My recent experience at a Spiritualist church

#1
So I thought I would share my story of a kind of personal, participant-observer ethnography. This past Sunday I attended a Spiritualist church and received an alleged message.

I was in another city for a friend's wedding and I saw that such a church was in the community. My curiosity piqued, I decided to attend the Sunday morning service. I walked in as they were concluding the half-hour healing service. People would sit in chairs up front facing the congregation while the healers placed hands on their shoulders. Stereotypical New-Age relaxation music played over the speakers.

The sanctuary is rather small and would perhaps seat 50 people at most. It is arranged very typically: rows of chairs facing the elevated chancel with a pulpit/lectern and seating for worship leaders. About 23 people were in attendance. All but four were women; all but myself and one woman who seemed to be in her early twenties were middle-aged and older.

The order of worship also largely coincided with the general pattern of Protestant services: interspersed hymns, prayers, announcements, a creed (reciting the National Spiritualist Association's Declaration of Principles), an offering, a benediction. There is usually a sermon as well but the minister was out sick. This was replaced by a time for persons to honor their fathers.

The big difference, of course, is the messages portion. Four mediums (all female) sat on the chancel and the congregation was asked to "call in" their spirits. A couple of them may be in training because persons are asked to complete affidavits for evidential readings or apparent healings. These forms support the medium's certification process with the Association.

When the messages time began, we were told that we could refuse to receive a message or notify the leadership if we were uncomfortable. When a medium felt ready to deliver a message, she would stand at the pulpit, find the intended recipient, and say something like. "I have a message for you. Would you like to hear it?"

The medium with an English accent came to the pulpit, briefly glanced around, then fixed her eyes on me. After several seconds of looking at me intently, she asked if I would like to receive a message. I said sure.

She told me that she saw me surrounded by several persons, because I had experienced a lot of deaths. One person "came forward" to speak. She described him as a medium-sized man with gray hair and a well-trimmed white beard. I do not recognize this figure, but she gets the impression that he is related to me on my father's side. His message for me is rather cryptic and metaphorical. If you have watched the sci-fi show Babylon 5, then you will recognize the thought I had in reaction: "Oh great, so I'm related to a Vorlon." The message offered advice but it was fundamentally a statement of reassurance.

A few other persons' readings, delivered for members of the church, were received as very supportive, as evidential, and even as fully expected in one case. The first person who received a message nodded her head and cried. Another said she knew this is what she needed to hear.

How do I evaluate my own reading? It is hard to say. The alleged communicator is unknown to me, unless perhaps, in an exercise of super-psi, his image was constructed from my memory of another person or persons who are not relatives. I suppose it is accurate to say death is very familiar to me. Several of my relatives and those of my wife have passed away. Apart from these, I spent six years as an associate pastor at a church and I had good relationships with many congregants who died during my tenure. As for the message...it makes sense and it doesn't at the same time. I would say that its metaphorical description of where I am in my life is accurate, although not particularly evidential. The advice, though, is not clear to discern. I will be pondering this experience for some time to come.
 
#2
So I thought I would share my story of a kind of personal, participant-observer ethnography. This past Sunday I attended a Spiritualist church and received an alleged message.

I was in another city for a friend's wedding and I saw that such a church was in the community. My curiosity piqued, I decided to attend the Sunday morning service. I walked in as they were concluding the half-hour healing service. People would sit in chairs up front facing the congregation while the healers placed hands on their shoulders. Stereotypical New-Age relaxation music played over the speakers.

The sanctuary is rather small and would perhaps seat 50 people at most. It is arranged very typically: rows of chairs facing the elevated chancel with a pulpit/lectern and seating for worship leaders. About 23 people were in attendance. All but four were women; all but myself and one woman who seemed to be in her early twenties were middle-aged and older.

The order of worship also largely coincided with the general pattern of Protestant services: interspersed hymns, prayers, announcements, a creed (reciting the National Spiritualist Association's Declaration of Principles), an offering, a benediction. There is usually a sermon as well but the minister was out sick. This was replaced by a time for persons to honor their fathers.

The big difference, of course, is the messages portion. Four mediums (all female) sat on the chancel and the congregation was asked to "call in" their spirits. A couple of them may be in training because persons are asked to complete affidavits for evidential readings or apparent healings. These forms support the medium's certification process with the Association.

When the messages time began, we were told that we could refuse to receive a message or notify the leadership if we were uncomfortable. When a medium felt ready to deliver a message, she would stand at the pulpit, find the intended recipient, and say something like. "I have a message for you. Would you like to hear it?"

The medium with an English accent came to the pulpit, briefly glanced around, then fixed her eyes on me. After several seconds of looking at me intently, she asked if I would like to receive a message. I said sure.

She told me that she saw me surrounded by several persons, because I had experienced a lot of deaths. One person "came forward" to speak. She described him as a medium-sized man with gray hair and a well-trimmed white beard. I do not recognize this figure, but she gets the impression that he is related to me on my father's side. His message for me is rather cryptic and metaphorical. If you have watched the sci-fi show Babylon 5, then you will recognize the thought I had in reaction: "Oh great, so I'm related to a Vorlon." The message offered advice but it was fundamentally a statement of reassurance.

A few other persons' readings, delivered for members of the church, were received as very supportive, as evidential, and even as fully expected in one case. The first person who received a message nodded her head and cried. Another said she knew this is what she needed to hear.

How do I evaluate my own reading? It is hard to say. The alleged communicator is unknown to me, unless perhaps, in an exercise of super-psi, his image was constructed from my memory of another person or persons who are not relatives. I suppose it is accurate to say death is very familiar to me. Several of my relatives and those of my wife have passed away. Apart from these, I spent six years as an associate pastor at a church and I had good relationships with many congregants who died during my tenure. As for the message...it makes sense and it doesn't at the same time. I would say that its metaphorical description of where I am in my life is accurate, although not particularly evidential. The advice, though, is not clear to discern. I will be pondering this experience for some time to come.
Sounds devoid of evidence to me.
 
#4
So I thought I would share my story of a kind of personal, participant-observer ethnography. This past Sunday I attended a Spiritualist church and received an alleged message.

I was in another city for a friend's wedding and I saw that such a church was in the community. My curiosity piqued, I decided to attend the Sunday morning service. I walked in as they were concluding the half-hour healing service. People would sit in chairs up front facing the congregation while the healers placed hands on their shoulders. Stereotypical New-Age relaxation music played over the speakers.

The sanctuary is rather small and would perhaps seat 50 people at most. It is arranged very typically: rows of chairs facing the elevated chancel with a pulpit/lectern and seating for worship leaders. About 23 people were in attendance. All but four were women; all but myself and one woman who seemed to be in her early twenties were middle-aged and older.

The order of worship also largely coincided with the general pattern of Protestant services: interspersed hymns, prayers, announcements, a creed (reciting the National Spiritualist Association's Declaration of Principles), an offering, a benediction. There is usually a sermon as well but the minister was out sick. This was replaced by a time for persons to honor their fathers.

The big difference, of course, is the messages portion. Four mediums (all female) sat on the chancel and the congregation was asked to "call in" their spirits. A couple of them may be in training because persons are asked to complete affidavits for evidential readings or apparent healings. These forms support the medium's certification process with the Association.

When the messages time began, we were told that we could refuse to receive a message or notify the leadership if we were uncomfortable. When a medium felt ready to deliver a message, she would stand at the pulpit, find the intended recipient, and say something like. "I have a message for you. Would you like to hear it?"

The medium with an English accent came to the pulpit, briefly glanced around, then fixed her eyes on me. After several seconds of looking at me intently, she asked if I would like to receive a message. I said sure.

She told me that she saw me surrounded by several persons, because I had experienced a lot of deaths. One person "came forward" to speak. She described him as a medium-sized man with gray hair and a well-trimmed white beard. I do not recognize this figure, but she gets the impression that he is related to me on my father's side. His message for me is rather cryptic and metaphorical. If you have watched the sci-fi show Babylon 5, then you will recognize the thought I had in reaction: "Oh great, so I'm related to a Vorlon." The message offered advice but it was fundamentally a statement of reassurance.

A few other persons' readings, delivered for members of the church, were received as very supportive, as evidential, and even as fully expected in one case. The first person who received a message nodded her head and cried. Another said she knew this is what she needed to hear.

How do I evaluate my own reading? It is hard to say. The alleged communicator is unknown to me, unless perhaps, in an exercise of super-psi, his image was constructed from my memory of another person or persons who are not relatives. I suppose it is accurate to say death is very familiar to me. Several of my relatives and those of my wife have passed away. Apart from these, I spent six years as an associate pastor at a church and I had good relationships with many congregants who died during my tenure. As for the message...it makes sense and it doesn't at the same time. I would say that its metaphorical description of where I am in my life is accurate, although not particularly evidential. The advice, though, is not clear to discern. I will be pondering this experience for some time to come.
Interesting, and thanks for sharing. :) I'm amazed by the degree of structure and order involved. It seems like that would possibly be a hindrance, but maybe not if people are truly gifted.

The prophesying part sounds a lot like what I experienced in the more charismatic "full gospel" services I attended back in the day (except instead of coming from a dead person the messages were supposed to have been coming from the Holy Spirit). Although some of those were quite a bit less orderly than what you experienced here. Prophesies or "words from the Lord" were usually very general and encouraging although on occasion I witnessed people breaking down as clearly the words said seemed to have a severe impact on the person. During all my years in various Churches, I personally received one prophesy from a total stranger that was highly specific, perfectly timed, an exact answer to specific prayers prayed earlier in the week and 100% correct. I remain thoroughly convinced there is no mundane explanation for it.

I was also a prayer counselor for a few years praying with people who needed prayer after the service, and I generally tried to say very encouraging things and let flow out of me whatever came to mind which was certainly tainted by my logical overlay and observations of the person. A few times I seemed to hit a nerve that moved people powerfully, but I never felt like I had any external knowledge come through me.
 
#5
Sounds devoid of evidence to me.
My opinion is that my experience provided me suggestive, but inconclusive evidence in support of anomalous information transfer. A couple of the other messages involved the relay of specific information that it seems the medium would have had to know these persons were in attendance and researched their lives if she were faking. Unless, of course, the whole church is a front! ;) I didn't describe the content of my message, and I'm not going to do so. All I can say is that it lies in the middle between blow-you-away veridical and generic horoscope fluff. What was said about my life journey certainly fits, and it wouldn't fit just anyone. It is an accurate way of narrating the last few years and it has a mildly predictive aspect to it as well. I'm happy to remain on the fence about this experience. I neither dismiss it nor put it forth as confirmatory.


Was it your first medium reading?
Yes, indeed.


I'm amazed by the degree of structure and order involved. It seems like that would possibly be a hindrance, but maybe not if people are truly gifted.
You think so? Most mediumship exercises throughout world cultures are immersed in ritual contexts.

The prophesying part sounds a lot like what I experienced in the more charismatic "full gospel" services I attended back in the day (except instead of coming from a dead person the messages were supposed to have been coming from the Holy Spirit). Although some of those were quite a bit less orderly than what you experienced here. Prophesies or "words from the Lord" were usually very general and encouraging although on occasion I witnessed people breaking down as clearly the words said seemed to have a severe impact on the person. During all my years in various Churches, I personally received one prophesy from a total stranger that was highly specific, perfectly timed, an exact answer to specific prayers prayed earlier in the week and 100% correct. I remain thoroughly convinced there is no mundane explanation for it.

I was also a prayer counselor for a few years praying with people who needed prayer after the service, and I generally tried to say very encouraging things and let flow out of me whatever came to mind which was certainly tainted by my logical overlay and observations of the person. A few times I seemed to hit a nerve that moved people powerfully, but I never felt like I had any external knowledge come through me.
Sounds about right. I think all such experiences, across cultures and religious traditions, fall on a continuum, as if we can "tap in" to various degrees. I've been around my share of charismatic Christians as well, and I believe that anomalous phenomena recur among them. Admittedly, they have plenty of charlatans and misrepresentations as well.
 
#6
My understanding of the spiritualist church, at least the one that I sometimes go to, is that it is maintained by volunteers and ordinary people with very little hierarchy. The church that I go to also has a very small membership and I don't know how they survive financially. Membership for the year is $20. Anyone can get involved to whatever degree they want, there are constantly 'student' ministers coming and going and that once you are 'trained' in receiving messages from spirit you are basically thrown out into the congregation to read.

The Spiritualist church has a set of beliefs (that are sometimes read) stating that they take continuation of life after death as fact, and that the spirits of our ancestors are with us and can communicate. The church I go to holds classes for people wishing to learn mediumship. They assume that if you attend the classes you are there for a reason.
There are a few rules for reading. You should never give medical advice (although I have frequently seen that happen), you should be positive and uplifting and of course try to give information that is both useful and evidential (ie info specific to a particular person passed). It is rare to find the evidential part, but I have met some people who are clearly gifted. I think the problem is that those who are gifted tend not to stay with the church, and leave and start their own businesses!

The people who go to my church are an interesting crowd. Many older (as you say Chotki), a little odd but very genuine and kind. Sometimes the readings aren't amazing, but to me the point is that most, if not all, of the people there have a belief in life after death and the continuation of consciousness in a very real way that can be demonstrated through mediumship. And it is not easy to communicate with the dead!
 
#7
My understanding of the spiritualist church, at least the one that I sometimes go to, is that it is maintained by volunteers and ordinary people with very little hierarchy. The church that I go to also has a very small membership and I don't know how they survive financially. Membership for the year is $20. Anyone can get involved to whatever degree they want, there are constantly 'student' ministers coming and going and that once you are 'trained' in receiving messages from spirit you are basically thrown out into the congregation to read.

The Spiritualist church has a set of beliefs (that are sometimes read) stating that they take continuation of life after death as fact, and that the spirits of our ancestors are with us and can communicate. The church I go to holds classes for people wishing to learn mediumship. They assume that if you attend the classes you are there for a reason.
There are a few rules for reading. You should never give medical advice (although I have frequently seen that happen), you should be positive and uplifting and of course try to give information that is both useful and evidential (ie info specific to a particular person passed). It is rare to find the evidential part, but I have met some people who are clearly gifted. I think the problem is that those who are gifted tend not to stay with the church, and leave and start their own businesses!

The people who go to my church are an interesting crowd. Many older (as you say Chotki), a little odd but very genuine and kind. Sometimes the readings aren't amazing, but to me the point is that most, if not all, of the people there have a belief in life after death and the continuation of consciousness in a very real way that can be demonstrated through mediumship. And it is not easy to communicate with the dead!
I suppose it depends what one wants. Personally I am not really interested in what people believe, but rather why they believe it. Belief without supporting evidence is probably a comfort but I don't see any value in it myself. In that sense, spiritualist churches sound just like any other religious organisation.

I've never understood the necessary connection between religious beliefs and survival.
 

Ian Gordon

Ninshub
Member
#8
After several seconds of looking at me intently, she asked if I would like to receive a message. I said sure.

She told me that she saw me surrounded by several persons, because I had experienced a lot of deaths. One person "came forward" to speak. She described him as a medium-sized man with gray hair and a well-trimmed white beard. I do not recognize this figure, but she gets the impression that he is related to me on my father's side. His message for me is rather cryptic and metaphorical. If you have watched the sci-fi show Babylon 5, then you will recognize the thought I had in reaction: "Oh great, so I'm related to a Vorlon." The message offered advice but it was fundamentally a statement of reassurance.
Was this in North America or Britain (if one of the two)? My (limited) understanding is that British mediums (rightfully in my opinion) place more importance on making a priority of 1st establishing "proof of survival" (providing convincing evidence that the person in spirit is someone you knew) and 2nd providing a message, and that in North America that is less often the case.

See, e.g., this interview Bob Olson did with British medium Mavis Pitilla:

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: I do want to ask you a couple of things. There seems to be, from my perspective, a difference between the British styles and American styles of mediumship. Have you noticed this yourself? And if so, what would they be.

Mavis Pittilla: Yes, it’s very different. The way we train our people is that you have to have the full content of the evidence before you go into the message. Where in America, it seems to be more, once you’ve got the person, then give the message.

I feel that sometimes in America – we have it here in England so I’m not saying we don’t have it – it turns into counseling. You know, they start off, and then suddenly they’re fine. They’re telling the person what to do and it’s not coming from the spirit world because there’s not enough evidence to substantiate that they were there. So I think that that may be the difference.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: Well, that’s excellent, and I agree with you. I always thought the way you did it was more formulaic, meaning, they had to establish that evidence…

Mavis Pittilla: Oh, they do.

Bob Olson, Afterlife TV: …long before they could start giving the vague messages that were unsubstantiated. They were great messages, but leave those till last; the messages of love, and forgiveness, and all that.

Mavis Pittilla: Yes, and it has to come at the end, because other than that, then the spirit world are dissatisfied. So, all we’re thinking about is satisfying two worlds.

 
#9
I suppose it depends what one wants. Personally I am not really interested in what people believe, but rather why they believe it. Belief without supporting evidence is probably a comfort but I don't see any value in it myself. In that sense, spiritualist churches sound just like any other religious organisation.

I've never understood the necessary connection between religious beliefs and survival.
I think Spiritualist churches place a lot of emphasis on evidence - it's just that the level of evidence necessary to call 'proof' is not consistently attainable.
 
#11
My understanding of the spiritualist church, at least the one that I sometimes go to, is that it is maintained by volunteers and ordinary people with very little hierarchy. The church that I go to also has a very small membership and I don't know how they survive financially. Membership for the year is $20.
It does seem to me that Spiritualists, like Baptists (my tradition), are a congregationalist polity, in that churches are independent from one another and "democratically" run. I don't know if this particular church has a membership fee or just collects the offering as I witnessed.

I think the problem is that those who are gifted tend not to stay with the church, and leave and start their own businesses!
Ha, I see how that could be the case. One thing that I appreciated about these particular mediums was that their services were being offered freely to a gathered religious community and its visitors. They definitely weren't going to make a living off this small community, and I was just a stranger who very definitely didn't drop any money in the plate.

Many older (as you say Chotki), a little odd but very genuine and kind.
A natural question that comes up is this: if it were so that mediumship in Spiritualist churches is regularly beneficial and even evidential, why can't this group be more visible and growing, especially in a culture increasingly intrigued by the paranormal? I think part of the problem is that most people walking through the door will have my same initial reaction: this is a bunch of odd old people. If I were to have lingered after the service, I might have asked the girl in her twenties how she came to the church. Another problem is that the Spiritualists don't do much outreach, so people don't even know about them. The website is bare-bones and they have no social media presence, which is a no-no if you want to connect with millennials like myself.
 
#12
Was this in North America or Britain (if one of the two)? My (limited) understanding is that British mediums (rightfully in my opinion) place more importance on making a priority of 1st establishing "proof of survival" (providing convincing evidence that the person in spirit is someone you knew) and 2nd providing a message, and that in North America that is less often the case.
This is in the US. Sounds like we Americans are fulfilling our stereotype as pragmatists. Funny coincidence, though: that church is hosting Mavis Pitilla for a public demonstration in the near future.
 
#13
I think Spiritualist churches place a lot of emphasis on evidence - it's just that the level of evidence necessary to call 'proof' is not consistently attainable.
I've visited a number and rarely seen anything that was anywhere near evidential.
 
#14
A natural question that comes up is this: if it were so that mediumship in Spiritualist churches is regularly beneficial and even evidential, why can't this group be more visible and growing, especially in a culture increasingly intrigued by the paranormal? I think part of the problem is that most people walking through the door will have my same initial reaction: this is a bunch of odd old people. If I were to have lingered after the service, I might have asked the girl in her twenties how she came to the church. Another problem is that the Spiritualists don't do much outreach, so people don't even know about them. The website is bare-bones and they have no social media presence, which is a no-no if you want to connect with millennials like myself.
I ask myself those same questions every time I go there!
 
#15
I am certain the lack of visibility is largely because
A: there isn't as much evidential stuff as there would need to be to really pique public interest, and even if there was,
B: while some people may have those interests(such as some of those who frequent this forum), society at large is still extremely reticent at best to even consider any of it, particularly in western societies.
 
#16
We also have to keep in mind the general decline not only of religious institutions but civil society in general. Not only are people withdrawing from the churches, but from Kiwanis, the Lions, the Masons, Sierra Club, etc. If someone is new to the ideas associated with mediumship and spiritualism, the inclination will more likely be to read a book, join a Facebook group, or maybe attend a workshop, but not seek out a permanent organization that encourages long-term commitment.
 
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