In the early 70s I taught Junior High Art in Saint Louis. My fellow teachers became my running buddies. One of my friends, Evelyn, was a music teacher. Due to her position, she scored two free season tickets to the Saint Louis Symphony. I often went with her. I was appreciative of her generosity because as a poorly paid teacher, I could not have afforded to attend the symphony. However, there was a torturous trade-off. Evelyn had become involved in a charismatic Catholic-based faith healing movement. I had to feign interest and attend the healing sessions with her. I was not going to give up a free seat at the symphony even if I had to pretend to be interested in a religious activity that was somewhat strange to me.
The healing sessions would begin with the testimonies of believers who had been healed. There were always many nuns in attendance. I was a skeptic who was raised a Methodist. The teachings of the church of my childhood didn’t include the belief in contemporary faith healing. We were prepared to take “what is” and limp all the way to the grave. Despite being somewhat bored during the testimonies, I was fully awake when the star of the show took over. He was a priest, Father McNut, and the leader of the local movement. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He resembled a young Charleston Heston, and he was very charismatic. I think the combination of looks and charm gave him the edge to be persuasive. It didn’t work on me. However, I kept going in order to keep in Evelyn’s good graces, and to keep my seat at the symphony.
After only one year in Saint Louis, I quit my job, and I moved to Tennessee. I enrolled in the Memphis College of Art to further my studies as a painter. I immediately took up a hippie persona, and vowed to never again wear a necktie. I let my hair grow long. I wore love beads and ragged bell bottoms. I was free.
I had been living in Memphis for several months, when I received a call from Evelyn. She asked me to accompany her to a Kathryn Kuhlman event that was to take place in Memphis. Miss Kuhlman was a flamboyant and prominent faith healer with a huge following. Evelyn, Father McNut, and his followers had become groupies of the popular evangelist. I said, “Oh, what the heck, sure I’ll go.” Then I forgot all about it.
A couple of months later, Evelyn called early one Sunday morning to tell me that the day had arrived. She had saved me a seat to see Miss Kuhlman at the Assembly of God Church. It was a very large church, the one that Elvis attended when he was in town. When the phone rang that morning, I had just walked in the door from being out all night dancing, and I have to admit, I was still tripping on LSD. No excuse except that it was the ‘70s.
I was wearing a black see-through shirt, black and white striped bell bottoms, and platform shoes with stars painted on them ala Joe Cocker, an English rock star. I looked down at my clothes and I thought, “Hey, these are good enough.”
I jumped into my car and drove to the church. My friend Evelyn had ridden to Memphis from Saint Louis with a bus load of faithful followers of the Saint Louis charismatic Catholic movement. The group included a large number of nuns. I found my seat in the church and sat with my friend Evelyn and the sisters. Fortunately, the row in front of me was also occupied by nuns. If I had sat behind one of the many women that were there with high hair, my view of the stage would have been blocked.
We were there early that morning in order to get a seat. We had to sit through the entire morning service while we waited for Miss Kuhlman’s afternoon performance. For lunch we shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that Evelyn and the nuns had brought with them on the bus. By this time, I was really starting to suffer and was wondering if Miss Kuhlman might be able to heal a drug crash.
At one o’clock, Kathryn Kuhlman took to the stage wearing a very gauzy white dress and gold lame high heels. She was slender with bright red hair, and she was very theatrical. Shortly after she took the stage, folks lined up one by one to be healed.
Miss Kuhlman would describe the person’s ailments to the audience, touch the afflicted on both sides of the neck, and they would immediately fall backwards into the hands of her attendants. If the attendants missed, the person would fall to the floor. They arose healed or so it appeared. Folks were falling all over the place on stage including some of the nuns from the bus. They fell to the floor like shot penguins.
As badly as I felt, I did find the healing service interesting and entertaining. However, if I had been a praying man, I would have prayed for the service to end. Two hours into the service, Miss Kuhlman called for all folks who needed to be saved to come down to the altar. I thought, “I have found my avenue of escape!” I got up from my seat and brushed past the many kind church goers and the nuns. They were patting me on the back, and congratulating me. They thought I was about to be saved. When I got to the end of the aisle, I made a beeline for the door, jumped in my car, and I went home. I was far from healed.
I never heard from Evelyn again.