Can’t stop The Rock
A scripture-reading congregant gets carried away. Literally.
Maureen Barrow believes she was doing the Lord’s work, but those sentiments didn’t resonate with the ushers that carried her out of The Rock Church in Elk Grove on October 26.
Barrow says she was invited to read scripture to the congregation during the Sunday service, but church authorities dispute that notion and describe her truncated reading as a disruptive, unsolicited act.
The differing accounts raise issues of freedom of speech, religion and the right to conduct public services free from disruption. They also suggest that changing with the times can be a double-edged sword for religious institutions today: In appealing to new members, you also invite criticism from traditionalists.
Barrow and her husband live in Rancho Cordova and describe themselves as devout Christians. In search of a church, they were invited by friends in their apartment complex to The Rock, a church on Bradshaw Road in Elk Grove. The Rock’s impressive interior resembles a massive cavern, with a ceiling spanning 40 feet high and several hundred attendees lining up to attend services. Pews are arranged so the pulpit is couched in the diagonal corner of the room, which focuses attention on the pulpit and the skyward mélange of banners, exhorting parishioners to give.
Christian Barrow said that as soon as he entered the church, “red flags were going off.”
“It just seemed like the church was just to get money out of the community,” Maureen said. “I believe I am called, at times, by the Lord to read scripture,” she added.
So moved, Maureen sprung up and walked toward the altar.
“I approached the pulpit, and the pastor [Nathaniel Davis] pointed at me. I said, ‘I want to read scripture.’ He said, ‘OK,’” Maureen said. At the time, Davis and the Rev. Myles Young were teaming up to co-deliver the service.
Invited or not, her turn at the mic was not well-received. Her selection of Isaiah 30, even in the confines of a religious service, is a heavy screed.
“Woe to the rebellious children,” Barrow began, “… Who execute a plan, but not mine, / And make an alliance, but not of my spirit, / In order to add sin to sin; / Who proceed down to Egypt / Without consulting me.”
“I got a couple verses into Isaiah 30, and the pastor cut me off,” Maureen said. “He said, ‘You’re done!’
“I told him this pulpit belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ,” she said. The appeal to a higher authority failed, and, according to Maureen, several ushers approached her, seizing her arms and shoulders and literally carrying her out of the church, her feet scraping the ground.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she recalled. “They just grabbed me.”
Seated three rows from the back, Christian was with the couple’s 3-year-old son, Connor. Maureen had gotten up from the pew in a fit of inspiration, and Christian didn’t realize what she was doing until he heard his wife’s voice over the PA system. Then, seconds later, she was being hustled out toward the exit.
Christian scooped up Connor and headed to the front of the church, where his 1-year-old, Daniel, was being cared for. By the time he got there, Maureen was in a heated verbal dispute with the half-dozen men who’d carried her out.
The family headed toward the parking lot. Christian says several of the ushers approached them before he warned them to back off, at which point they did. Shaken by the incident, they filed a complaint with the Elk Grove police.
SN&R attended Young’s service at the church on November 4. He does not lack for charisma. His vocation is spreading the word and saving souls, and he’s good at it. His delivery is underscored with the slight tinge of a Southern drawl, vowels pronounced as though they were printed in a bigger type size than the rest of a word. He throws in a touch of humor between building-block analogies for spiritual salvation.
Young filled a pottery vessel with water, explaining that actions are dictated by the lives we lead, the people we surround ourselves with and our adherence to faith. The water into the vessel, he explained, is how our lifestyles shape our souls.
“If you play pornographic video games and surf the Internet all day and hang around negative people, that’s what’s gonna come out!” he said, dumping the water onto the floor in a deft movement. He elicited surges of applause, laughter or hushed contemplative silences with seamless ease, transitioning back and forth between the New Testament, Old Testament and vignettes from everyday life.
Approached for an impromptu interview after the service, he agreed to address the incident. Two ushers materialized during the five-minute discussion, saying little but seemingly posed for action; today’s stranger is tomorrow’s parishioner, but approaching the head of the flock draws notice from the young men. They did not smile, but Young was friendly enough.
“You can’t just come in and read scripture at anybody’s church,” Young said. “I don’t know what she was trying to accomplish, but this is our church. We were in the middle of the service when she approached the stage saying she was going to read scripture. I looked at [Davis], he looked at me, and neither of us knew what was going on. Then, she just went up and started reading. You can’t do that.”
Young said he had assumed Davis had granted her permission to read and that Davis may have been thinking the same thing. All of a sudden, Young said, the Sunday service was in the hands of someone he’d never seen before, and the response wasn’t entirely unprecedented.
“People come in here all the time. We’ve had people run in off the street. So, we escorted her out,” said Young.
He added that although reading from scripture is allowed during some services, the fact that it’s done doesn’t give carte blanche to those in attendance to do it. Even under the auspices of God’s house—or perhaps especially so—command and control of the service are key to successful saving of souls.
“This is a church. We’ve got a service to run,” Young said.
But the Barrows are still upset. “They carried me out of there, and I was asking for their names so I could press charges,” Maureen said. “But they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
Although the couple filed charges, Christian said he hopes to avoid a legal hassle and resolve the issue as one Christian appealing to another with an apology.
Meanwhile, future services at The Rock may prove less spontaneous. As Young said at one point during the ceremony SN&R attended, “We’re going to feel the spirit of the Lord right now, but that doesn’t mean we’ll start running in the aisles and falling down this time.”