Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Invisible Man at the Podium: Ode to the Taped Sermon

One of the oddest, and most awkward part of growing up in the Worldwide Church of God was the experience of the Taped Sermon. Every one of us remembers the experience. 

We would all sit there - in dressed up suits and ties and dresses, mind you - briefcases on knees - staring up at an empty lectern, a waiting microphone, while an invisible voice boomed - oftentimes unintelligible - from the speakers in the hall. As a child, this was very confusing. What is it exactly that we were looking at? No one was there. Yet, there we stared. In retrospect, I think a good many of us were trying to simply interpret what in the world was being said!

Of course, because of the technology at the time, at some point, we'd get a break - often mid-word - for the sound guy to flip the tape over to side B. Oh good - we were halfway through! Commence re-staring at the empty podium and microphone. 

It was at this point in which I'd start to get genuinely antsy and bored. I would begin either: Staring at lights, or crossing my eyes to make two podiums. Or, I'd look around wondering how long people would stare at that empty lectern like someone was actually there. 

There was a time I remember very clearly when the Taped Sermon was absolutely unintelligible. A combination of horrible acoustics in the ramshackle meeting place and horrible tape quality combined to make a drive-thru speaker seem like high-quality sound. Eventually, the pastor decided to cut the tape halfway and I believe pulled a sermonette out of somewhere and just gave that. 

I always hated it when I saw "taped sermon" in the Schedule of Services in the bulletin. It just seemed weird and strange. Nowhere else, anywhere else, did we ever sit and listen to an audio presentation over tape like we did at Church. Even in school, it was video (even reel-to-reel projector in my elementary years!) Music class was audio - but we actually sang along with that. Secretly, I had always hoped that the tape would mess up. I had hoped we'd hear the Pastor speaking on Chipmunk Speed, or that the tape would break. I don't think I could have refrained from laughing if I had heard the Pastor on chipmunk speed, but it would have been a break from the sheer monotony. 

The Taped Sermon always seemed to be something absolutely uninteresting - usually a change in policy, or a new mandate, or some type of correction. Why did I have to listen to it all then anyway? After it got "played", it could be checked out from the Tape Library to be listened in the home anyway. It's not like I could understand what was being said anyway!

In what universe besides our Church did one go to Church to stare at an empty podium listening to a Cassette Tape, acting as if someone was really there? The only thing that ever rivaled that in strange weirdness was taped special music. Yes, that happened too, if I remember correctly. 

It would have been a memorable Church Day if someone had slipped the Taped Sermon out for a tape of Metal Rock. I honestly don't think the hearts of many could have taken that kind of shock! 

Perhaps if the audio was understandable, the sermon was at a decent length, the message wouldn't be completely interrupted at an awkward time to flip the tape, and we didn't have to sit and stare at an empty podium dressed formally it would have been a little better. 

But it would not have made it any less weird.

submitted by SHT

25 comments:

Miller Jones said...

Yes, I remember it well - LOL! And shame on us for ever consenting to endure such ridiculousness. It was bad enough to sit through two hours of "live" church services in our monkey suits - let alone an hour of taped hot air. At a minimum, some of the "live" ministers were capable of shifting their stance or exhibiting a facial expression from time to time.
It is interesting to read some of the accounts of early First and Second Century church services - they bore absolutely NO resemblance to a Worldwide Church service! My original home congregation was blessed with some tremendous musical talent, but I've also attended services where the local congregation was completely devoid of any such talent.
I've often wondered how ministers and elders would have reacted to people clothed in First Century attire attending one of our meetings. I'm fairly confident they wouldn't have been allowed in the front door!

Anonymous said...

Actually, since no one was standing at the lectern, we could get away with:
1. Falling asleep
2. Writing notes to someone sitting near you
3. Pretending to write notes but drawing or doodling instead
4. Playing a game
5. Eating a snack (very sneakily)
6. Listening to music with earbuds
7. Did I mention falling asleep?
I think most of us stared at the lectern because there was nowhere else to look. We could have looked up to count the dots in he false ceiling tiles. Or the dandruff on the shoulders of the person in front of you.
Those were the days. I’m glad that’s over.

What About The Truth said...

When you had a minister who was a extremely poor speaker and had zero inspiration, the taped sermon was something to look forward to. Usually we got one of the big boys from Pasadena on the tapes so it was interesting to validate their office by how, what and in what way they conveyed the message they were giving.

With the advent of dual cassette decks, the audio guys didn't miss a beat from one tape to the next.

We had one occasion where our minister left for the week to do a wedding in his former church area. When he got back he said that the Sabbath sermon given by his replacement was very good and that instead of playing the tape he would go ahead and give the sermon himself from his notes. The sermon was horrible to put it mildly and I thought to myself there are at least two men who are doing there best to choke the life out of their congregations.

As the years rolled on I/we had become astute at collecting sermon tapes from far and wide from many good speakers to satisfy our desire for a inspired sermon. How did you get that one - where did you get that was our common conversation when a newly acquired tape was gotten. My brother at the time was working 6 months and not spending a dime and then following the Grateful Dead for 6 months with some very expensive recording equipment bootlegging every concert along the way. Two brothers on separate missions trying to do the same thing, acquire the best that was out there to satisfy our desires. The party ended for the both of us. For me the minister found out what I/we where doing and declared there would be no more out of church area tapes in his announcements one Sabbath. My brother got kicked out of the house by the old man who had no more tolerance for the "deadhead" lifestyle.

The empty podium for us was a special day and one that many looked forward no matter where the tape came from. Speaking of which, does anyone have any good old sermon tapes stuck in a drawer or lying around?

nck said...

I agree.
Something to look forward too.
Better speakers. Perhaps a shed of light for when the end would come. Otherwise no one to see that you are picking your nose or scratching your back. Except for the kid behind you with the prying eyes and the "funny" parents.

Nck

Anonymous said...

WATT said... "My brother got kicked out of the house by the old man who had no more tolerance for the 'deadhead' lifestyle."

Oh I'm very sorry to hear that :-( What happened to him? Did he marry, have kids and settle down? Did he find employment and accrue a successful career? Did he reconcile with your/his dad in the end? Was he a member of the WCG and ultimately left or never was?

Personally I didn't join an ACOG till the 2000s so by then I assume they'd gotten more tech savvy and so if there was no minister to give the sermon we'd watch a video of a sermon. Of course now that's a huge positive about being independent or non-affiliated with any group today as you can download and listen/watch any sermon audio or video you want from a variety of groups that post online or even read the transcript if you prefer when they supply such. So no listening to a dull sermon on a minister's abstract interpretation of Ezekiel that goes way over your head and you feel like you'll have to ask God forgiveness for wasting 2 hours of His Sabbath that could've been better spent if you stayed home actually learning something new from a religious publication or other sermon on a topic you're actually interested in!

Byker Bob said...

We didn’t have taped sermons during my era. Also, the church’s teaching on authority prevented us from commenting when one of “God’s Ministers” gave a crappy sermon. Evaluating the ministers, even to express approval or to state that you agreed, was forbidden. Totally not our place to do so. In the early days, it was even considered disrespectful to use the initials HWA and GTA without prefacing them with “Mr.”

As for the Grateful Dead, in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, for several years, one of the L.A. TV stations would broadcast their New Years Eve concerts, probably at Winterland in those days, and an FM radio station would simulcast, so you could turn the TV volume down and have the benefit of the audio coming through your stereo and speakers. Of course the stations played different commercials during breaks, which was amusingly confusing to any guests not familiar with the simulcast principle.

Anyhoo, thank God for Dick Latvala and the “Dick’s Picks” series of GD concerts. I have friends who have hundreds of hours of Grateful Dead concerts. Got a few myself!

BB

Anonymous said...

Are taped sermons much more common now that so many of the fragmented churches of god are too small to have a paid minister give a sermon to every congregation?

DennisCDiehl said...

Trust me, "To Be Played in all the Churches" tapes were simply to quell the administrative fears that the local congregations "out there", especially during the drama and scandals, would drift away from looking to "Headquarters."

They came fast and furious in the 90's always arriving on a Thursday it seemed. I'd listen during sermon prep and decide myself if I would play it. I hated them. Most were a generic rehash by HWA or some cheer leading theme for effect. But it is no way to pastor a church.

My first thought was always, "People don't drive as far as they do to hear a tape sermon." I did play some of course out of necessity or the occasional need, but used them at times when I was not able to be in one of two or three churches I had at the time so they'd not have to listen to the boring elder either.

I miss teaching the interesting realistic Bible which I came to do towards the end. The last hurrah was to 8 thousand or so at the FOT in Myrtle Beach, on "The Politics of the New Testament". Dave Albert, my Epistle of Paul teacher, made a beeline for me and I thought "uh oh, here it comes!" But he wanted to know more and we spent four hours over dinner finishing up the topic. The next year I was gone. lol. Good!

One minister friend did tell me he found a box of his own sermon tapes at the local flea market one Sunday....

Tonto said...

When the kids were little, I used to tell them that the "MIDGET MAN" would be speaking today" whenever they had a taped sermon.

(in effect, the "midget man" was too small to be seen, as he was supposedly smaller than the podium).

They would look and hope for some clue of seeing him, which of course couldnt happen. Often they would doze off, or nod off, and my wife and I would say something like "Oh, did you see that, the midget man stepped out for a second", but the kids supposedly missed it, and would be bummed out that they didn't get to see or a glance of the midget man.

Sometimes they would imagine that they caught a glimpse of the "Midget Man", and proclaim " I saw him, I think I saw him, I saw the edge of his coat stick out! LOL!

That was a long time ago, and now I realize that indeed the "Midget Men" were true! Even the ones we could literally see and hear were actually MENTAL MIDGETS 95% of the time!

Anonymous said...

Believe me when I say, I hate everything about the cogs, but when you listen to music you don’t really expect a live performer???

SHT said...

Dennis:

Can you explain how it felt speaking at a huge arena, voice booming through the PA, with 8,000 heads watching your every move? It seems to me that it would be nerve-wracking, to say the least. Did you ever have a moment where something funny happened that almost made you lose it while speaking? "Bloopers", if you will? Just curious.



Dennis said...

I really enjoyed it and it felt no different once into it than local church. I'm evidently comfy with thousands or one one one in massage room. In one venue I prolly caused headaches and the latter alleviate them😊 I did once encourage splits and schism in the church but said "Shits and splisms" I got out of it by noting "well there are some shits in the church too"😇 Amazing how the Holy Spirit works!

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was in the Church of God, International in Toronto the congregation host, as we didn't have a minister, would sometimes play a video tape sermon from Tyler Texas. When he'd tell us the next week's sermon was going to be a video many people would not bother showing up to services for that following week.

Eventually the host stopped telling us when a video sermon was going to be played; so we'd show up for services and the little twit would blind side us by showing a video, I really felt like taking that VCR and smacking him upside the head with it.


DennisCDiehl said...

I said " Dennis said...
I really enjoyed it and it felt no different once into it than local church. I'm evidently comfy with thousands or one one one in massage room. In one venue "

LOL. Best to answer questions when I have a real keyboard instead of a phone and during a six client day!

It should read "I really enjoyed it and it felt no different once into it than local church. I'm evidently comfortable with thousands or one on one with massage client" "In one venue.." I have no idea what I was trying to say there! :)

Feastgoer said...

The "taped sermon" has become the "video sermon" in many COGs. So you can look at someone speak - often without any graphics or PowerPoint, which would liven things up.

A video message making the rounds in COGWA right now is one example of that. It's called "Sex and the Sabbath."

Anonymous said...

Tonto re the “midget man” and your kids that’s absolutely hilarious! I love it!😂👍

What About The Truth said...

Anon 10:43 asked:

Oh I'm very sorry to hear that :-( What happened to him? Did he marry, have kids and settle down? Did he find employment and accrue a successful career? Did he reconcile with your/his dad in the end? Was he a member of the WCG and ultimately left or never was?

10:43 So no interest in what happened to all of us tape seekers who spiraled into the dark depths of spiritual stagnation?

What happened to "him" was he came to live and work with me for 6 momths. He read every publication and book the WCG produced and was blown away but never joined. We got his "dead mobile" (VW van) fixed and he went on a 15,000 mile trip following the "Dead" and then back home. My father an executive of a large company got him a ground floor blue collar job with strict conditions. He married my father's secretary had kids and started is own successful band and has continued to get away to see multiple music festivals across the U.S. He just retired to a condo on the beach and bought an expensive boat and right now is out on the water fishing and touring some tropical location.

The independence and non affiliation that you embrace with the buffet of religious information available is like a drug high compared to the straight jacket brain numbing attempt to feed its members the COG has and continues to employ. Us tape seekers were just spiritual seekers trying to advance in the mind a way of thinking, a way of conduct, a way of life that was positive both before man and God.

At the end of it all, those in the COG realm may be saying the same thing Jerry Garcia and the deadheads have been saying for years: what a long strange trip its been!

SHT said...

5:12 -

Sex and the Sabbath? That's an excellent satire piece waiting to happen.

Stoned Stephen Society said...

I prefer live locals over anything sent from HQ. Nothing worse than when the sermonette time (12 minutes) is switched out for 30 minutes of The Tomorrow's World followed up by a must play from Ames.

Anonymous said...

WATT said...“ So no interest in what happened to all of us tape seekers who spiraled into the dark depths of spiritual stagnation?”

LOL! Well I felt sorry for your brother after you said he got kicked out of the house by your dad and I feel for the homeless as I might find myself in similar circumstances one day so “there but for the grace of God go I.” Also, you did cut off your story about him on a cliffhanger or knife edge and I just wanted to know if everything worked out alright for him. So I’m glad to hear it did! I do like happy endings! :-)

“At the end of it all, those in the COG realm may be saying the same thing Jerry Garcia and the deadheads have been saying for years: what a long strange trip its been!”

And to be sure it ain’t over yet my friend! But, with the way the world is atm it looks like it’s going to get a lil’ bumpy! So buckle yourself in! ;-)

Anonymous said...

SHT wrote:

Sex and the Sabbath? That's an excellent satire piece waiting to happen.

Well, Herbert did take Dorothy out dancing on Friday nights, so we can assume that he approved of sex on the Sabbath.

Anonymous said...

SSS said:

Nothing worse than when the sermonette time (12 minutes) is switched out for 30 minutes of The Tomorrow's World followed up by a must play from Ames.

...except for when the telecast is followed by a must play from Jonathan McNair or Doug Winnail.

I suggested to my local pastor that it might be a good idea to always have a live speaker after showing a telecast during services, as the live speaker could shorten his message to fit within the allotted time. From the look on his face, you might have assumed I had asked him to eat pork.

jim said...

COGwa is weird. It's a younger more affluent group generally. A heavy proportion of its members include at least one spouse that is a minister's child and/or an Ambassador College attendee. I think this group more than any other feels comfortable accepting milquetoast sermons or silly sermons like the "sex and the sabbath" sermon. They have friends and family stretching back into WCG times 30-60 years and they are happy with their social lives.
Their works are mighty to be sure: dress up and go to church on the "right" day, socialize with the other elect on this day, attend Feasts in expensive locations with those same elect, work at their job (perhaps be known as a Christian with some quirky beliefs- their coworkers will only appreciate how righteous they were in the second resurrection), tithe to COGwa and fund the ministers but little outreach, believe these things (primarily sabbath keeping) make you obedient/mighty in works and thus the elect, etc.
Judge other Christians that conclude the sabbath was a part of the covenant given to only ancient Israel. Ignore that these Christians obey the command to declare Jesus is Lord and to be apt to teach others. Ignore that these Christians are also obedient (afterall, their obedience is fake because the sabbath is the real measure of obedience).
Ignore that your "revealed" teachings came from a corrupted source, but believe you can prove it in the Bible if you had to.

It's so strange that we ever thought James 2:17 (faith without works is dead) supported the WCG - thinking sabbath keeping and tithing were works. In the COGs your faith may well be mislaid.

the Ocelot said...

What about the three or four tape sermons from Gerald Waterhouse? Pure torture!

Anonymous said...

I found Gerald Waterhouse's sermons lacking in intellectual content. Especially considering their length. He should have spent more time reading and less time in gay bars.