship for supposedly taking pictures. Her response: "Well, were you?"
By this time, they'd moved the golf cart. We saw our opening. Andrea peeled out of the parking lot, and I hung up.