Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Preaching in the Pit

Coal operator offers strip mine site for monster megachurch

"One church to rule them all and in the darkness bind them"

Arch Coal Company has formed a consortium with Rev. Jerry Pat Jimmy von Hinn den Schuller, founder and pastor of the One True Holy Universal Church, to convert the company's Hobet 21 strip mine in West Virginia into a gigantic super-mega-cathedral, as coal seams are exhausted and mining operations phased out. Glowing with the light of 5000 chandeliers, a sealed dome supported by helium dirigibles will be visible at night from southwestern Ohio to the Shenandoah Valley. Under this "big tent," the church plans to prepare seating for an obedient membership of millions.

Hobet 21 is one of the largest "mountaintop removal" mines in the world. Annointed* Holy Universal Prophet Dr. James Hybellion ecstatically proclaimed that on this site "every valley has been exalted" by fill dumped into stream beds, and "every mountain and hill laid low" by repeated blasts of dynamite, making the terrain sacred ground, consecrated according to Scripture for the preaching of God's Word in the Last Days.

"Every real Christian belongs in the One True Church. We want the very edifice of our church to have room to make every real Christian welcome among the Faithful each Sunday" von Hinn den Schuller proclaimed. "Arch Coal Co. has been doing the work of God, preparing the way for this mighty tribute of praise and worship to His Holy Name."

Local residents, who have tried to keep their homes (in forests surrounding the mining operation) from bouncing off the foundations, sourly note that West Virginia coal companies have a long history of claiming to do the work of God. "When Pittston Coal Company's retaining dam collapsed in 1972, killing 125 people, they called it an Act of God" recalled Judy Mae Asbury, a member of Baker Hollow Freewill Baptist Church. "When something goes wrong, the coal companies always say it is God's fault. But this is the first time a coal company has been proud to say their destruction is the Lord's work."

Architectural designs for the 12,000 acre complex include a sanctuary of nearly 8000 acres, with hundreds of tiers of seats rising along the contours of the mine floor. Space will be arranged in the lower depths for 6666 simultaneous altar calls, each staffed by an assistant pastor and 6 ushers. Seating areas will be punctuated by one mass choir for every two acres. An electronic relay system will keep performances synchronized, with allowances calculated for the speed of sound travelling over such vast distances. The entire array will be oriented toward a literal mountain from which a pulpit of polished sandstone will be carved.

Rev. von Hinn den Schuller pointed out the pastoral mountain in an artist's rendering, as background for a tongue-twisted bid to drain parishioners from traditionally African-American churches, in addition to raiding denominations populated mostly by folks who call themselves "white." In an incongruously gravel baritone, he proclaimed "I will go to the mountain top, and I want you to know, that you may not get there with me, but I will represent you in the Promised Land."

Promised Land Estates is the tentative title for a series of luxury condominiums along the rim of the open-pit site, with views of undefiled forest on one side, while the other features picture windows equipped with built-in kneelers facing the Sanctuary. Below the residential properties, and tucked into the mine wall, will be luxury, air-conditioned, carpetted sky-boxes, with wet bars, HDTV closed-circuit broadcasts depicting each service's Sermon From the Mount, and private hot tubs to relax between services. Sound will be piped in to Bose speaker systems. Vast parking lots in the remaining spaces, where there is no line-of-site to the mountain-top stage and pulpit, will be reserved for buses only. Cars would not bring in enough people to fill the seats every Sunday.

Church members in twenty states have been encouraged to bring their neighbors the Good News that a substantial donation toward the building project could secure forgiveness of all sins committed by the donor, their parents, grandparents, and offspring. "We are an indulgent church, and Jesus is an indulgent Savior" said Holy Universal Steward Joella O. Tetzel. "Jesus is waiting with open arms for you to give your earthly treasures to the upbuilding of his kingdom. By faith we are saved, and by your works shall the stewards know you are in a state of grace."

Little churches organize nationwide resistance movement

Sharp protests over this indulgence, issued jointly by the three largest Lutheran denominations, were magnified and praised by a hastily assembled consortium of five Baptist church bodies, four Methodist boards (with and without bishops), the Church of God, Church of God of Prophecy, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Nazarene, and at least 500 independent nondenominational Bible churches. The Christian Post wrote in amazement "Generally the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod won't even speak to each other, much less to non-Lutheran churches. This is a real ecumenical milestone, even without all the other parts of the Body of Christ this has brought down from the hills and up from the plains."

A chorus of prayers and press releases strongly emphasized the value of neighborhood churches, and condemned the massive bussing that would be required to fill the One True Church's massive array of auditorium-style pews. "I want to emphasize that to get that many people down into the coal mines every Sunday, this slick operation would have to force a lot of people onto their buses who would rather spend a quiet Sabbath with the Lord in their own neighborhood" said Church of God in Christ pastor Rev. Willard T.W. Coleman III. "You can't have really good quality home-fried chicken after church when your flock covers so many acres" added Baptist minister Rev. Mark Ray Stempler. "They'll have to order from KFC."

To date, every Roman Catholic bishop in North America has refrained from comment, as have the national leadership of the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention. (Privately, an aide to Pope Benedit XVI lamented "We wish we had thought of this first." The Presiding Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is reported to have told a closed-door meeting of The Twelve that, as long as nothing similar is attempted in any coal mining area of Utah or Idaho, he will not oppose Rev. von Hinn den Schuller's plans. Bishop T.D. Jakes, who is known to fear the destruction of the view from his own mansion in West Virginia, if mountaintop removal spreads too widely across the state, told reporters that he is "continuing to pray for guidance on this momentous question."

Clergy aside, the threat of being marched into The Pit every Sunday has parishioners from thousands of smaller churches in a state of open revolt. Informal hunting parties on Sunday afternoons, not announced from the pulpit or in church bulletins, are reportedly a cover for resistance "by any means necessary." A member of the Baptist Rifles denounced the entire plan as "direct violation of the angel's commands in Revelations 7:3. The servants of God have not been sealed, certainly not from the Twelve Tribes, so neither the earth, the sea nor the trees are to be hurt. Only an Anti-Christ would flout the Holy Scriptures by sanctifying this abomination with a House of God. It's not going to happen in my mountains."

A young commander of the Holy Ghost Militia, identified only by his knickname, "Thirty-Eight," drawled cheerfully "That's going to be a comp'ny church, and my grandfather taught me how to deal with the comp'ny. Anyone in that oversize bowl is going to be a sitting duck. Satan may herd his minions in there once, but they won't come back again. I'll make sure of that." (A security coordinator for the One True Church responded to a report of this challenge, "We've hired Baldwin-Felts to handle security. If these hillbillies want a fight, bring it on!").

Similar movements have been reported from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Harriman, Tennessee and Dayton, Ohio, including John Robinson's Army (a battalion of militant Congregationalists), the Westminster Gathering, and even Calvin's Commandoes, a loose coalition from various a capella men's choirs in the Church of Christ. In the absence of any authority to issue marching orders, plans have been discussed to blockade bus caravans, jam television advertisements, and if necessary to rendezvous on Blair Mountain for a march to Hobet 21. Quakers and Seventh Day Adventists are reportedly collecting medical supplies and preparing to minister to the wounded if any direct confrontation occurs.

The church's Holy Office of Universal Truth, which is responsible for public and media relations, firmly denies rumors that Arch Coal Co. engineers have been asked to leave some deeper holes and undercuts below the planned Sanctuary floor. Unverified copies of architectural plans show sealed dungeons in the deeper recesses of the mining site where "heretics and backsliders" will be shown the error of their ways, brought back into complete fellowship with the Saints, and have the opportunity to make freewill offerings of their life savings and any real estate they own. Annointed Holy Universal Provost of the Faithful Patrick F.R. Benson also denied any such intentions. However, Benson declined to comment on his recent decision to hire a group of Dominican monks, and a small number of Dominican nuns, as consultants on the handling of errant brethren.

Arch Coal Co. lawyers have already prepared paper work to donate the entire site to the church. They plan to write off as a tax-deductible donation the value the land would have appreciated to if the world's largest shopping mall had been built on the site instead. However, the company will not be contributing to construction costs, which must be borne by the tithes and offerings and second offerings and third offerings (and indulgences) of church members and converts. In fact, because the church is undertaking its own construction on the site, Arch will forego the usual responsibilities of retexturing, replanting and generally restoring the mined surface.