Monday, 21 September 2009

Hornerites: Charismania, 1899-style

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

Remember the "Toronto Blessing" and the "Holy Laughter" that was all the rage in Charismaniac circles in the 1990s? Ottawa had its own version at the end of the 1890s. The following item is from page 6 of The Evening Citizen for Monday, December 4, 1899. Then, as now, Canada seems to have produced more than her share of strange spiritual movements.


Where Religion Mounted
Into Frenzy.



A Vivid Description of the
Sights Witnessed During
the Proceedings.

"Today I feel, I know I’m saved, and when I catch sight of the pearly gates, I’ll rush through and no one can stop me."
"Hurrah! Hallelujah! Bless you, sister, religion’s yours."
Above the long-drawn, loud-mouthed supplications and rejoicings of a small army of Hornerites, snatches such as the above, held the attention in the Mission hall, on Concession street, yesterday afternoon. For two hours, the hall, packed and crowded in every corner, resounded to the wild, weird, joyful acclaims of the devoted followers of the holiness movement. Seldom in Ottawa’s religious annals has such an exhibition and outflowing of religious feeling--fanatical, fiery and fervent--been witnessed. Old and young, man and maiden, vied with each other in the intensity of their acclaims, boisterous at times, and accompanied by bodily contortions that reminded the onlooker of an acrobat’s antics. Through it all, however, there ran a deep undercurrent of sincerity of purpose and belief that impressed even the careless one and his brother the scoffer. To one unacquainted with the workings of the movement, the proceedings would appear in a ridiculous, even grotesque light, but a glance at the growth and solid standing of this religious body would seem to indicate that the holiness movement is destined to still further growth.

Challenged the Scoffers.

Yesterday’s meeting was taken charge of by the founder of the movement, Rev. R.C. Horner, and his sermon was a bold challenge to the scoffers, who look on the movement he fathers as one destined to lash the sea of sentiment into foam, but not to work any lasting beneficial results. He called on his followers to manifest the possession of the spirit in no uncertain manner, even as did the component members of the early Christian church. Throughout the meeting the evangelists repeatedly encouraged their followers in their exhibitions. His hearers were neither loath nor slow to take the hint, and the proceedings went with a rush and roar like that of an avalanche.
The mission hall is but a small building, probably 60 by 40 feet in measurement, but though these dimensions sufficed to house the throng of chosen ones and curious ones, they only corralled a corner of the enthusiasm and boisterous acclaims, and the entire neighborhood resounded to the heavy cannonading on the gates of Satan’s stronghold. The body of the hall was filled with chairs, which were at a premium before the meeting opened, while standing room itself was scarcer than flies in February. Seated and standing about the platform at the one end of the hall, were Rev. R.C. Horner and the officers of his aggressive army, preachers, probationers, and evangelists. They faced the congregation, seated on the lower level of the main floor and packed in the aisles and passages. The congregation was a study in itself, but the proceedings furnished material for an extended series of studies. The meeting was divided into periods of preaching, praying and hymn-singing and "experiences," and each period evoked more enthusiasm than the former one.

They Got Religion.

As their need for religion became apparent to the individual followers, this knowledge was made apparent in divers (sic) forms, while the means taken to satisfy it were of a range and variety that included everything from quiet mediation (sic) and wrestling with the spirit, to loud-mouthed ejaculations and startling bodily contortions. All seemed artists in their lines. There was only one handicap and that was a serious one, although not worried over much by the devoted ones--space was at a premium. When a struggler with Satan leaped clear of the seats, he would find his ambitious tendencies blocked by a solid phalanx of fellow-enthusiasts, but nevertheless several successful attempts were made.
The prayer-meeting was itself a cooperative, equal rights service. Though one of the evangelists or other leaders might make a show at conducting the meeting, and be greeted with encouraging epithets from a portion of the congregation, others would strikeout for themselves, as the spirit moved them. One stalwart young fellow, who had been yelling lustily in the hymn-singing and joyful acclaims, suddenly started a vigorous jig, and though dancing, like drunkenness, is on the prohibited list, none interrupted him, all being satisfied the art acquired in sin was on the present occasion but a means of grace. His step was correct and his time true, though, with head thrown back and glassy, staring eyes, he seemed but a piece of mechanism. From the other side of the hall a young woman bounded forth on to the platform. Hands on hips and head erect, she leaped into the air, turning right and left, back and forth, never uttering a sound, and utterly oblivious of the striking figure she made. Again, to the right, a young, thick-set evangelist swayed back and forth on his knees, now rising, now settling back again, all the time beating the breast, and loudly proclaiming that glory was his.

A Miniature Scrimmage.

In another part of the room men and women clasped each other, and in their mutual joy and satisfaction, rolled about regardless of their neighbors or the furniture. Out from the group of exhorters, swaying and shouting, at one side, bobbed up a well-built youth, scrambling and pushing his way down one aisle and up the other. The whole length and round of the room he went, frenzied and wild-eyed, beseeching the onlookers to join in the general gratification of the moment. Over prostrate women and kneeling men, through interlocked throngs, he fought his way with the dash and determination of a Rugby player breaking through the line for a final touch-down. Neither seats nor spectators blocked his way and he made the circuit of the congregation, several times proclaiming the fact, "We’re not crazy; we’re simply washed clean of sin and rejoice in the fact." All were repeatedly exhorted to join in the general wash-up and it took three of his comrades to finally arrest the young man’s energetic canvass. With a shout of exultation, another sturdy seeker for salvation grasped a chair held down by a fellow seeker. There was a loud crash, the chair parted at its weakest point, while startled looks were cast ceiling-wards to see whether the roof had not been actually carried away as well as those it sheltered. At the rear end of the hall a middle aged farmer’s wife groaned and swayed like a pendent sign in a storm. P.C. Hanrahan, who was doing duty on the beat outside, wandered in to get a line on the proceedings at this stage. The female followers in a burst of frenzy let forth a series of blood-curdling shrieks, bounding into the air, and the limb of the law hustled into the street again. Although it was a chilly afternoon, the baton-bearer concluded the proceedings within were a trifle too warm to suit him.

Woman Embraces Two Men.

In different parts of the hall men clasped outstretched hands, pulling and tugging like school children, while others would link arms four deep, rejoicing and glorifying in concert. After giving her "experience" in terms of eloquent gratitude, one woman threw her arms around the two men in front of her, all three trying the strength of the seats in their endeavor to fittingly express their mutual joy. One young exhorter would at times bound onto the platform, and with hands pressed to her head, and eyes shut, dance like a rubber ball on a string. In another part of the room a young woman, a mere girl in appearance, posed as in a trance with arms extended, fists clinched (sic), and eyes closed. For fully five minutes she retained this fixed expression and pose, her face of a deathly paleness and not a single muscle showing a movement. Some of the more enthusiastic would grasp their neighbors, regardless of age or sex, none seeming in the spirit of the occasion to resent the liberty.
All was not confusion, however; here and there about the hall, men and women knelt in quiet prayer, totally oblivious of the storm that surged about them. More would sit or kneel, muttering and talking to themselves, and expressing their approval of the preacher’s remarks. Several women apparently passed after their outbursts of enthusiasm into a trance out of which they would wake with a start and shriek. The very atmosphere was electric with religious fervor and it was a study indeed, to observe how different ones were affected. Strong men and frail women laughed aloud and cheered in a crazy delirium, as though it were a farce comedy rather than a religious service. Others emitted yells and howls that would rival a dog show or a football rooter, while still more resorted to a deep, long-drawn snore, that sounded not unlike the breathing of a Mogul engine. The nervous strain on all was awful, and in many instances the whole frame shook and vibrated with the intensity of the emotion.

A Super-Heated Room.

A large box stove kept the atmosphere over-heated and to the 250 crowded into the hall, it was like a sweltering furnace, but none had time or mind to complain. Gray-haired men and little children, patient mothers, toil-worn fathers, buxom daughters and fun-loving sons all joined in the prayers and supplications, and all forgot self and sex in the general acclaims. The meeting was probably the most successful and enthusiastic yet held in Ottawa, and will be long remembered by spectators and participators alike.
The ordination services which marked the close of the annual conference were attended by scenes of wild and abandoned enthusiasm. The ritual followed is similar to that in vogue in other Protestant churches. Rev. George Comerford, of Billings bridge, and Rev. Geo. A. Moran, lately of Manitoba, were the two candidates received into the ministry. The ordination services were conducted by the Rev. R.C. Horner, and owing to the crush of followers present at the conference, they were somewhat of a private nature. The newly ordained ministers were called on to show and prove the faith that was in them, while all joined in the prayer for their success in their ministerial labors.
At the examinations held in connection with the conference, fifteen students were accepted as ministers on probation, while six others were ordered to complete a course at the college established here in connection with the movement. At present there are 30 students in attendance at this college, at which a three months’ course in theology, elocution and preliminary instruction is given. The principal is Rev. R.C. Horner, who has three assistants associated with him in the work. The reports presented at the conference show that there are in the Ottawa district 51 circuits with a membership of 1,500 followers of the Holiness Movement. For the foreign missions $1,500 was raised during the year. The home missions being self-sustaining. The conference just closed has been in point of attendance of members, enthusiasm and unity of purpose a most successful one.