The lady in red had a demon inside her, so she came to the revival meeting to have it removed. She sat in the back of the big-top tent and swayed to the music of the five-piece gospel band. She beat her tambourine and sang along with the choir--and shouted a hearty "Amen!" when the song was through.
Finally, the preacher got down to cases. As the organist shifted into "Power in the Blood," the preacher, in a three-piece suit, told the congregation to form a prayer line right up front.
"I want two lines. Everybody sick in the head step over here!" he shouted, pointing to his right, his jowls shaking like jelly. "Everybody sick in the body, step over there. You deaf? Your ears gonna unstop. You blind? Your eyes gonna pop open. I want nobody in line but sinners and backsliders."HH er moment finally having arrived, the lady H in red was first in the body line, a score of maladies waiting behind her. Placing his hands over the microphone, the preacher gently asked her what her problem was. She hesitated at first, then whispered the illness in his ear, and the preacher's eyes narrowed with fury. He squeezed meaty hands around the woman's head, closing his eyes as tight as a trap:
"Lust!" he screamed, his head shaking, his voice barking and rasping. "The demon of lust!
In the name of Christ I order you out! . . . Loosen! . . . Loosen! . . . Loosen your hold on this woman! . . . Let her go!"
The music grew more intense and the preacher began to sweat. Thirty seconds passed, a minute, then the preacher loosened his grip. The lady in red went limp. She convulsed violently. Then she went limp again. Slowly she went back to her seat in the rear of the tent, meditated a moment, then picked up her tambourine and again started swaying with the music.
It remained unclear whether the lady in red's affliction was surely exorcised or not, but in any event the outcome seemed unimportant. For in Kenilworth Park these hot summer nights, under a blue big-top tent, at the first annual Holy Ghost Miracle Tent Revival of the Free Gospel Church of Christ, it's the spirit of the matter that counts.
"We try to heal and we try to inspire," said Ralph E. Green, a former light heavyweight Golden Gloves boxer and street preacher, reformed alcoholic, founder and self-ordained bishop of the church, and faith healer of the lady in red. "But most of all we try to deliver people to God, free from evil spirits."
The tent revival in the park, located far out in northeast Washington near the District line, was Green's idea. He said he wanted to attract more believers, to help save a few souls, to heal the ill and return to the roots of his own church, which he started 15 years ago on the streets of Northeast Washington.
He failed at boxing, he said, and turned to God after having a transcendental experience during an all-night drinking binge. He said he studied the Bible, eventually became pastor of a small nondenominational Northeast church, and then decided to branch out on his own.
In 1975 he moved into an abandoned movie theater in Coral Hills in Prince George's County, and, through the use of "good gospel music," inspired oratory and heavy emphasis on the healing powers of Christ, began attracting followers.
Today there are about 750 active members of the church, including 12 FBI secretaries, reformed drug addicts, alcoholics and prisoners; a number of black District and Prince George's police officers, a U.S. marshal, and other blue-collar workers and their families. His congregation still talks about the Coral Hills service several weeks ago in which Cynthia Brown, a 28-year-old secretary for Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.) apparently was exorcised of 25 demons by Green and several associates.
"I've been a member for several years now," said Brown, "and that Sunday, the feeling was so strong, I just decided to list all the problems and the demons I had. I started with jealousy, hatred, want, greed . . . I went through all of them, and finally just went to the prayer line and asked for deliverance."
Matthew Fogg, a marshal at the U.S. District Court in D.C., said the exorcism took five hours to complete. "She was going wild. One minute she'd say 'I love Jesus;' the next she'd say, 'I hate Jesus.' She was speaking these weird languages. The preachers had their hands on her head, asking for God's help, and she started vomiting."
"Have you seen the movie, 'The Exorcist'?" asked Brown. "It was just like that."
When it was over, Brown said, she felt "at ease with myself and Jesus."
Green was quick to point out that he, himself, doesn't have the power to heal. "In the Book of Acts, the Bible says the apostles, everyone, has the power to heal, so long as they believe. In my church, miracles happen."
Summer is the season of religious revivalism, and revivals have been taking place in the District and suburbs, in churches, homes and parks. Tent revivals, said Dr. Donzel Wildey, vice president of the Wesley Theological Seminary at American University, are a throwback to American frontier days when pioneers and homesteaders would congregate in makeshift tents to experience the gospel together.
"Before there were many buildings, frontier ministers would travel with a horse and a book from town to town, meeting with people in their homes," said Wildey. "Eventually, some mobile means of shelter was needed, and that's where tents came in. Tent revivals carry on today as a means of recreating, in an informal setting, that original spirit of revivalism."
Green, a heavy-set man with thick black sideburns, said, "Most folks think you gotta be dressed to kill when you go to church. That creates boundaries between people. There are a lot of great men of God who never went to church, but got saved in a tent."
Thus, there is the two-week-long tent revival running for four more days in Kenilworth Park, where the faithful, bearing fans and many cans of mosquito repellent, greet each with other with the words "brother," "sister" and "saint."
As a brilliant orange crescent moon hung in the sky one recent evening, the music began -- rocking, rolling, exuberant music pouring forth from four large speakers. There was a saxophone and clarinet, a trumpet, a trombone and drums, and a man playing organ who was the equal of Jimmy Smith.
More than 200 people, predominantly black, sang along, clapping, stomping their feet, sometimes swaying and hyperventilating in the aisles. Then the testimonies to faith began, street-life stories of drugs and prostitution and drink.
One young man said he used to walk through the dump that Kenilworth Park once was, picking up soda bottles, scraping his feet and fingers, hoping to find something of value. He went to Vietnam, he said, and came back on heroin. He ended up in prison, after robbing one too many banks, and finally got saved behind bars.
A little boy looked over his shoulder and giggled at a woman swaying and screaming in the seat behind. His mother put him in his place.
Green got up, asking folks to contribute to the wicker collection basket, then started in on the gospel, and the longer he went, the louder he shouted. The faster he jumped, the more he perspired. "You can have that alcoholic husband . . . delivered. You can have that prostituting daughter . . . delivered. You can have that homosexual son . . . delivered," he screamed, before saying, softly, "The Bible says God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
The service ended with the prayer line. Behind the lady in red, seeking relief for many earthly ills, came an alcoholic, a woman with a lump in her breast, several other cases of lust, a homosexual, a man with a backache, a girl with a broken arm, a person with cancer. Each of them, by the time they got to the front, prayed so hard they seemed to faint from effort.
By the time the moon slipped below the horizon, the service was over. The faithful returned to their cars, some singing softly to themselves, others hugging and holding hands, most still brimming with the ecstasy of the night.