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This week's personal prophecies -- messages from guardian angels and other spirits, with Charlotte and sometimes Henry acting as the mediums -- are fairly pragmatic. Oneitha receives "Take care of yourself -- don't go out in the cold."
Charlotte tells the Rev. Doug Boggs, a onetime fixture at the chapel who arrives halfway through the service, to "get off the fence," then follows that cryptic advice with the plainspoken plea, "We could sure use some more help around here."
Finally, Charlotte receives a message that tickles her. She pictures a parade of youngsters dancing down the aisle, reciting, "Praise him, praise him." She giggles, but it's not her signature laugh. It's the carefree chuckle of an innocent child, one that could not comprehend Charlotte's frustration with her fleeting flock.
Easy to overlook and even easier to dismiss, the Ethelaine Chapel still seems worth investigating, if for no other reason than to ask: How does a local congregation end up communing with angels in a Denny's restaurant?
The Ethelaine Chapel's chipped white paint resembles shredded mozzarella cheese. The building, which draws its name from the woman who donated it to the spiritualist church decades ago and from her granddaughter (Ethel and Elaine), has had only minimal repairs over the years. A hole in the roof above the pastor's office proves troublesome during precipitation.
A weathered wooden sign, with a splintered blue background and scattered yellow stars, proclaims the chapel's prophecy, teaching and healing elements. Obscured by clouds of white paint is a mention of its long-discontinued monthly psychic fairs and minireadings. Inside its garish pink door, past a wall of yellowed newsletters, educational pamphlets ("A community response to street gangs") and programs from five-year-old conventions, there's a welcoming T-shaped run of red carpet. Steel folding chairs with unattached seat cushions (after one service, Boggs asked Charlotte to tether the cushions for additional comfort, a request he prefaced with "I've got a nonspirit message for you") face the pulpit and its paper-butterfly-decorated microphone.
Charlotte, 61, exudes a warm, flower-child vibe; Henry, 68, is gruff in a good-natured manner. Their chemistry gives the services an appealing personality. At least once every week, Henry finds a way to suggest that he'll be taking a nap. (Henry: "Well, guess I'll be sleeping during this song." Charlotte: "Not while I'm singing, you won't.")
Charlotte's sermons incorporate a broad range of pop-culture and religious references as well as a number of personal anecdotes. In December alone, she has mentioned purgatory, karma, death-bed conversions, Victoria's Secret, Oprah and Angels in the Outfield; revealed that she writes "With God, all things are possible" in the memo line of every check; given advice on how to deal with stomach-staple surgery; and condoned regifting ("Once you've given something, let loose of it"). Henry opts for straightforward lectures, occasional quips and informal introductions to the services' sacred rites. "Let me see what I can do for you," he says as one healing session begins. "What God can do for you," Charlotte corrects jovially.
Modern American spiritualism began in 1848, when teenagers Catherine and Margaretta Fox allegedly communicated with the spirit of murdered peddler Charles Rosna through a series of rapping noises. Intellectually gifted believers such as author Arthur Conan Doyle -- the creator of Sherlock Holmes -- and X-ray inventor William Crookes soon ranked among spiritualism's articulate spokesmen. Among its early detractors, meanwhile, was the magician Harry Houdini, who relished debunking spiritualists, characterizing them as deceptive performers preying on the bereaved.