Church Hopping #8 The Potter’s House
Into the Lion’s Den
The one thing that has been consistent, for me, with each church of the 8 churches we’ve visited- is that they are never quite what I expect them to be! Before visited the Potter’s House yesterday, my husband and I had joked that Jann and I were going “into the lion’s den” thinking that we were going into a fiercely male lead patriarchal environment. I had even planned on naming this chapter that but the experience was more like: “into the exploding piñata” than lion’s den.
We set out for the megachurch (ranking 10th largest in the U.S.) the Potter’s House in South Dallas. It is located on 34 acres (the aerial view looks like a shopping mall) near Dallas Baptist University just outside of town.
As we drove up to the parking lot, the annoyed security guard told us that the service was being held today at the American Airlines Center in downtown because it was still MEGAFEST week. The American Airlines Center is Dallas’ huge (it can seat over 21,000) new basketball/hockey/concert venue. Come to find out, we just happened to choose to visit this church during it’s biggest festival of the year.
So, a little surprised but with still plenty of time, Jann, my boys and I headed back downtown. When we got there, parking was $20 (Jann took this and graciously paid whilst I nearly fell out!) We headed inside and were suddenly in Bishop T.D. Jakes’ land. There were huge banners everywhere- some with schedules, most with larger than life authors’ pictures (who were mostly staff members) selling their books. [See selfie] T-shirts, hats, blankets, $300 backpack sets, kneeling pads, sweat pants, $60 candles (from Mrs. Rev. Jakes’ “Home line”), bedazzled bibles, etc. could be found in the many gift shops.
A Megafest volunteer had told us that Children’s Church (“Yes!”, I thought.) was being held on the other side of the stadium in the Jack Daniels lobby. After hurrying over there, we found someone in the empty Jack Daniels suite that told us that there would be NO CHILDRENS’ CHURCH today. :-O
So, my kids and thousands of other children of all ages, entered the extremely loud lion’s den with us.
The service was said to start at 9am but come to find out, the “Hour of Power” concert was the hour before. (This hour of pre-music reminded us of the first church we visited, the Eritrean (African) church, that also had an hour of music before their service started.) So, needless to say, the place was amped up by the time we entered.
As we walked into the actual arena (exploding piñata) we were all in awe of the spectacle. The Potter’s House audio-visual department, choirs, speakers and color guard dance team had turned it up to an “11”, the morning we visited. Maybe it was because it was 9am on a Sunday, but I didn’t remember any of the concerts I’d seen there being that loud. The video screens washed the place with stunning imagery of flickering candles and stained glass. Colorful lights and banners flashed everywhere, some banners flown by the color guard and some by the VIP parishioners. The audience seemed to all be brightly dressed as well.
We found several empty seats near the backside of the stage by the choir (which was 100+ people, all dressed in black.) The computer screen above us had the lyrics to a familiar Christian hymn and my sons clapped and danced along to the loudest pep rally they’d ever been to. [Insert video.] We only stayed there a minute or two before we sought quieter seats away from the stage.
We estimated that there were around 17,000 people there that Sunday at the AAC. The Megafest week is said to draw an estimated 100,000 people. They had 4 days of activities including: a dance conference, film festival, celebrity speakers (including Rev. Joyce Meyer and an Archbishop), a barber competition, men/women/teen and children conferences as well as a daily morning exercise class at the park downtown.
On this day, and every other Sunday, their services are broadcasted over 5 television channels internationally.
So, we took the elevator up to the third floor to watch from the back. It was just as loud and full of bass (they were still singing after 30 mins) and extremely steep and we ended up watching for awhile from the corridor tunnel.
By this point, the emcee, Dr. Cynthia James was in control. The stage spotlighted mostly women throughout the 3 hour service. There were really only two male band leaders on stage at all.
But the language was NOT inclusive of women. They really didn’t say “Jesus” much and I didn’t see any crosses represented anywhere outside of the gift shop. God was referred to a “He” or “Lord” constantly. I was quite surprised that this conference wasn’t more Jesus-centered. Maybe it’s the new more marketable way for Christian churches to not include the Ascended Master.
Where they left out Jesus, though, they seemed to replace with “Bishop”. One speaker actually said: “Bishop loves you”. It seemed very clear which son of Godde this church was following.
According to Wikipedia, Bishop T.D. Jakes bought (what he would rename; the Potter’s House) from a fellow televangelist that had been convicted of tax evasion nearly 20 years ago and he moved (followed by 50 other families) to Dallas from West Virginia. He has written dozens of books, produced films including “Heaven is for Real”, been on Good Morning America and Dr. Phil, graced the cover of Time magazine, was nominated for a Grammy AND is friends with Oprah. Bishop Jakes lives in a huge, white plantation style mansion on the other side of the lake from us. He is considered one of the top 10 religious leaders in the U.S. and appears to be excelling at the patriarchal American Dream.
From what I read, it seems that his career really took off once he started helping women (imagine that!) He employs over 400 people at four campuses. The Potter’s House has programs for ex-cons, teenage mothers, abused women and the homeless, runs a GED program and outreach for substance abusers and a ministry for AIDS patients; making their parishioners healthier, stronger and more successful. [Maybe with inclusive language the female parishioners and the men in their lives might gain respect for each other. This might reduce teen pregnancy, would definitely end domestic violence (would YOU hit a Goddess?), everyone would be provided for and healthy and therefore would not abuse drugs, go to jail or ever be homeless.]
As far as diversity, at least on this special Sunday, was one of the least culturally diverse churches we had been to. I would say that close to 97% of the attendees were African American and the majority of them were female.
It seems that this predominantly African American church had found their holy human monarch and they had become a well-oiled machine. And good for them, we all want to see someone that looks like us in a leadership role who is successful. Wikipedia states T.D.’s occupation as: “Apostle, Prophet, Bishop and Author”, their emcee referred to him as their: “Joseph of Many Colors”. And their clever king was wise enough to put women into leadership roles, not only because of their strength and efficiency but also as Black Goddesses for the congregation to see and aspire to be.
A grandmother took the stage and told the story of her aptly named, grandson Phoenix’ medical fight with blindness. The boy was about my 3 year old’s size and it was a heartfelt story. They ended by presenting a $50,000 check to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Then there was more music (there was a lot of music!) and dancing and an hour into it they passed out and blessed the offering envelopes in “Jesus’ name”. My husband, watching the livestream at home, said the recommended donation was for $50 or more (“We already paid $20 to park!”, I thought.)
While the envelopes were being collected, another band sang a song called: “Thank God that He Never Gave You What You Deserve”. A few of the women the cameras panned to got the meaning of this song, I, however, did NOT.
And then the emcee Dr. Cynthia James (who to me, was the Grandmother Goddess presiding over this whole spectacle) stepped back into the spotlight and told us that due to a temporary eye infection, the Bishop wasn’t going to be able to join us for his sermon today. This was 90 minutes into the service and instead, the “International” evangelist, Joyce L. Rodgers was there to inspire us.
With her hair pulled back and glasses on, wearing a black blouse and long black skirt, Ms. Rodgers took the stage. At this point, Jann, the boys and I were comfortably sitting in front of a large television screen, on comfortable couches, alone in the vast and vacant Platinum Lounge lobby that one of the Megafest volunteers recommended to us. She started (and would continue for the last hour of the 3 hour service) in a deep and throaty voice in the “charismatic” way that is perhaps the norm of gospel churches. She sounded like a man, and probably found acceptance and success by doing so. As she continued to scream and swing her arms and stomp around the stage (sometimes speaking in tongues) to incite the enthusiasm of her audience, I couldn’t help but recall my Freshman college acting classes. Jann asked me, on our way out, as we passed yet another TV screen if that was the way that I was going to preach- I just laughed and said that I would never have that much energy.