Giggling For God: A New Spirit Of Hysteria Is Spreading In Church

Author: Paul Likoudis


By Paul Likoudis

OTTAWA - For 45 minutes, a bearded man with- a thick mane of hair - we'll call him the Lion King - roared and roared deafeningly, as he lay pinned to the floor, held by some mysterious "holy glue."

As he struggled to free himself, alternately twitching violently, kicking his legs, and collapsing in fatigue, his roaring gave way to long bouts of hysterical laughter. Finally, he unpinned himself and dragged himself to a nearby wall, staggering as he tried to pull himself up.

Inebriated out of his senses, he slithered along the wall, collapsed, and began roaring again; Huddled in a nearby corner was a young woman, obviously having the sexual experience of her lifetime.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other Christians were reeling over backward; some were - literally - flying in circles on the floor, howling like wolves, cackling like chickens, crowing like roosters, oinking like pigs.

This scene is not from an insane asylum, but from a gathering of thousands of charismatic Christians, including many Catholics, having a "Vineyard experience" at the Tudor Hall Inn convention center near the Ottawa airport earlier this month.

"I've never seen anything like it in all my life," Sylvia MacEachern, editor of , a lay-edited Catholic newsletter, told . "People were shrieking like nothing I've ever heard, writhing in agony, flopping around the hall like they were being hit by baseball bats. This one very attractive young girl with long hair caught my eye, and I saw her head bobbing violently back and forth, then her entire body - smack! smack! - backward and forward.

"It was like sitting on the edge of a circus. One minister started walking toward me when he was smacked and fell backward, then he rose up, laughing hysterically, and fell flat on his back again. Another man came forward, and was touched by the minister, and he practically died laughing. Then a woman walked up, and the second man just barely touched her ankle with his finger, and she fell down flat, and started laughing uncontrollably.

"I just stood there, watching, fingering my rosary beads and saying one Hail Mary after another, hoping nobody would touch me."

The scene MacEachern described was from a three-day Vineyard conference held March 30th through April 1st. She attended the conference to catch a firsthand look at the Vineyard phenomenon, now spreading through Ottawa's Catholic parishes, across Canada and the United States, and indeed, around the world, from the Philippines to England.

A video, records the phenomenal spread of the "giggling for God" sensation in the Philippines, Singapore, Russia, and Africa.


The Vineyard, known variously as the Toronto Blessing, Holy Laughter, or, simply, the Blessing, began spreading through Canada after a phenomenal leadership conference at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, one of a chain of Vineyard churches that circle the globe last January.

John Arnott, pastor at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, described what happened to his receptionist after the "anointing" spread among his flock:

"When some of these things first came to our church, it sort of shut down our office. For the first three days, our receptionist could not talk. Then, after that, she could only speak in tongues. But she got so filled, the joy of the Lord just transformed her and her husband, John, our sound man, and their kids. He just got so drunk, drunk, drunk.... "

The throngs that packed the church quickly caught the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and , which broadcast news of this latest manifestation of the charismatic movement across Canada and then south across the border. The Internet now carries dozens of stories recording the phenomenon.

Once established in a region, the Blessing spreads like wildfire. In England, for example, as many as 4,000 Anglican churches have been caught up in this new "spiritual awakening" since South African Christian Rodney Howard-Brown launched the movement in 1980, a year after he had his first spiritual experience at age 18.

Howard-Brown likes to refer to himself as "the Holy Ghost bartender," and he is having a powerful influence on both Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, such as Richard Roberts, son of Oral Roberts - both of whom are now promoting the Blessing.

The origins of the Vineyard go back some 15 years to a night prayer meeting the young Howard Brown attended, wrote Richard M. Riss in his history of the Vineyard, .

As everyone prayed, Howard-Brown began shouting, "God, either you come down here tonight and touch me, or I'm going to die and come up there and touch you." Then he began screaming, "I want your fire!"

Riss then described what Howard-Brown told him: "It was as though all of a sudden somebody had taken gasoline and put a lighted match to it. The fire of God fell upon him instantaneously, and he was immersed in the liquid fire of the Holy Spirit. He became completely inebriated in the Holy Ghost. He was beside himself. Overflowing, he was laughing uncontrollably. He went from laughter to weeping in tongues, back to laughter and weeping again. Four days later the glory of God was still upon him and by this time he was saying, 'God, lift it. I can't bear it any more.... Lord, I'm too young to die, don't kill me now'."

In 1980, Howard-Brown began manifesting his newfound power in public. At a South African Methodist church one evening, he felt this enormous power surging in his arm, and began pointing his hand at people "like a six-shooter."

He aimed it at a woman claiming she suffered from enormous pain, ". . . and out of my hand flowed a full volume of the anointing and the power of God, and it went right into her forehead and she crumpled to the floor. There was nobody in the room more amazed than me. And I looked down at the woman and I looked at my hand . . . and I'll tell you what - my hand - the fire of God - the anointing of God - the virtue - the dunamis [sic] was still coming out of my hand. It felt like my hand was a fire hose. And now you start getting nervous - you think, 'I'd better look out where I point this thing. This thing's loaded now.' And so the rest of the team came in, and I didn't know what to do with it other than what we'd just done, so I said, 'Lift your hands.' Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, they're all out in the back of the vestry....

"And the Lord said to me . . . 'Call all those that want a blessing'.... Everyone raised their hands. So I said, 'All right, get up, come up, and line up.' And so I was going to go down and lay my hands on the first person's head. And the Lord said to me, 'Just be very careful, and so don't put your hands on them because some people [will] think you'll push them over if you do'.... I take my finger, put it on the forehead of the first person, and I said, 'In the name of Jesus'.... It looked like an angel stood there with a baseball bat and smacked them upside of their head. And the person hit the floor. And I went down the line. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. The whole row out under the power of God.... Some of the people were pinned to the floor . . . for an hour and a half."

For the next seven years, Howard-Brown had no power, and then he decided to evangelize California, where his mysterious "zapping" power returned and he manifested it through his followers from Los Angeles to Sacramento.


The Vineyard was introduced into Ottawa's Catholic churches by four Ottawa priests, Fathers Roger Vandenakker, Bob Bedard, Dennis Hayes, and Mark Slatter, all members of a new religious order, the Companions of the Cross, which is currently seeking canonical approval. Two of the priests, Hayes and Vandenakker, attended the "Catch the Fire" meeting in October for 2,000 Vineyard leaders from 20 countries held at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, where they experienced the sensation of being pinned to the floor with "holy glue."

This past February, the priests sponsored a three-day Vineyard seminar at St. John the Apostle, beginning with a Mass for both Catholics and non-Catholic, many chewing gum and drinking from cans of pop throughout the long service.

What's particularly frightening about the spread of the Vineyard in Ottawa churches, said MacEachern, is that it seems to attract clergy and laity who "tend to have their heads screwed on right.

"The priests who have become involved were the ones who we knew wore the scapular and prayed the rosary, and we have been surprised by the lay faithful who have become involved."

At St. John's, Fr. Hayes related his first Vineyard experience to the assembly. "God fell all over me that night in ways I didn't expect. 'Carpet time' is now part of my vocabulary. I laughed all the way down the 401....

"After my Communion service - Eucharist - I noticed a kinda new power. In fact, people were falling all over the place [laughter from the assembly]. You're not supposed to do that a whole lot anyway in a Catholic church. But it's great" (hooting and hollering from the assembly).

Fr. Hayes described the physical sensations and experiences he has enjoyed, characterized them as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and said he wanted to have more of them. At that point, the special guest speaker, Mark DuPont from the Toronto Vineyard, said, "Let's pray for Dennis," and the assembly began chanting, "More, More, Give him more. Fill him! Fill him more!"

Then Fr. Hayes began twitching, jerking, and laughing in the sanctuary, and fell to the floor. Another moment of "carpet time."

On March 17th, there was a Vineyard "healing service" at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ottawa, with Fr. Hayes, Fr. Peter Coughlin from Hamilton, Deacon Jim Heffernan, and at least 400 people packing the entire church, including the center and side aisles.

After Fr. Coughlin, the featured speaker, gave a little address, the healing service began. All those who wanted to be healed were invited to identify themselves by raising their hands. Then, those who were there to pray for the afflicted were invited to stand and pray.

After two hours and three rounds of praying, the healing began, with six teams of ministers spread out around the church, two in the back, two in the center, and two in the sanctuary.

People started lining up for healing, and when they were "zapped" or "smacked," they began "dropping like flies," said MacEachern, who attempted to videotape the event, but was stopped during the "healing" part of the service.

In the sanctuary, Fr. Hayes began pointing at people, and one after another, they dropped to the floor, littering the sanctuary with bodies crumpled in every direction.


From their books and conferences, Vineyard enthusiasts affirm they are launching a new church which will reveal to the world the power of the Holy Spirit, a church that is built on "the Rock"--Jesus Christ, against which the gates of Hell will not prevail.

The new church, they say, will be "transdenominational."

As DuPont explained at St. John the Apostle in February, "What is happening in many churches right now, God is pouring out His spirit and He is saying, 'No more business as usual' . . .The time is over when we can just continue and be led by tradition. Tradition is fine. Tradition can be very good. It can be an incredible steppingstone from looking at the past- the past historical moves of God- and looking into the future. But there comes a time when it doesn't matter whether tradition is 500 years old, 50 years old, or even five months old. There comes a time where if tradition replaces the leading of the Holy Spirit it can actually be a demonic stronghold."

The March 30th-April 1st conference in Ottawa also revealed the revolutionary nature of the Vineyard movement. Titled, "The Father Loves You," the conference's featured speaker, Californian Ed Piorek, explained in his 45-minute talk that, since Adam and Eve, every father has sinned against his children by not giving them the image of the Father they should have.

Therefore, the thousands of people listening to him should forgive their fathers for sinning against them, for not being good fathers and for not presenting the true image of God the Father.

Then, he absolved everyone from their sins, and issued a call for all those who have never experienced the Father's love in their own father to come forward.

As he issued this call, an unearthly, ear-shattering barking and howling erupted from the convention center and hundreds of people began screeching, cackling, laughing, twitching, and dropping to the floor.

Seeing that the "healing" was happening ahead of schedule, Piorek ordered the nine- member rock band to start playing. To a very loud, heavy beat, the rock musicians performed for 45 minutes, and hundreds more in the assembly started jumping, swaying, and clapping to the music - while others simply dropped to the floor in holy laughter.


This past February, after the Vineyard was promoted at St. John the Apostle, MacEachern contacted Ottawa's Archbishop Marcel Gervais to inform him of this new spiritual "awakening" occurring in his churches.

Gervais' spokesman, Guy Levac, asked MacEachern to provide some information on the Vineyard.

At this point, according to Levac, the Toronto Blessing does not have the archbishop's blessing but he will, for the time being, tolerate it.

Meanwhile, the Vineyard is engaged in an ambitious program to recruit high school students and younger children to initiate them into the new experience of the Holy Spirit, to make them "gigglers for God" and "prophets" of the Vineyard.

+ + +

(For more information on the Vineyard, see the January/February issue of , the newsletter of Ottawa's St. Brigid's Association, P.O. Box 71022, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2L9.)

This article was taken from the April 27, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.