Kalispell, Washington has every prerequisite for your survivalist and doomsday prepping needs. The community is large enough that there are plenty of home improvement stores for your bunker building supplies. There are gun and ammo shops on every corner to compliment the lax firearm laws and plenty of outdoor stores for freeze-dried food supplies. Most importantly, there is land, lots and lots of land where the government won’t bother you (theoretically at least). For this reason, curiosity dictated I attend a church service for the first time in over a decade.
The Liberty Fellowship Church meets every Sunday in a conference room at the Hilton Garden Inn, next to the airport and across the street from a casino connected to a liquor store. I walked down the hotel hallway to the doors of the Glacier Ball Room, from which emanated the sounds of piano, guitar and singing. My plan was to pop in the back, get a feel for the general vibe, sneak back out and write about it later. A man with a bushy grey beard and checkered work shirt put the kibosh on that.
“Are you here by yourself, brother?” he asked placing a hand on my shoulder.
I told him that I was and he took my motorcycle jacket and helmet, set them against the wall, placed his hand on my shoulder and ushered me up the aisle to the second row, seating me on the center aisle directly next to another bearded man wearing camo cargo shorts and a Hornaday Ammunition hat. I was now part of the congregation of just under a hundred people in this hotel conference room.
After a few more songs, the pastor, Chuck Baldwin, took the stage. He was dressed in brown cowboy boots and jeans and wore a pressed white button down shirt and blue blazer, accented with a Montana state flag lapel pin. He had neatly trimmed hair and a complexion that suggested time outdoors in the mountains with the mien and confident swagger of a politician. This is no coincidence. Chuck Baldwin ran for president of the United States as a nominee for the Constitution Party in 2008.
“Do we have any visitors or first timers?” he asked. “Please stand up and tell us where you’re from!”
I was in the second row and obviously a first timer. I stood, along with the only two other first-timer in the back row. So much for anonymity. My conspicuous position, along with the fact that I wore motorcycle pants and a neon green tee shirt complimented by a checkered Vietnamese Hmong scarf, assured that I’d be first to be called on.
“Hi, I’m Michael,” I said. “I sort of split my time between Florida and Alberta, Canada.”
“Do you spend most of your time in Canada? Or the USA?” Pastor Chuck asked.
I felt a tension, like the congregation was sizing up this potentially gun-grabbing, socialist Canadian interloper in their midst, while I answered, “Lately, it’s about even, actually.”
“Well, How did you find out about us?” he asked.
The tension was broken and the congregation had a laugh when I answered, “I was in the hotel and saw the sign on the door.” This is sort of true, although my Google skills are what had truly led me there.
The pastor launched into his sermon that ran the gamut from illegal immigrants (he’s not a fan), Jews (who are quite misguided, apparently), Cecil the Lion and animal rights (not a fan), abortion (maybe we should dress fetuses like lions), and the militarization of police (not a fan, and I’m kind of with him on this one). These points, punctuated by podium pounding and bible waving, were answered by choruses of amens and hallalujahs.
I was somewhat fascinated by what I was seeing, but after an hour and forty-five minutes of this I very much wanted to leave. My problem was that the whole thing was being streamed live on the Internet and I was directly in front of the camera. Also, my Sidi riding boots are great for safety and comfort, but they are possibly the loudest pieces of footwear on the planet. They squeak like a rusty barn door with every step. Also, I needed my helmet and jacket which were in the back of the room next to bearded guy #1.
I waited until Pastor Chuck admonished the congregation to bow their heads and close their eyes in prayer and snuck out under the assumption that everyone’s eyes were closed. Three hours had elapsed.
The interesting thing is, he made a few good points that I actually agreed with, but they were all but lost in the rest of the message and the unyielding, in-your-face holy-ghostiness of it all.
I made my way to the parking lot and, taking advantage of what daylight I had left, fired up the bike and headed toward Missoula.