At Your Service: A visit to a humble house of worship


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At Eagle Ministries, I was in for a change of pace and a intimate service.

Eagle Ministries Inc., 304 S. 32nd St.
Service, 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Length of service: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Length of sermon: 46 minutes

I decided I needed a change of pace—something other than a Sunday morning and something other than a large West End church.

That’s how I ended up at Eagle Ministries in the heart of the South Side on a Wednesday evening. I arrived five minutes early, to find the music already underway, once again. There were five women on autoharps, a guitarist, a keyboardist, five percussionists and one fellow just singing.

AtYourServiceThe strangest thing is that the musicians were arranged in a kind of half-circle, and in the hollow between them the green carpet was strewn with coins, mostly pennies, nickels and dimes, plus some folding money, most of them ones.

The walls were adorned with the flags of many nations, a map of the world and a special little display about Ghana. I saw later on the church’s Facebook page that it has done mission work in that African country, and has hosted a minister from there. That’s big work for a small church.

There were about 60 folding chairs set up in the modest sanctuary, and when the band was playing, the only people in the chairs were me, four other adults and three children. I had barely taken my seat before Ron, a burly gentleman in a MET Transit shirt who was manning the sound and light board, walked over and introduced himself.

The music went on for a little more than half an hour. Most of the autoharpists sang all the hymns, which had an odd lilt to them. They sounded almost like slow-motion Christmas carols, if that makes any sense.

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

The percussionists quit after a couple of songs, and the guy who had been beating on what looked like an Irish hand drum walked over to the right side of the sanctuary and commenced moving and swaying and slowly revolving his arms. It was something like a rapturous form of tai chi.

The last song somehow drifted off into a 12-minute dirge-like tune during which one of the autoharpists kept singing “hallelujah,” occasionally singing verses in English and sometimes in a language that might have been Hebrew, though it also occurred to me that she might have been speaking in tongues.

The music was not unpleasant, but it was not particularly moving, either, though everyone else certainly seemed to find it so. I am a small-d democrat. I know when I’m whipped.

A little after 6:30 there was a flurry of activity. The instruments were put away, the folding money was scooped up off the floor, a lectern was pulled up to front and center and the pastor launched into a sermon.

It was the guitarist, the Rev. Joe Cutler, as I later determined, a tall, fit, very earnest man in his mid- to late 30s. His sermon was a whirlwind amalgam of biblical citations, references to current events, random observations and emphatic affirmations of Christian belief and duty, and these last nearly always elicited shouts of “Yes!” “Amen!” and “Glory!” from the congregation.

He made references to Hobby Lobby, the missing Malaysian aircraft, strife in Crimea, and, more than a couple of times, Facebook. He spoke rapidly, passionately, moving seamlessly—if not perfectly coherently—from one subject to another. I got the distinct impression that here was a man who had wrestled with demons, and that he was talking about events, ideas and beliefs that had helped him overcome them. His flock didn’t care that he was no Aquinas in the logic department; they wanted that spirit, that feeling and that love of God to overwhelm and save them.

Cutler strayed into politics a few times, but never quite overtly or overbearingly. At one point he said he used to indulge in politics relentlessly on Facebook, trying to change the minds of liberals and Democrats whose arguments he found so laughable, but he had given up on that.

Now, when he’s on Facebook, he said, “I’m there to exemplify everything God would have me exemplify.” He had many more things to say of that nature, which clearly struck a chord with his listeners.

“Sin wants to exalt rebellion; I exalt obedience to God,” for instance, and “The seed is always plantable, and we have been given a lot of seed.”

In my favorite segment, he compared plain-living, down-to-earth Montanans with the locust-eating John the Baptist. He said John did not cry out because he lived in the wilderness, not at all. John the Baptist loved the simple life, he said, away from the false allure of sophistication.

Or, as the Rev. Cutler put it, “Forget the wannabe cosmopolitan New York garbage.” He then went on to speak of the charms of his humble church, and referring to the music, he said, “Did you come here expecting the New York Philharmonic?”

I felt he might have been chastising my snobbish opinions. When he was done, one of the female autoharpists went to the lectern, spoke for a while on Chronicles and then gave a rousing speech on the joy of giving. I put $2 in the basket and started gathering up my things to go, for the service was clearly over.

I was halfway to the door when I heard hurried footsteps behind me. I knew who it was, and it was: Ron, the gent in the Met Transit shirt, intercepted me, pumped my hand again and thanked me for coming.

Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.

Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.

Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.

Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.

Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.

Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.

Next week: First United Methodist Church

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