The Rev. Ernest Angley says he had his first visitation from the Lord when he was only 7 years old, while he was lying in his second-floor bedroom in the family farmhouse in North Carolina. The bed began to move, and suddenly he was out in space, seeing "snowflakes of stars." God still talks to him regularly.
"I have visitations, you see," Angley said. "If that blows your mind, I can't help it. I just state the facts . . . I see angels like I see people. That may blow your mind, too . . ."
Ernest Angley is a faith healer, or, as he prefers to put it, the instrument through which God heals people of their afflictions. He heals through his Crusade, with which he travels from city to city, and through his television show, which is aired on more than 100 stations.
People have been healed through the television set, he said, sometimes by putting their hands right on the screen, on his image. He said one man rolled his wheelchair over to the TV set one morning and then got up and walked.
The crusade came to Washington on Sunday, not quite filling Constitution Hall but pulling in about 2,000 people, including 15 busloads of people from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The crowd, well-integrated with blacks, whites and Orientals, spent five hours in the hall, where the air was humid and hot and the feeling was intense.
People brought their aged parents in wheelchairs, and friends or relatives crippled by arthritis, paralysis or spasms. There were children whose little faces were twisted with congenital defects, or whose legs were in braces, or who couldn't hear or speak.Others said they had diabetes, or heart troubles, or drank too much, or had migraine headaches. Or cancer, or epilepsy. Some had troubled souls, or broken hearts, or no jobs, or other wounds invisible to the eye but a burden nonetheless.
"That person over there who's a diabetic, stand up and lift your hands and face and take your cure!" Angley yelled out, his voice amplified by the cordless microphone pinned to his tie.
"Let the Holy Spirit flow through you, let the Holy Spirit flow through you, let the Holy Spirit flow through you, take the cure now and get well . . . I command all circulation to come and all the muscles and nerves to be recreated. . . .
"Say COME IN JESUS! COME IN JESUS! I command liberty to come to your body! Pick up those feet, pick 'em up now! You start walkin' good. Walk up and down here.Real good, real good."
A woman held her cane high. A man took off his neck brace and turned his head from side to side. A mother took her 14-year-old son up onto the stage to be cured of the deafness he'd had since birth.
"Can you hear?" the boy was asked after he'd left the stage and Angley had pronounced his hearing restored. He looked straight ahead, uncomprehending, terrified. "I believe he can," his mother said, hand-signaling to the boy rapidly, "Can you hear?"
He made no response.
The medical profession generally accepts the idea that people can be cured or helped by forces or resources that cannot necessarily be explained in logical terms.
"It's the same thing that probably happened with leeches, or with Indian shamans, or with medicines like Valium," said Dr. Elliott Dacher, who heads the Georgetown Medical Center is Reston and also runs the Wellness Experience, a group that looks at nonmedical ways of healing.
"The mind really has enormous power, both to create symptons and, equally, to change them," he said.
It's a tradition that goes back at least 5,000 years and has been a part of most of the world's major religions. Despite occasional revelations of hoaxes and frauds among those who claim healing powers, interest in "healing" has not just remained steady but has increased, judging by the number of psychics, wellness centers and how-to books available.
Not everyone is healed through Jesus. Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, for example, wrote about healing himself through the Marx Brothers and reruns of "Candid Camera" -- laughter, in other words, that perhaps produced a chemical change in his body that counteracted the stress which caused his painful illness.
Experiments with placebos have shown that people will often show improvement after taking a pill that is no more than candy. Heart patients have improved after thinking they had an operation that was really no more than an incision in their chest. And people say they have been cured by "instruments" like Ernest Angley.
'I am not a fanatic. Do I look, like a fanatic?" asked Kit Copp, who was in Angley's audience on Sunday. "Had a severe stroke a year ago last October. It left me numb straight down the middle, this side of my face was numb . . . He [Angley] called out that there was a lady with a serious head problem. I almost fell out of my seat . . . I went home that night, my face was still numb. But the next morning I patted my face, like this, and it was gone. I've been fine ever since."
The instruments of healing in American evangelism have been a curious salad of charisma and devotion. By contrast to someone like the late Kathryn Kuhlman, whose barely controlled emotionalism verged on hysteria, Angley seemed a less intense figure. Offstage he seems fragile, almost tentative. Onstage, his short, pudgy figure paces up and down, exhorting in a rhythmic and forceful litany as he points his fingers at people in the crowd. Sometimes he coaxes -- "Come on now, come on, you remember how you walked without crutches" -- and sometimes he sounds querulous, but he always sounds passionately convinced.
In 1954, God told Ernest Angley to move to Akron, Ohio. Before that, he had been a young preacher in the South. At age 23, he was "actually dying" from an "ulcerated stomach" and cancer that the hospital couldn't seem to cure. But, he said, the Lord visited him, cured him and gave him a sign that he had the power to heal. The suffering and pain he went through with his stomach, he believes, was meant to teach him "compassion and love" for the people who come to him for help.
"When I look into tortured eyes, I see the eyes of a youth, myself," he said during an interview in the Crusade's air-conditioned tour bus.
Short and plump, with a remarkably lustrous head of hair, Angley wore a beige three-piece suit with a red flower in his lapel, Gucci loafers and a brown shirt. He doesn't like to give interviews because most erporters have not been born again and don't understand the experience, he said.
Just outside of Akron he built the Grace Cathedral, at a cost of more than $2.5 million, which he says now has 6,000 members. Grace Cathedral has "multicolored exterior lighting . . . engineered by the same skilled technician who executed the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree and the General Electric World's Fair display," according to the guidebook.
This exterior lighting features the Grace Cathedral Fountain of Blood, "the world's most unusual fountain." It is a huge cross sprayed with fountains and lit alternately in red, symbolizing the "Blood of Christ," amber for the "healing virtue of Christ," blue for the holy Spirit and white for the "purity of the Word."
Other features include two 400-pound crystal chandeliers imported from Europe, a pulpit and an organ covered in 24-carat gold leaf and the "Angel's Robe Room," used as a "Bridal Parlor."
Angel was Ernest Angley's wife, Esther Lee. She died of colitis in December 1970 and was buried in a $12,000 silver-plated casket in a three-hour ceremony. One of the wreaths on the bier had a princess telephone in the center and a banner reading, "Jesus Called."
Angley is not surprised when he is asked why he, is a faith healer, could not heal his wife.
"There comes a time for God to take a person," he said. "Just because I have the power to heal doesn't mean I am going to override the Scriptures. iThe Lord visited me and told me it was her time to take her. . . .
"We were so close," he said. "She called my shoulder her pillow. We went everywhere together . . . She had such marvelous taste, and so many talents. I almost died when she went."
They decided not to have children, he said, because if they did Angel would have to stay home with them and he wanted her with him on the road.
"When I told her about the twin beds, she dropped her head and looked up at me. She said, "The only reason I would do it is if it's what the Lord wants,'" he laughed.
Just before Angel died, he said, she said goodbye by tugging off her wedding rings and placed them in his hand."I can still feel the pressure of her hand pressing those rings into my palm,' he said.
Angley said he doesn't live a "normal" life. "I have to stay away from people. I have to live with God. People see me walk out on the platform and they think, 'He has it so easy.' There's numbers of fasts, often for 40 days at a time. The skeptics don't realize what a sacrifice it is. I'm not bragging about it, it just is. I can't get out and go like other people. I can't even spend time around my kinfolk."
After one of his five-hour services, he said, he can feel the "spirit of God" in his cheekbones for several hours. He is onstage during the entire meeting, and spends about three hours laying hands on individual supplicants.
He knows which people in the audience are suffering because "the angel standing by my side will tell me. I have X-ray vision. I can look into a person's body and see that cancer, or that curvature of the spine.
"I wouldn't do it if it wasn't for real," he said.
Felton Tolson, 74, brought his wife Adeline, 72, to the Sunday service because she believed it would do her some good. Since 1970 she's had three strokes, the last one of which left her partially paralyzed. Now she's in a wheelchair, her condition complicated by diabetes, a heart condition and a broken ankle.
They've been married for 46 years. She worked as a nurse's assistant at what was then called Freedman's Hospital; he worked as a carpenter and bricklayer's assistant, helping to build some of the offices that line K Street. Their only daughter died 20 years ago.
"She watches him on TV," Tolson said early in the day. "She's in such hope. If she can just get well enough for me to not be carrying her around all the time, if she could just do for herself a little more, she'd be so happy."
For five hours he stood by her wheelchair as she, wearing a brown dress and a black hat, watched the proceeding from her wheelchair. Next to her were three other people in wheelchairs -- a spastic man, a man paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a tree and a young girl, strapped into her chair to keep her upright.
When Angley asked them for an offering -- one to put in a special envelope to pay for the television show ("I want a lot of people to pledge $200," he began) and another dollar to help pay for the hall -- they willing gave. (Constitution Hall rents for $1,550.)
They watched as he called children to the stage and seemngly cured them of deafness, epilepsy and asthma. They listened as he asked all those who were alcoholics or drug addicts to line up, and later called all those who had cancer.
Over and over Angley repeated "Are you born Again? Do you smoke?" Then he touched the person with a sharp push, whap, and said, "Praise the Lord."
"Out that nicotine devil?" he said to those who smoked. "Thou foul spirits of asthma come out!" he yelled to others.
Things got confused for a while, as people started to crowd the aisles downstairs, trying to get closer to Angley. He cut short his circuit around the floor of the auditorium because people were pressing too close, he said.
A woman leading a mongoloid child got to the stage three times. Each time she was turned back. Next time, the aides said. Eventually she gave up.
People "touched with the spirit" fell backwards into faints, caught by two well-trained members of the Angley entourage. When a woman fell, her legs were covered with a cloth for modesty.
The hours passed. There were people shouting and people speaking in tongues. A young woman in a green dress walked around zombie-like, led by various relatives who were trying to get her healed.
Angley went into the audience to go to the "invalids," the people in wheelchairs. As he slowly made his way around the hall, a member of Crusade sang hymns on the stage.
Finally, five hours after they arrived the Tolsons and the three other wheelchair families with them were told to move to the lobby. They would be the last stop. After all the hours Angley would touch them.
And he did.
And nothing happened.
"She was disappointed," Tolson said yesterday. "Maybe it did all right for some. I may be wrong, but I don't have much faith in it. Nothing has changed."
Angley says that not all people receive "their miracle" the day he touches them. Sometimes your faith isn't strong enough, he says. At any rate, it isn't Angley who does or does not perform the miracle; it's the Lord.
And for some people, he said, it's God's will that they be sick.