The council, very much on edge as they talked about it, concluded that the turmoil in the congregation had begun with the Sibbelinks, after they two of them had visited Lizzy’s sister Heather up north and worshiped at Heather's church on Cutler Avenue.
“Cutler Avenue’s not a real wild place either," Elder Swart claimed, remembering his own father's pastorate there when he was a boy. "That church is not known for anything outlandish," he told the others. "It’s a fine place–quite soft-spoken. Not usually on the cutting edge." On that basis they concluded that what the Lizzy Sibbelink and her husband saw and experienced in Cutler Avenue church probably had to be quite widespread already up north.
Here’s what happened. Lizzy had brought her husband along to Heather's this time, and both of them came back with a carrying such hot blood people considered it something of a fever. What they'd seen at Cutler Street Church, as the consistory already knew, was good Christian people–even men–with their hands raised, during singing especially and sometimes even during prayer.
“You mean they all do it at Cutler Avenue?” Elder Swart said.
"That’s what I heard,” Elder Wilmot said. “A whole church of them–like a herd of Texas longhorns."
“Just a matter of time before it crept down here,” Wilmot said, “like hoof-and-mouth.”
What had happened was clear: in a church full of arm-raisers, good Christian people like the Sibbelinks started to feel almost apostate if they didn't chuck their own arms up themselves, so Arn Sibbelink must have looked around and seen what looked like a celebration. Not wanting to be the odd man out, he figured it “when-in-Rome,” so he shot ‘em up himself, and, almost immediately, felt an infusion of something right through the tips of his fingers, he said. Now Arn, people say, has been, already for years, subject to all manner of spiritual displays. He’s a man, it is said, who’s never seen a church fad he didn’t almost immediately adopt.
The only downside to this was in joining, Arn made his wife, Lizzy, the odd woman out, not a role she’s ever sought to play. Elder Swart said he heard from others that Lizzy had hesitated for about a minute and a half, looked around at all the others, including Arn, who suddenly took on the brightly-lit face of brand new convert and thereby made Liz feel as if she wasn’t spiritually blessed. Lizzy shifted her weight from foot to foot, but, finally, reluctantly--after two verses of "Our God Reigns" -- jerked her up arms too. Wasn’t so bad once they were up there either, she’d told Arn later, even though she’s been smit with pain in her lower lumbar for more than a decade.
That's where the problem began, the consistory determined. Arn Sibbelink they could have dealt with, coming as he did from a family given to occasionally outlandish displays of things, the kind of people who pray well in public and shed tears the way some people do dandruff. But once Lizzy raised her hands--something no one could believe, Lizzy being Lizzy--she started to like it. That's right. Arn smiled at her and pointed two fingers in the air as if, in tandem, the two of them had just linked up for a touchdown that won the Cotton Bowl. There they stood, armpits exposed a picture, people figured, of praise and piety.
When Lizzy got back, she went to work almost immediately, searching through every dark corner of the church for potential converts. "I mean," she told people, "what's wrong with expressing your faith like that? "I mean," she said, "how can anybody try to quench the Spirit?" "I mean," she said, "how long has it been since there's been even a glow in ‘First Church of the Ice Box?’"--meaning Lakeside, the consistory understood. Lizzy and Arn Sibbelink came back from their trip up north converted and dedicated their summer to getting Lakeside Church to take a pilgrimage toward righteousness by way of heavenward hands. Renewal was what they called it–and it started just that easily, with the raising of hands.
What the consistory understood was that Arn and Liz Sibbelink are the kind of people who mean well but not the real movers and shakers in Lakeside Church. Nobody’s ever forgotten the time Arn lead a hymn sing with such outrageous zealousness that nobody sang, worried as they were about a public coronary behind the pulpit. The Sibbelinks, the consistory knew, were the kinds of people who want to lead so bad they can’t.
So that night, quite late in fact, the consistory faced a problem: a quarter of the church (estimates varied) wanted to follow the Sibbelinks’ lead and lift their hands on high; what was left thought raising hands the way they did was just fine if somebody’d just kicked a field goal, but as a gesture of joy was better left somewhere close to the 50-yard line.
“What are we going to do?” Wilmot said, although nary a person around that table needed an explanation. “We got the uppers and the downers here,” he said, “and never the twain shall meet.”
Elder Swart didn’t know what to say. He leaned back, looked up at the picture of his father with the former pastors, and wished he could have one of those fat black cigars old-time consistories used to savor in silence right in this room. Of course, now there were women, he thought--but then who knows? Maybe tonight, with this hand-raising business, they'd be frustrated enough to join in a stogie.
"I don't like it," Vander Toppen said, breaking the silence. "It puts people in a swoon. Last week Herman Fry almost passeed out, I swear. There he stood, like he had grown antennae." He tossed his eyes up in the air. "You know, Pastor," he said, "you got to cut down on numbers of verses, or people'll start dropping right in the pews."
“You can't tell people how they can or can't express themselves,” Nikki Ferris said. “If the Spirit's in them, then they're going to raise their hands. We've got no business trying to stanch what the Spirit's up to." Silence.
Of course, everybody knows Ferris and her husband raise their hands.
"What I want to know," Elder Wilmot said finally, "is why the Spirit works like a virus?" He put both elbows up on the table. "We'd never have had a problem here if the Sibbelinks hadn't visited up north." At that moment he raised both hands himself. "Go ahead–tell me it's the Holy Spirit in all of them. Maybe I’ll buy that, but answer me this: how is it the Holy Spirit got to work like a hula hoop. The whole thing smells like a fad to me."
Tomorrow: Yet more hand-raising hand-wringing.