Sunday at Lakewood Church – Part I
We went to visit my mother-in-law in Houston over the weekend, and she insisted that we go to see her favorite preacher, Joel Osteen, preach live. I actually watch his show every Sunday morning before mass. He’s really more of a motivational speaker than a preacher, and it’s hard not to enjoy watching his positive, “God Lite” message. Plus, I like to keep tabs on what he says since she quotes him in just about every phone call we have and really uses his teachings to guide her life.
The only church services I’ve ever been to are the orthodox masses at my current parish and the occasional trips to the Dallas Baptist or Methodist churches that my childhood friends went to. They were all very quiet, sedate services. So when my mother-in-law leaned over to me in the car on the way over and touched me on the knee and said in her thick East Texas accent, “Jennifer, there are going to be some people here feelin’ the spirit” I was picturing the people I see at Mass on Sundays who have a glisten of a tear in their eye as they pray before communion. Umm, wrong.
So I walked into the stadium and was stunned by the beautiful blue lighting on the roof and the gorgeous stage. The music started and it was LOUD. The atmosphere was more energetic than any rock concert I’ve ever been to as everyone jumped to their feet and started singing and waving their hands in the air. Then there was a quiet moment where “Prayer Partners” went around to pray with anyone who needed someone to pray with. Many people were in tears. And this was all before Joel Osteen even came on stage. My son kept looking at me and saying, “Church?” It was cute to watch his little mind try to reconcile how this is called the same thing as that place we usually go on Sundays.
Osteen’s sermon of the day was about loyalty, and at one point he was talking about a nice letter his brother sent him when he was going through a tough time. The thought of the letter got him so choked up he couldn’t continue, and people in the crowd started yelling well-wishes and encouragement. It was quite an emotional moment. I think I even saw my husband wipe a tear from the corner of his eye.
I’m not sure how many people were there but it was definitely in the thousands. And two characteristics of this huge crowd of people had me in awe: the first was the overwhelmingly positive vibe in the stadium. I didn’t know you could get that many people together under one roof and have zero tension. The good energy was almost tangible. I actually thought that if my hardline atheist dad was there even he would have been forced to crack a smile and kind of get into it. For the first time I could understand those people you see on TV who get so “into the spirit” that they end up dancing and rolling around on floors. The excitement was like a wave that swept over you that was really hard to resist.
The second and most salient characteristic of the crowd was how seamlessly racially mixed it was. My (admittedly limited) experience, especially with Protestant churches, has been that religion is often a segregated affair. The Baptist and Methodist churches I visited in my childhood were 95% white and, honestly, I think a family of a different race might have felt uncomfortable attending services there. But the crowd at Osteen’s service was like some sort of united nations; it was impossible to pick out one particular ethnic group as predominating in the crowd. During the prayer service a young black Prayer Partner walk up to the two little old white ladies in front of me and asked if he could pray with them. They all held hands and prayed, and all three were hugging and in tears by the end of it. It was really touching.
Though I think Lakewood is technically nondenominational my husband told me that this is probably what you’d call an Evangelical church service. So I had my first Evangelical church experience. It gave me a lot to think about, and came at an interesting time in my spiritual life. I have more thoughts than can fit into one post (and, as usual, it’s way too late for me to be up writing blog posts) so I’m going to throw together a Part II sometime later this week.
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