I am not easily frightened. Oh, I can be scared. I have been held at gunpoint in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Liberia, and Guinea. Standing opposite the business end of an AK-47 is a decidedly different experience from considering the existence of paranormal phenomena.
This being said, last night was a little weird. I’ve been in churches all of my life. It’s common for ministers to talk about being “raised” in the church. I don’t have a Saint Paul like conversion story. I wasn’t a member of a biker gang who dealt drugs and found Christ at the bottom of ditch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I found Jesus when I tried to lie my way out of going to Vacation Bible School. One year, when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I decided I had enough of crafts and coloring. Vacationing with Jesus wasn’t my cup of tea. I called the preacher and told him I couldn’t go that particular evening. My story was this: “my dad and I were working on the boat”. Yes, we had a boat. I used to go the lake and even water ski. This seemed like a reasonable thing I might do. It wasn’t. Even the preacher knew this. I was and remain one who does not work on things.
I was wracked with guilt. What had I done? I lied to the preacher. I was going straight to Hell. (Are they still holding that reservation?) My mama made me call him back and confess my sins. The next day I went back to Vacation Bible School. Since that evening in 1985, I don’t believe I’ve had a night off from church.
In middle school I started spending all night at church. It wasn’t because my parents kicked me out or the church needed a security guard. I was a member of the Youth Group. The Youth Group had lock-ins. We were locked in the church, overnight to watch movies and hang out, usually on a Friday night. Because our group was small, I was allowed, in middle school to attend high school lock-ins. At night, the church is a different place. It’s nothing at all like the formal place you encounter on Sunday morning. The empty rooms, darkness, and freedom give one the feeling of being set free in a castle. In can be a little spooky. People have been known to scare each other, hide in unseen corners, and jump out of the choir loft when no one is looking. I like the lock-ins for another reason. Our senior high youth group was all girls. I liked girls. I thought girls were great. I might even want to date a girl. I was 13. This was my chance to impress the ladies with my religious knowledge. If things went bump in the night, maybe they’d look to me for comfort. After all, I knew how to flip the switches and turn on all the lights from the sanctuary to the preacher’s office.
So where was I? I am not easily frightened. But last night was a little weird. I’d just wrapped an online pre-marital counseling session. Choir practice was over and the church empty. The storm clouds were rolling in fast. I was thinking about the Garth Brooks song where the wife shoots her husband over his adulterous affair, “Thunder Rolls” for no other reason than it has the word “thunder” in the title. About that time, I started to hear the creak and the shimmies of this old building. It’s like the church is talking. Rattles and shakes I know, these were more like malformed words and distorted laughs emanating from inside the walls. Up and down, back and forth they spoke for over a minute.
I was sure I heard the door open. It doesn’t latch properly. It has to be shut securely or even a gentle breeze will blow it open. In this wind, I would need to tie it shut. A few weeks ago, on a night much like this, Peg Leg Marcel, the Phantom Pooper of Ocracoke, came into the church looking to make our Sunday School rooms into his private indoor toilet. He’d done this once before. On his second attempt, I scared him a way with my lunatic ranting. Was this his third try? I went to do the door, called out Marcel’s name, and said, “Peg Leg Marcel, are you upstairs? Show yourself this minute!” No sound came from the walls, stairs, or darkened rooms. Only the floor creaked under my feat.
Two steps later, as I turned to re-enter my office, the power flickered and I was bathed in darkness. My weirdness quota reached, I grabbed my bag and keys, and decided to leave the church. God, the sounds, and the storm would be fine without me for the remainder of the evening.