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My Turn

The sounds of Pentecost

By Jack Miranda

His name was Patricio Reyes. When I was growing up in the early ’60s there were many Hispanic men like Brother Pat in my church. Brown faces, gracefully aging, stoic though kind, quiet yet friendly, and each permanently married to happy, perfume-scented, frozen-haired, abundantly dressed women. These men worked hard and outdoors mostly and they took the day of rest as seriously as they took the six of work.

Brother Pat died in 1998 after a tough battle with disease, but he taught me profound theological truths without uttering a doctrinal word to me. I think of him fondly when our church celebrates Pentecost Sunday. Nobody celebrated like Brother Pat. He marvelously introduced this third-generation, Assemblies of God pastor to “the sounds of Pentecost.”

The Sunday night worship service was conducted in Spanish at Tabernaculo de Fe Asamblea de Dios in South El Monte, Calif. The songs were loud and lively; the piano and tambourines competed with the passionate voices of men and women. The small church reverberated with a pulsating rhythm that had to resemble Sunday night in first-century Jerusalem.

And then there was Brother Pat.

I was accustomed to seeing Brother Pat at his regular aisle seat at the middle of the church, and this Pentecost Sunday there he was, standing and worshiping. Then it happened. Here was this quiet, even shy, man with his neatly pressed collared shirt and slacks and laundered powder-blue cotton wind-breaker, laughing at the top of his lungs. Laughing! I mean howling in a voice that sounded like nothing I had ever heard before in church. Head back, mouth wide open, eyes closed, laughing hysterically, not unlike the carnival joker at the entrance to the funhouse.

An energy I can’t describe came over the church. It was strange yet somehow normal. The adults didn’t react like I’d known them to when there was a disruption during the service. Not even Brother Paul, that strict, scowling hawk of a deacon, dispatched himself to quiet Brother Pat. I stared in bewildered admiration. While still spilling his high-pitched laugh over the church, Brother Pat began to move and shake.

His keys and pocket change made wonderfully playful and rhythmic sounds, the sounds of Pentecost. He pirouetted somehow in the small space between pews, eyes shut tight, laughing joyfully, bouncing up and down frenetically, gently bumping the pews he was between before moving out into the aisle, his pocket-maracas still keeping loud, rhythmic pace. Without the impediment of the pews he began moving toward the front of the church. Then he moved backwards toward the exit, laughing all the way. He repeated his route several times, back and forth.

A simple glance at the radiantly bemused faces of my worshiping parents, their hands floating in ethereal wonderment, indelibly validated what Pentecostals have come to describe as a normative Holy Spirit experience. At 9, I was incurably set to argue the validity of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the signs that follow. Over the years Brother Pat would continue his lovely signs and sounds deep into my teens. I miss those sounds and I miss Brother Pat.

What a wonderful heritage we have as Pentecostals and what lovely sounds come from that time in my life, the sounds of laughter in church, keys and pocket change making a wonderful and ecstatic chorus of praise to the One who promised us power from on high. Striving as a pastor to be more relevant in the postmodern world, I also know that I need more Spirit-anointed sounds in my life. Give me that old-time religion and bring on the sounds of Pentecost.

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