“Hover, hover, hover, hover, hover.” Over and over, the 24 piece band led singing of “Hover” as the people danced, some collapsing in utter ecstasy, fainting in their seats. The flags and ribbons twirled while the African-influenced rhythmic music pounded. The congregation prayed and sang with passionate abandon for the Holy Spirit to hover over this world.
And thus ended in nearly 2 1/2 hour service at the Glory of Zion, a Denton-based international ministry that recently moved its headquarters to Corinth on Interstate 35.
Several hours earlier, my companion and I had driven up to this nondescript building with little outside signage. The US flag, the Texas flag, and the flag of Israel wave on massive flagposts. We walked inside and found a huge converted warehouse space, The Tabernacle, seating 1000 to 1500.
I introduced myself at the greeting desk and explained that I would be writing about the service. We asked to look around and she directed us to the refreshment/bookstore area, the prayer tower, and the Israel Prayer Garden.
A few minutes later, she scurried up to us, saying breathlessly, “Chuck wants to meet you. Come with me please.” The white-haired Apostle, Dr. Chuck A. Pierce, the founder and head of this world-wide organization, greeted us warmly. I immediately thought of Bill Clinton, the same charisma encompassing everyone around him. “Let me introduce you to my wife, the genius behind the Israel Prayer Garden, and then stay after the service and I will show you around.”
We looked for seats. All of the aisle seats were already taken, many with reserved signs, others held by purses or Bibles. We moved in toward the center of a row near the front of the cavernous space. However, when the people closer to the end realized we were visiting, they graciously changed places so we could see better.
At 9:00 am, a worship leader blew the Shofar, the Ram’s Horn, to start worship. The next hour was filled with music, dancing, flags and banners waving, and prophecies such as “The end of homosexuality in Israel. ” After another prophecy about the reconnection of brain synapses, a time of healing began. All who had been diagnosed with any nerve disease in the last two weeks were invited to go to the center of the room. There the Prayer Intercessors would pray over them.
Curiosity abounding, we joined them. The Intercessors prayed intensely, standing in front of the one seeking healing. Another stood behind with hands open near the supplicant’s waist. Many times at the end of the prayer, and with a gentle touch on the forehead by the Intercessor, the ill person collapsed, carefully caught by the one standing behind, and gently lowered to the floor. A blanket would be placed over them as they reclined, eyes closed, some twitching, some totally motionless.
The songs, repetitive in nature, continued during the healing, the congregation hearing and singing over and over again, “You are holy,” or “Lord I want you to move me.”
At 9:57 we exchanged brief greetings and sat down. The Apostle formally took the stage. He began with a dream interpretation, moved to John, Chapter 2, and said “This is a moment for a new manifestation.” From there he explained how his mother had offered forgiveness on her deathbed, told us to follow her example and then instructed everyone to turn to their neighbors and say “You can’t get deeper than his love.”
Pierce then began to decree certain things over the congregation, continually instructing us to turn and speak words of faith and encouragement to each other. He stated “If you are here today then God wants to do something new in you.”
At that point he began to remind us that this is the Hebrew year 5775. The rest of the nearly hour-long message wove in and out of a discourse on the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the HEI, and how it is linked with the whirlwind of heaven. The Apostle said that we are in the “season of doors.” As we stay in the eye of the whirlwind we will be able to see things that we have not been able to see before. He reminded us frequently of our adversaries, specifically Satan, and instructed us to shout at one another “Come out of trouble,” and “Yell HEI at the devil and he leaves.”
As he was preparing to wrap up, Pierce called forth groups of people holding large banners and instructed them to stand in front of the stage and hold the banners high, linking them to each other. He then commanded the entire congregation to walk under these banners. The music began then with the rhythmic “hover, hover, hover” that ended this ecstatic morning of worship.
Although it turned out that Chuck himself was unable to personally conduct the tour, he turned us over to a capable staff member who spent a gracious 45 minutes with us, explaining the various ministry centers and offering some history of the organization. A final good-bye sent us into the Israel Prayer Garden for a meditative walk before heading home.
[Note: the article above is scheduled to run in the Friday, November 7, 2014 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle.]
This ministry, Glory of Zion, centers on the nation of Israel and the covenant God made with them. Their “What We Believe” statement indicates a mixture of Jewish and Christian theology, very much influenced by the Signs and Wonders movement, with special emphasis on the gifts of Apostles and Prophets. They also practice what is called “dominion theology” and more information on that can be found here. I personally felt that they were dabbling with the mystical practice of Kabbalah, but they deny it in this document.
According to Pierce, people from over 120 different countries watch the services being live-streamed. Extremely professional camera work is evident. We happened to be sitting under the giant boom-mounted camera that periodically swept over our heads, getting the best angles for the shots. I’m aware that my companion and I will probably appear on the DVD that will be sent to me later this week.
During the tour afterward, we became increasingly aware that massive, simply massive, amounts of money are flowing through this place. And the head of the accounting department is none other than one of Pierces’ six children. His wife, Pam, and several other children head key ministry areas. In other words, nepotism rules the day with the staffing of this ministry. I have no idea what the governing board looks like, but I would guess the chances of any real independent voices on it are extremely rare. It doesn’t mean that there is anything shady going on, but I had my own internal red flags sprouting like hives all over my mind. According to Chuck, he “never asks for money.” But he’s definitely getting plenty of it.
He and his entourage were leaving on Tuesday for what was apparently a quick trip to offer a blessing in Israel, and would be returning on Friday. According to the staff member who gave us the tour, he rarely sleeps. But I bet he’s either flying first class or has his own plane because of his never-ending travel schedule. My “partner in crime,” as I jokingly call my main companion on these worship experiences, had been trying for several weeks to find out exactly when Chuck himself would be at one of these worship celebrations. He finally learned that he had to get on a mailing list, and would be informed only on the preceding Friday if Chuck would be present on the following Sunday.
The worship was a high-energy blast, an old-time tent revival coupled with the best of current technology, superb musicians, and a lot of decorating kitsch. The dancers wore sparkling tunics over black leotards. The tunics fanned out as they danced and twirled through the musical part of the service. Many others, apparently random laity, joined them as they danced. The banners people carried were flowing and gorgeous. The never-ending movement of the banners, the flags, the dancers gave a real sense of the Spirit flowing around us.
I was on sensory overload the entire morning. The greeter had given us earplugs, but one of mine fell out and I could not find it again. The unprotected ear took several hours to recover after the service.
Elmer Gantry came to mind more than once as I watched with amazement. But even as I write that, I admit that I liked Chuck and have much admiration for his talents and how he has chosen to use them. When we saw him afterward, he apologized for not being able to take us on the tour personally, and then turned to me and said, “Let’s get together for lunch sometimes when I’m not an apostle and you are not a columnist and just talk.” I genuinely hope we can have that conversation someday.