The year was either 1979 or 1980, and I was new to the charismatic/full-gospel movement.
We believed there was a move of the holy spirit in our United Methodist Youth Fellowship. People were being baptized in the holy spirit, speaking in tongues, being healed … being delivered.
It was early fall that we headed to the mountains for a weekend retreat. Everyone had their bibles and sleeping bags and snacks. We arrived in time to get unpacked and explore the grounds.
Our cabin was mid-way up a mountain, deep in the woods. It was rustic, with a big stone fireplace. There were probably about a dozen of us kids, ranging in age from 15 to 19. Half of us went outside to look around while the other half built a fire and explored the cabin.
There was a trail leading from the cabin out into the woods. We had a good hour of light left so we headed up the trail. Not far in the distance we saw a clearing. There looked to be a seating area created with big logs with a big box at the front. The closer we got, the more alarming things got.
The big box was a coffin. Out in the middle of the woods … a coffin. Creepiest damned thing I’ve ever seen. Lined in tattered red satin, it was white and looked to have been there for quite some time.
This set the tone for the remainder of the retreat. Primed and ready for something spiritual to happen, this group of charismatic christians now had something to work with!
We pondered as we examined the coffin. Satanic rituals? Witchcraft? The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as we circled the box. Suddenly the woods felt sinister. I headed back to the cabin with a couple other kids to report the findings.
Later that evening shortly after nightfall, two guys came busting in the cabin doors claiming to have seen demons in the trees. We all rushed out to the front porch to see.
I saw nothing, but these two boys insisted. One of them was easy to dismiss, but the other was a trusted source to me. So I kept examining the tree.
While this was unfolding, there was another boy who was about to shock us all. He came rushing in the cabin claiming to have battled a demon out at the coffin. He said he’d gone out there and climbed in the box (don’t even ask me why, for god’s sake) and that while in there, satan came to him. They battled and he won.
His story completely freaked the freaky-deaky out of two younger girls who were crying and wanting to go home. So now we have two near hysterical girls, one satanic battle in a coffin and two demons in the trees.
The leadership grew increasingly alarmed at the goings on, but were unclear about what to do, so they called in reinforcements: A couple they respected who came up to assess the situation.
But that’s really all they did.
The night was a long one. Some were praying for protection and some were casting out demons and others pleading the blood of Jesus and I was trying to keep the two girls from coming unglued. The leadership sat us down and tried to calm things but they spoke in vague generalities leaving us to read between the lines. And with active imaginations like ours, that was unproductive.
In hindsight, I can see their dilemma. They, too, believed that god was active and real and that satan was, too. They believed in angels, demons, demon possession and the supernatural. For them to deny the demons in the trees might be to deny their existence at all. Could they call the two boys liars? How could they be sure there weren’t demons in the trees?
The coffin set the tone for a bunch of kids who were eager for a supernatural experience. We did our best to create one and we got what we wanted: an experience.