Names of their dear departed safely deposited in the visiting medium's basket, the congregation sat nervously in the old Georgetown church, many of them staring blankly at the new red carpet, waiting.
There were curiosity seekers hoping for entertainment and desperate people hoping for word from a mother, grandfather, husband or friend who had passed to the spirit world, many of them familiar faces usually seen when a new medium is in town.
To many, mediums and psychic phenomena are a hobby, a game. But to the members of the Church of Two Worlds, 3038 Q Street NW, spiritualism is a religion. The 40-member group is looking for new members, has no spiritual leader at present, and their president, octagenarian Kathryn Irwin is in Providence Hospital with severe burns. So, they put up with the circus and hubbub cheerfully.
The visiting spiritualist, the Rev. Ralph Jordan of the Brotherhood of Eternal Truths center in an Indiana suburb of Louisville, Ky., would not pass among the pews to transmit spirits' messages until the end of the service.
The homilist, the Rev. Fred Mansbridge, an Alexandria spiritual healer, former Senate subcommittee staffer, and member of the church, took the podium and comforted the group with a sort of verbal massage:
"Relax and enjoy the pleasure of being with yourself. Don't obstruct the flow from the others. Put your feet flat on the floor. Lay your hands, palms up, in your laps. Say to yourself, 'I am life. I am that I am. I am love.' . . . Now, don't you feel better? Bless you. Bless you all."
The church, founded by a medium, the late Rev. H. Gordon Burroughs in 1936, is a part of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. Spiritualism itself, as an organized religion, is only 130 years old, though psychics have been around since ancient times.
Spiritualism is a meld of the religious and scientific. Psychics and their institutions claim they provide scientific proof that life is an eternal continuum. Those who stress the religious aspect believe spiritualism provides Proof for the Bible claim of eternal life.
The Church of Two Worlds is the only group that meets in a traditional sanctuary. They sing many traditional hymns, such as Luther's "A Mighty Fortress." But they also sing hymns with verses that mention the spirit world: "Good . . . sees with a father's eye everything I do. So, through the years to come, here or over there, I know that I shall be in his loving care."
Though there are some trappings of traditional Christianity in the service, the tenets of the faith are decidedly not orthodox. "I am an ordained (Prostestant) minister," said Mr. Jordan in an interview. He has since become an ordained spiritualist minister. But there are many discrepancies between orthodox beliefs and spiritualism.
"We see the dogmatized philosophy of Christ's blood, or vicarious atonement, as being a limitation and separating man from his true identity as a child of God . . . were are cocreators of our own existence . . . imperfection is man's creation." He said he has been asked by the protestant denomination he was affiliated with not to give its name.
Spiritualists have a stong belief in God, whom they call the Infinite Intelligence. They consider Christ a psychic, but someone who was able to achieve more in bodily from than most humans, who are "spirits who happen to have a body, not humans who happen also to have a soul." Mostion, though it is not one of the docspiritualists also believe in reincarnatrines of faith.
Mr. Jordan, a former cosmetologist, claims that according to his last tax return, "I would be eligible for food stamps. Of course, I won't get food stamps because when I left cosmetology for this work, the spirits promised me they would provide for my needs, as long as I don't abuse my powers."
Most of his week was taken up with giving personal clairvoyant readings at $15 a half hour, arranged for by a member of the church who served as his appointments secretary.
He said that many of these people want financial counseling ("I stop at giving out specific stocks and bonds") and want to contact Aunt Jane and Uncle Ned ("I'll do this for them, but reluctantly").
The National Spiritual Science Center at 5605 16th St. NW is an independent denomination started in 1941.It is made up of a younger more scientifically oriented group of people that Church of Two Worlds. But those who graduate from their four year school are called ministers.
"We are fundamentally different," said the codirector, The Rev. Diane Nagorka. "The Church of Two Worlds exists primarily for contacting dead relatives. We exist for the purpose of general communications. . . . Maybe that's splitting hairs."
Saturday the center will graduate two spiritualist ministers, and issue them individual charters to found their own centers. They are the Rev. Cloteal Anne Moss of Northeast Washington and the Rev. Mary Lee Braganza of northwest Washington. There are six graduates who have founded centers in their homes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs since 1973.
A Connecticut Avenue resident who has "attended the Church of Two Worlds off and on for 20 years," and also attends the Sunday evening service at the National Spiritual Science Center, also is a Catholic. But she sees no discrepancy.
She sees communication with the spirit world as the modern way that man and God communicate with each other. "I think the Catholic Church is important culturally and hisorically. But where do you go from there? There is a today, modern, valid kind of belief, that even has proof. You learn that you are a continuing spirt and that planet earth is just a school. It makes you happy, especially if you believe in reincarnation.
"It's just like reading a chemistry book and then taking the lab. These things don't have deep meaning when you read about them in a text book. Then, when you make something in a test tube, you can see it's real."