Monday, May 15, 2006

"We Cannot Live Without Sunday"?

Loved this story over the weekend from The Telegraph -- basically another iteration of "Footloose," this time in Ukraine: charismatic preacher attracts masses, Orthodox (capital-O, at least this time) flip out:

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is not quite sure which part of Sunday Adelaja's weekly services it likes the least.

The dubious Russian pop and the pom-pom-waving Cossack dancers are certainly contenders. The hot babes in choir dress swaying to the music might win the vote of its many older and weaker-hearted clergymen....

In the 1,000 years that it has been in existence, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has faced down many threats ranging from Reformation-era heretics to Soviet iconoclasts and modern day schismatics.

But never before has it had to see off an intruder who encourages his congregants to "shake their booty and praise the Lord". Mr Adelaja is a serious threat, even if it took the Church a while to realise it.

Twelve years ago, his Embassy of God church consisted of seven fellow Africans who used to gather in his Kiev flat.

Today he heads one of the fastest-growing Christian congregations in Europe, with 250,000 members in Ukraine alone. Among them is the first Protestant mayor of Kiev, elected to the post in March....

Alarmed at his burgeoning congregation, the Church has launched a counter attack, seeking to portray Mr Adelaja as a charlatan.

"Our main problem is that Sunday Adeleja has created a personality cult around himself," said Fr Evstratiy, a spokesman for the Kiev Patriarchate.

"Experts say he uses conscience manipulation techniques. He starts his sermons in a low, ingratiating voice, and gradually gets heated up to the point where he is running round the stage screaming." At a recent service at a Kiev ice hockey stadium 14,000 people crammed in to experience the effect.

"The effect"? It's no mysterious "conscience manipulation" effect -- it's got a time-honored name: "preaching."

As "Pastor Sunday" prepared to make a grand entrance, the choirgirls shook their pompoms, the disco lights started to flash and a fanfare sounded. The lights cut out, and Mr Adelaja emerged from a shroud of dry ice. Children holding flags of the world wafted round him and the choir bellowed "Sanctus!"

The congregation responded enthusiastically. Many danced in the aisles. With his eyes closed and brows furrowed in concentration, he raised his arms aloft. A hush fell over the audience.

"A man who is having problems functioning in his manly area, God is healing you," he intoned. "Those who are having skin problems, God is healing you."

On and on he droned, curing everything from buttock problems to bankruptcy. Some in the congregation wept, others bellowed hallelujahs. Ushers discreetly passed around collection boxes.

How I'd just love to actually watch this. Talk about "appointment television."