Harry stood in front of the microphone at the front of the tent. He closed his eyes and began to pray.
"Let your Spirit fall like rain," he said.
"Amen," said someone in the crowd.
"Let your Spirit fall like rain on us."
"Yes," said someone else.
"Let your Spirit fall like rain on us, not on the people out there, it won't do them any good. Let your Spirit fall like rain on your church, we're the ones who need it. Let your Holy Spirit pour down like rain on this church, mightily and heavily, all weekend. Amen."
"Amen," they all said very loudly.
Harry sat down. Pastor Paul stood in front of the microphone. He put his Bible on the lectern and began to preach.
"Do not love the world or anything that is in the world," he read. "'If anybody loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.' The devil told Adam and Eve to take the forbidden fruit, the fruit that God had told them not to eat. He didn't tell them that the fruit would destroy them, that it would spiritually cut them off from God, and that it would kill them. Some of you have tasted of a forbidden fruit. Tobacco. My father died last week at the age of 60, murdered by cigarettes, murdered by taking of that forbidden fruit. On the stage we have a black bin, the sin bin, in which people put all the things that they want to get rid of that are sinful, that hold back their spiritual life and seperate them from God. Some of you have already put your cigarettes in it. Those of you who have not, a quarter of you are going to end up like him, killed by smoking related diseases, dying before your time. I am so angry about cigarettes, I am so angry with sin." Paul kicked the sin bin. It flew through the air and hit an old lady on the head. Paul was shocked. He left his Bible and ran down from the stage. "Margaret," he asked, "are you all right?"
"Yes, Paul," she said, "yes Paul, I'm fine." Paul picked up the sin bin and carried it back on to the stage.
A hymn appeared on the overhead projector screen. The congregation began to sing.
"Healing rain is coming down, it's coming nearer to this old town.
Rich and poor, weak and strong -
It's bringing mercy, it won't be long, it won't be long.
Healing rain, it comes with fire;
So let it fall and take us higher.
Healing rain, I'm not afraid
To be washed in heaven's rain." At that moment it began to rain. It didn't just rain a little, it began to pour. Even over the volume of the singing, the sound of the rain could be heard battering against the tent. The singing continued. "Healing rain is falling down, healing rain is falling down, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid."
Keith and Kevin had absconded from the event and gone to the pub. They sat together drinking pints of lager.
"I'd sooner be here than in that tent on the farm," said Keith.
"Me, too," said Kevin. "Pastor Paul preaching his twenty seventh sermon on the laws of Leviticus. All those hymns with pop musicy tunes." A man decided to join them.
"Are you from Piddledon Farm?" he asked.
"Yes," said Keith. The man took out his card.
"I'm from the Mail on Sunday," he said. "Simon Ravenhouse. I'm doing an article on Piddledon Farm. Do you mind if I sit beside you?"
"No, not at all," said Kevin. Simon sat down and set his tiny MP3 player to record. It looked like a black pen but was a little bit thicker. He put it on the table.
"Tell me about life on the farm," said Simon.
"Our leaders are very cruel to us," said Keith.
"In what way are they cruel?"
"So bad tempered," said Keith. "Andy loses his rag, all the time, about everything. Do you mind not coming into the house at this hour, do you mind not sitting there, saying this, doing that?"
"The leaders are domineering," said Simon.
"I would say so," said Kevin. "They wouldn't be happy if they knew that we were here, having a drink. Can't a man have a drink? They don't like me making passes at the girls, either."
"No woman is safe," said Keith. "Tell him what you did with your mobile phone, Kevin."
"I used to walk around asking all the girls for their mobile phone numbers. I wanted everybody's mobile phone number so we could keep in touch and pray for eachother. I also asked when their birthdays were. We needed to know when everybody's birthday was so that the whole church could send them a card. What I did then is I would phone someone a few days before her birthday and ask, can I take you out on your birthday? When Andy found out, he told me not to. I told him there was nothing wrong with it, I wanted a girlfriend, I was just getting one in an organised manner. If you wanted a job you'd apply to a lot of places, wouldn't you? We had a bit of an argument. Paul eventually came to see me. He told me if I didn't stop giving girls telephone calls I would be asked to leave the house. I asked if I could send them text messages instead. He told me I should forget about my obsession with women and concentrate on God."
"What about money?" asked Simon. "Who handles finances?"
"We put all our money into a common pot," said Keith.
"Yes," said Kevin. "Paul has all our money. I told him I wanted some money to buy a CD. That's how I got the money to come to the pub."
"Would you like another drink?" asked Simon.
"Yes," said Kevin. Simon went to the bar and returned with two pints of lager.
"So all of your money is controlled by Paul Dennis, is it?"
"Yes," said Keith. "We have given him all our worldly goods."
"I gave him £50,000," said Kevin.
"What would happen if you wanted to leave?" asked Simon.
"You're not supposed to leave," said Kevin. "You make a lifelong vow to live in the community. I have made a lifelong vow, Keith hasn't done it yet."
"So Keith, if you make the lifelong vow to live in the community, would you be allowed to break it?"
"I wouldn't be expected to break it," said Keith.
"No, you wouldn't be expected to," said Kevin. "I know people who have done, but we'd rather they didn't. You shouldn't make a lifetime vow if you don't want to keep it. You should take a long time to think about it."
"Would they try to stop you?"
"I think they'd try to change your mind," said Kevin.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Andy gave you a little bit of friendly persuasion," said Keith.
"He can be friendly if someone is deeply distressed," said Kevin. "I think he'd want to know why, what was wrong with it? I think I'd tell him that I wanted to go to the pub more often and wanted to have a television."
"And what would he say to that?"
"He'd probably tell you that you should forget about alcohol and television, keep drinking of the Holy Spirit and reading the Bible instead," said Keith. "I tell you one thing that would make Kevin leave. If he met a woman who didn't want to live on the farm."
"Ooh, in my dreams! A nice Christian girl from another church who didn't want to live on the farm. But I like the women who live on the farm. I've got a cute picture of them all sitting on the settee." He took out his mobile phone and showed the photograph to Simon. "I love them all. They're my little sisters."
"Do they make you work long hours?"
"I'll say they make us work long hours," said Keith. "Up at four o' clock in the morning to milk the cows, surrounded by electric lights and barbed wire."
"Do children work on the farm?"
"Yes," said Kevin. "In the school holidays the children will be there as well."
"At four o' clock in the morning?"
"Yes, they work the same shifts as the rest of us," said Kevin. "They sleep a lot during the day, mind you."
"Would you like another drink?" asked Simon, seeing that their glasses were nearly empty.
"Yes," said Keith. Simon went to the bar and returned with two more pints of lager.
"Keith," asked Simon, "what exactly is brainwashing?"
"Ask Kevin, he's the one who went to university."
"Kevin," asked Simon, "what would you do if you wanted to brainwash someone?"
"It depends exactly what you mean by brainwashing. You certainly can't program somebody like a computer, not completely. You can only put them under pressure to believe things they don't really want to believe and to do things that they don't really want to do. If you wanted to brainwash someone you would keep them a long way from their family and friends, make sure they only had certain selected people around them, make sure they never watched television and carefully control the kind of books they read and music they listened to. Don't allow them to think for themselves, just keep telling everybody what you think. You can control what people do every hour of the day and be a bit of a bully, argumentative, boss them around. And never let them answer back, never let them tell you that you're wrong. Deprive them of food and sleep. Tired people don't argue. Put prozac in the coffee. Put ritalin in the soup. That would make people easily controllable."
"Is that what they do to you on Piddledon Farm?"
"Oh no," Kevin laughed. "I know that Andy's bad, but I wouldn't say he was that bad. I was speaking hypothetically."
Paul was standing on stage at the front of the tent. "One of our brothers had a really terrifying experience this weekend," he said. "But God brought him through it, and he became a Christian. I've asked Steve to come up here and give his testimony." Steve walked up to the microphone.
"I had a massive argument with my wife on Friday night," he said. "She took off her wedding ring and threw it on the carpet. I got into the car and just wanted to drive away, I didn't know where. I drove hundreds of miles. In the middle of the night, I decided I was going to drive the car over the cliffs. I never did because I crashed into the minibus, and it brought me here. Here I am, wonderfully saved. Now I belong to Jesus." Steve sat down in his seat again. Paul returned to the microphone.
"Well, that's a tremendous story," he said. "I think we should sing something that would encourage this mood of celebration. Hymn number 342, 'When the Spirit of the Lord is Within My Heart.'" The words appeared on the screen. The congregation began to sing.
"When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will sing as David sang.
When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will sing as David sang.
I will sing, I will sing, I will sing as David sang,
I will sing, I will sing, I will sing as David sang.
When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will dance as David danced.
When the Spirit of the Lord is within my heart, I will dance as David danced.
I will dance, I will dance, I will dance as David danced,
I will dance, I will dance, I will dance as David danced." Paul began to dance, rather energetically, just on the edge of the stage. He fell off the stage and fell several feet onto the carpet that covered the grass in the tent below. He picked himself up, examined himself to make sure he wasn't injured, climbed on to the stage again and continued dancing.
That evening, the girls on the farm decided to have a prayer meeting. They gathered in the lounge.
"I want us to pray for husbands," said Hazel.
"Husbands?" asked Maria.
"Marriage is a part of our society," said Hazel. "It is sadly rejected nowadays by many people. It is something God made good. We must eagerly desire husbands."
"We should go to Christian events," said Amanda, "we have to do something as well, it's pointless just sitting at home doing nothing and expecting God to do a miracle." Amanda began to pray. "Oh Lord, help us as we go to Spring Harvest next year to meet the right men, people we will get on with, people who will make friends with us, people we will be able to marry. We long to be married, Lord, long to feel a man's warm embrace, long to hear the patter of tiny feet. Marriage is something that you made for us, Lord. You did not want us to be alone. Amen." Amanda opened her eyes to see Kevin sitting on an armchair beaming at her. Keith was sitting next to him.
"I received a word of knowledge from the Lord," said Kevin. "Go to the lounge, for there are women in there who are praying for husbands. We are the answer to your prayers."
"Kevin is the answer to your prayers," said Keith. "Leave me out of this."
"Kevin," said Amanda, "I don't want to marry you."
"Why not? What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing. You're a very nice person, you just don't excite me."
"Well, you excite me, Amanda. You're one of the most exciting people I know."
"I'm half your age."
"Age doesn't matter when you know the Lord. Anyway, men don't go through the menopause. You can still have children."
"I don't want to marry you, Kevin."
"For someone who is so desperate for a partner, you seem to be awfully fussy about who you wed. There are ten women in this room. I'm sure one of them must find me exciting."
"Perhaps we should consider celibacy," said Rebecca.
"Either that or join one of those dating agencies on the internet," said Hazel.
On Sunday morning Steve went to buy a newspaper. It had not stopped raining. The rain was pouring down torrentially, as it had done all weekend. Steve hoped it was Holy Spirit, healing rain, of the kind they had prayed for in the tent, that it was somehow symbolic. By the time he arrived at the paper shop he was drenched. He went into the shop and saw the huge headline, 'Brainwashing Sex Cult' and a picture of Piddledon Farm. He bought the paper and went back to the farm again, pushing the paper into his jacket to prevent it from becoming soggy because the rain was so heavy. At the farm he took out the paper and showed it to Andy.
"Look at this, Andy," he said, "Brain Washing Sex Cult." Andy looked absolutely horrified. Andy took the paper from him and began to read it aloud.
"Tucked away on a farm in the middle of the English countryside, Piddledon farm is a dangerous cult. Pastor Paul welcomes all who are willing to give him their wages and their life savings. No one is allowed to leave. If you make a lifelong vow to stay on the farm you are expected to keep it. The children get up at 4 o' clock in the morning and go into an enclosure of electric lights and barbed wire where they milk the cows. One member of the cult said, 'If you want to brainwash people you have to keep them a long way from their family and friends, deprive them of television, control the music they listen to and the books they read, control what they do every hour of every day, deprive them of food and sleep because tired people don't argue, put prozac in the coffee and ritalin in the soup as this makes them easily controllable.'"
"That's terrible," said Amanda. "Fancy slagging us off in the newspaper like that."
"There's some facts in that report but they're taking those things entirely out of context," said Hazel. She took the newspaper herself and looked at a photograph of the women sitting on the settee with their eyes blacked out so that no one could recognise them. Under the picture was the quote in inverted commas, 'I love them all, they're my little sisters.' It was under the small subheading, 'No Woman is Safe.' She read aloud, "Men at Piddledon Farm ask the women for their mobile phone numbers, pretending that they want everybody's numbers so that members can keep in touch with eachother and pray for eachother. They also ask them for their birthdays, pretending that they need to know everybody's birthdays so the whole church can send them a big birthday card and a cake. They then telephone them a few days before their birthday and ask them out for a meal. Men work their way systematically through all the women in the church looking for someone they can get hitched with."
"Kevin!" screamed Andy, snatched the newspaper from Hazel's hands and ran into Kevin's bedroom. Kevin hadn't dressed yet and was still in his pyjamas. "I know immediately that it's you. That's what you were doing yesterday, when the rest of us were in the tent, isn't it? Slagging us off to the newspapers."
"Slagging you off? We were talking to a journalist, we weren't slagging you off." Andy showed Kevin the newspaper. "Oh no. Is that what he wrote? Brainwashing Sex Cult?" Andy had seen something about himself. He read it aloud.
"Self styled evangelist Andy Crowhall is known for his bad temper. He orders people around, don't stand there, don't sit over there, don't say things like that, don't come here at this time of day. He rules the cult with a rod of iron." Kevin looked as if he had spent his entire life savings on a new car and had just seen someone drive over it in a steam roller.
"The journalist bought us a few drinks. We were tipsy. We said a few silly things. We were just being funny. We never thought he would write this."
"Keith and me." Kevin's breathing became very noisy. His lungs wheezed and whistled as he tried to breathe in and out. "I need my inhaler. Oh no, where is it? I haven't used it for years." He rummaged around in the drawer for the inhaler and took a double dose. "I'll leave. Just give me my savings back and I'll go, I'll even write to the paper and make them apologise."
"You don't have to leave," said Andy. "I'll explain. I'll tell everybody the journalist got Kevin and Keith drunk and they said a few silly things, and he exaggerated everything they said. That's how the article was written. It wasn't deliberate. They'll understand."
Paul stood at the front of the tent in front of the microphone. The rain had not stopped. Everyone was looking rather wet. He had to stand quite close to the microphone to be heard above the sound of the rain pounding on the tent.
"I am so glad we are being persecuted," he said. "I am so glad they write articles like that about us in the newspaper. The church in the New Testament were persecuted because people were jealous. The church in England has never been persecuted. It has never done anything to make people jealous. This weekend, we have made someone jealous. We have actually been close enough to God to inspire envy. That is why there is a big newspaper headline saying, 'Brainwashing Sex Cult.' Turn in your Bibles to first Corinthians chapter 7." Paul waited while people tried to find the chapter in their Bibles. "When I was young people used to tell me I would never be a church minister because I was not married. Indeed, how wrong they were. We are a team. So I say to Andy, if anybody has a problem with their marriage, I will bring them to you, because you're very understanding with people like that. Andy says, Paul, if I have anybody who's an alcoholic I will bring them to you, because you used to work in a mental hospital and you're very understanding with people like that. The Bible says, 'An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife.' I knew many of my friends when they were single, and when they became married they were a lot more difficult to talk to. The husband would talk to me and answer a question on his wife's behalf. I could hardly ever speak to his wife. Then, after they had children it would be quite difficult to talk to them at all, because they would be pre-occupied with the need to look after their young children. Being celibate gives you more time for God and more time to spend with other people. You will have more friends of both sexes, you will love them all as much as eachother, and you will be able to serve God more. Put your hand up if you would like to take this step of celibacy for the first time today." Rebecca put her hand up. Amanda put her hand up. Then Hazel put her hand up. Finally, Kevin put his hand up.