THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Page Six THE MICHIGAN DAILY
By PAUL HASKINS
It's Thursday evening on Ann Arbor's West Side
and hundreds of townspeople converge on the social
hall of a local junior high. Friendly and collected, the
crowd is overstated neither in appearance nor be-
havior, the kind of demographic cross-section that
would do a soft drink commercial proud.
As the group files in, another equally affable, though
younger, assemblage enters the gym of a high
school a few miles to the east, maybe a mile north
of the University campus. Though separated -by dis-
tance and years, the two groups are about to exper-
ience a common phenomenon, the likes of which most
Ann Arborites have never fathomed.
The two groups, gathering for their weekly Thursday
night prayer meetings, together comprise the Word
of Gid Community, a charismatic Christian prayer
fore eight. At first glance, they look much like any
other group of their size - maybe a bit friendlier and'
more serene than most. They exchange sincere hugs
and professions of how happy they are to see one
another. They mill about, their chatter criss-crossing
the room as seats fill. By 8:15 over 400 are on hand,
and they settle into their places, the banter ground-
ing to a halt as Tony Redente, the evening's leader,
begins the meeting: "I'd like us all to be attentive to
what the Lord has to say tonight - with our ears,
but more importantly, with our hearts . .
His opening rap completed, Redente directs his
audience's attention to the yellow song books resting
on each seat.
Pages fly open to the appropriate page number,
as the lyrics virtually leap out of the song book.
Clearly a pleasurable experience, almost everybody
The Word of God
A c ommunity .. , a /ife
group claiming over 1,400 members from Ann Arbor
and surrounding areas.
The group can be located under, "Word of God, The"
in the Ann Arbor directory, and its literature, leaders,
and full time staff can be found working at Harris.
Hall behind the door stenciled "Charismatic Renewal
Services, Inc." But for all its businesslike efficiency
and organization, the Word of God defies easy labeling,
and can't be characterized as just another traditional
Word of God was spawned in the infancy of the
Charismatic Renewal Movement, a nationwide crusade
of disgruntled Christians tearing away from what
they considered to be the stagnant, entrenched ritual
of established churches of the day, moving toward
a more experimental approach to prayer and religious
In eight years, the group has grown from a core
of six members meeting in a dingy flat above Campus
Corners to the largest single charismatic community
in the world. In that time, the community has seen
entire families pull up stakes from as far away as
Pennsylvania to join their ranks. Though predominant-
ly Catholic in makeup, WOG claims members from
practically every major denomination.
The four hours per week set aside for weekly prayer
meetings and Sunday gatherings in no way accurately
reflects the time and service commitment of WOG
members to the community.
Most members live in community houses, either in
family settings or in groups of single people segregated
by sex. The community is encouraged to eat meals and
recreate together as often as possible.
WOG members will tell you that a Christian life for
them is a full-time experience, but nothing taps
there reserve for religious fervor more than the
midweek prayer meeting, climaxed by a prayer in
tongues - a practice that has been described as dia-
bolical by some, and inspiring by others. But for the
secular majority who has never before witnessed
it, the prayer can only be seen as bizarre in the
At a recent Thursday evening get together at For-
sythe Junior High, a predominately older group of
WOG members began to congregate a few minutes be-
joins in. The few whose anxious strains jump ahead
of the group's are soon overtaken by a din that
resonates off the high ceilings and distant walls of the
The first hymn finally fades, but a second is fast on
its heels. Voices mend into one resolute force that
sweeps the participants away to another level of
consciousness. Their features are animated, t h e i r
actions excited. Some reach to the ceiling, heads rais-
ed, eyes closed. Others rock back and forth, a nerv-
ous energy tapping their feet in double time to the
music. An emotional staging ground has been reach-
ed. They are ready now.
An overwhelming percentage of the community are
practicing members of other established religions.
They carry their spiritual devotion into their daily
lives, rarely speaking in angered tones or using lang-
done programs in Northern Ohio and Southeasi
igan. By early summer of 1973, he found
in a local drug program. It was there, as he 1
that "I basically came to a point in my life
I had to settle the whole issue of God." As hi
unfolds, one is reminded of the Cheech and
bit from a few years back: "I used to be all
up on drugs . . . now I'm all fucked up on the
But the stereotype just won't apply here. East
uage a clergyman would cringe at. Many Word of
Goders come from tightly-knit, God-fearing Christian
families. But for a significant minority, conversion to
the Ann Arbor group represented a radical conversion
from a sordid past life that left little room for
Bob Rodriguez, a 27 year old Vietnam veteran was
born in Detroit and raised a Catholic. At some point
Bob got into drugs a bit more than he could handle.
A heroin addict, he skipped through a number of metha-
"Their features are
animated, t h e i r ac-
tions, excited . . .
An emotional staging
ground has been
reached. They are
articulate and engaging Rodriguez comes on coe
of where his life is heading.
The day after he left the methadone clinic two
ago, he walked into a Word of God meeting a
sythe. He's been going back ever since.
Despite word of God's incredible growth ra
members are encouraged to go out and solit
converts, a practice widespread among certain
campus Christian groups and a source of an
for most of their targets. Though Word of God 0
believe in the hard sell, they will usually te
all you want to hear and then some if you reve
slightest interest in the community. At the F
meetings, non-members are required to wear
name tags while in the auditorium. The bright
are usualy a ticket to a torrential shower of
greetings and endless introductions. New coNe
urged to return; if they show interest, they 5i
asked to join the Life in the Spirit seminars, a
week beginners course designed to prepare
comers for active membership in the commun
formal vows are taken, but members who ct
the seminar are expected to pledge an "underwa
mitment" to attend meetings and gatherings.
years later, if one has successfully entered into
with the spirit, they may be ready to make a
commitment before the entire community. The ;
Rodriguez explains, is twofold: making a
ment to Jesus Christ, and bringing that comt
out in action."
Though its membership is limited by design
ple within commuting distance from Ann Arb
community has grown in numbers so quicklY
third weekly prayer group is already being or
on the east side of town. Any skeptics in sear
scientific accounting for the rapid expansi6
might find their eyebrows raised a not-h by W
God librarian Phil O'Mara's answer: "It W03
an idea whose time had come."