Typically, executing a wild right-handed ear yank followed by a lightning-fast head slap on somebody would land you a nice little felony assault charge.
Fortunately, the faithful at televangelist Reverend Ernest Angley's Miracle Services in Cuyahoga Falls are eager recipients of his 1-2 combinations. It's "freedom night" at the Grace Cathedral, and Angley is busy trampling devils underfoot. Whether it's loneliness, drug addictions, or simple chronic halitosis--the reverend is taking aim on the powers of darkness. "This is devil possession, you know" he whispers to an ailing woman in front of a hushed crowd. Then he whacks her.
It's a spectacle that is repeated on his weekly television show. Those holy knocks are broadcast to nearly every corner of the globe, including most African countries. As for these parts, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't caught a few minutes of his show on Channel 55 and heard his signature line (spoken in his hypnotic Southern drawl)--"You are spay-shull to Gawd!"
His notoriety seems well-deserved. Unlike most of today's popular televangelists, Angley carries a sincere air of unbridled hope, his eyes sparkling with energy as he delivers almost mesmerizing testimonials to the glories of divine love. His studio set (it's not a stretch to say it looks like it was salvaged when Petticoat Junction went off the air) is the same simple design he's had for forty years. Add to that his Southern down-home faith, and one realizes why he scores big in Middle America.
But what about later generations, those that have spent more time in a House of Pancakes than a house of God? How have they managed to spurn Letterman in favor of the original "top ten" list--the Commandments?
"Brother, it's the power of the Holy Ghost," growls Frank, 31. "I just wanted to be a part of something real, something that's going to last." With his leather jacket and his supersized beard, Frank could pass as the lead biker for Lucifer's chopper brigade--but he's just one of the many reformed souls who has already done the "hell" in "to hell and back." "I think when everyone finally gets done doing what they think is meaningful, they realize it wasn't. That's why I'm here. It's real."
Throughout the evening service, the reverend stops to convey passing thoughts, imploring those who might be sneaking food from the adjoining food buffet "not to eat the Lord's tater." Members about to travel halfway across the world on a mission to Africa are simply reminded to "bring bug repellent and a light coat."
At three-plus hours, the service runs longer than the Rolling Stones concert the night before--plus it's free (although the emphatic fund-raising has many digging deep).
"Pay up! Pay up! Before you go up!" chirps Angley, walking down into the aisles. "This is my last gathering before I go to Africa, so tonight I want all your money." Although he confesses to being "a bit more frank than my daddy cared for," he has no trouble scooping up the cash.
"Who's gonna be my buddy?" he asks, calling out for $100 donations. He acknowledges each raised hand (and more than a few "ghost hands" in the nether regions of the church). After the hundreds, he canvases for fifties, twenties, tens, fives, and then "loose change." Nearby, a lone dissenter grumbles, "The Lord is a pickpocket."
As for the full-contact healing, a holiday service can bring as many as eighty worshipers in need of a miracle to the stage. Before long, four or five believers are lying on the ground, and the reverend has to step around them to find an open space. It looks like a miracle massacre.
So for those who can't get close enough to the throne of God while plopped in their La-Z-Boys, Angley waits patiently in Cuyahoga Falls--urging all to join him aboard God's glorious ship. If your vessel's more like a casino boat, don't sweat it--he understands.
Ernest Angley's Miracle Services are Fridays at 7 p.m. at the Grace Cathedral, 2700 State Road, Cuyahoga Falls. For more information, call 330-922-4673.