Praying all the way to the bank

The cost of religion: Controversial evangelist makes followers pay to be left in fits of giggles
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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

"Amen, praise God, hallelujah, make your cheques payable to Revival Ministries International!" cries the South African evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne, who has been atOlympia, in London, this week.

He preaches the "health and wealth" doctrines - you give to him and God will give to you - discredited among mainstream evangelicals. But he is credited with being the man who brought the "Toronto Blessing" to Toronto. A wave of excitement has passed from Toronto to more than 2,000 British churches, and is characterised by uncontrollable giggling on the part of the blessed, who consider it a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence.

The blessing is controversial among evangelicals, some of whom believe that God would never make his followers do anything so undignified, but Howard-Browne himself is more controversial still.

Visitors to his show are asked to register, "for security purposes", to weed out demonstrators and the press. Inside, I was handed a copy of the mail-order catalogue for the Kensington Temple, one of the largest pentecostal churches in Britain, offering fundamentalist computer games - "Help Captain Bible as he gets sent to destroy the Dome of Darkness. Armed with his computer bible, Captain Bible must find his way through seven levels of action adventure and apply Scripture to destroy the forces of deception."

Howard-Browne himself, a burly, vulpine man, moved seamlessly from prayer straight into the appeal for money. Wastepaper baskets were passed around the crowd as he told stories of his poverty- stricken time in South Africa, when he could only afford a broken-down Mercedes.

He asked those who could not write cheques to give cash. Those with no cash could fill out "pledge forms", promising to send him sums of money later. "My God will liberally supply your every need. If it worked for me, it can work for you."

I could bear no more. I filled out a pledge card in the name of Jenny Rous-Twytte and left.