We all seem in need of a little salvation, even before this lockdown. As a result, Reverend Michael Alabama Jackson is on a mission to rescue, or at least revive, the souls of Brighton & Hove. And maybe enjoy a trip to the seafront. “I like the beach, because it makes me laugh,” he tells me, his broad Southern drawl mangling the city’s name into ‘Bry-tahon’. “People say there’s a beach, but I say: ‘Maybe, in about 65 million years.’ It’s a city of fun and inclusivity, which is part of the message of our show. People can have fun, let loose and prickle their toes on the pebbly beach.” For the Rev Jackson, reaching out to the lost is his life’s work. With his rambunctious ecumenical roadshow, Oh My God! It’s The Church, he’s promoting a heartfelt message of acceptance, inclusion and wild times.
He’d heard his calling at an early age. “I saw the world around me collapsifying and tearing itself down, getting crazy and fucked-up… I looked at the church I was in and thought maybe I can step in and help the people of the world have a good time, find the light and to enjoy getting together again. So, I created my own service, and it’s spiralled out of control from there.” From humble beginnings in an undisclosed Deep South town, he’s turned his Church into a touring phenomenon, offering salvation to a growing group of eager worshippers. “We’re not saying other churches are bad,” he tells me. “it’s just that my church is killer-good.”
A festival favourite, especially on a Sunday morning when revellers’ spirits might need a little lifting, the average Church service is a riotous cross between gig, exorcism and burlesque show. Supported by his live band, The Missionary Position, and his assistants the three Hail Marys, the Rev Jackson offers a spiritual experience unlike any other. “Sister Mary Lou is kind of trashy. She grew up with not much going on, but now she’s travelling the world. We met when she was running the bar near where I grew up.” Alongside her is Sister Mary Joy. “I don’t want to say she’s a failed cheerleader, she always wanted to be a cheerleader, but they were mean to her, so we took her under our wings.” Completing the Church’s Toly Trinity is Sister Mary Jane. “She is a classy lady. She adds a lot to the pot. She’s like Tina Turner on speed.”
As demand for the Church’s services increases, they plan to release their debut EP on one of the calendar’s holiest days. Recorded in ‘Deah-vhan‘ last July, Genesis sees a release on Good Friday, and encapsulates everything they stand for. “We struggled, because the atmosphere in our services is pretty wild. We’ve got some amazing songs and we’ve brought a little bit of Deep South America on there as well. It’s hopefully going to blow people away.” As word of their great work spreads, Rev Jackson is adamant he and the Church remain unaffected by their fame. “It’s difficult to remain humble, with all of the accolades and complimentays thrown at me. Especially after I won Preacher Of The Year four years in a row, and State Preaching Champion twice. It’s difficult to remain humble and modest, but I do a great job of that. The people of the United Kingdom seem to warm to what we’re doing, even if it is silly and chaotic. It’s warming our hearts. It’s certainly warming Mary-Lou’s ass.”
Away from the huge festival stages they’re taking to, the Church attempt to hear as many confessions as possible at their smaller services – absolving people’s sins with the Hail Mary’s and holy water – which may actually be absinthe.
“We speak to Sexy Jesus up in the sky and look at all the nasty sin people have did.” They once held a service in the beautiful British countryside, passing a nice village fete on their journey there. Later, they heard confession from a woman who’d won the fete’s chutney-making competition. “All of the people in the congregation were local villagers. She said she’d burnt her chutney, so went to a supermarket to buy some and faked it. I honestly thought she was going to get lynched. People were shouting at her to go down to hell and to burn her. We had to take her out the back door.”
With the fame comes certain perks and privileges. You start expecting your every wish will be fulfilled, especially when it comes to lists of backstage provisions. “We asked: ‘What brings us closer to Jesus?’ So, we asked for a toy donkey. I’ve now got about 250 stuffed donkeys in my apartment – I need to change what it is on there. At one festival last year, they got us a real donkey. Which was surprising, but also great. We came offstage, and it was just in there. It was just us and a huge donkey in this dressing room.”
While the Church’s services are steadily increasing in size, they are becoming more raucous and unpredictable. A recent show at Glastonbury saw the Hail Mary’s getting semi-naked and crowd-surfing to the back of about 5,000 people. “At that point, when I looked out there at my three favourite young ladies, nipples flying everywhere, I looked around and wondered: ‘Is this what Sexy Jesus wanted all those years ago?’ Then I saw all the smiling faces, and decided, yes… It was.” Perhaps the services in some way reflect the mood of a wider society. In a crazy world, you just might need a crazy church service.
Heading to Brighton’s Concorde 2 on Weds 18 Nov, a service rescheduled due to the Cov-19 closures, Rev Jackson hopes the teachings of Sexy Jesus can bring solace to a nation in turmoil. The core message to humanity is one of total inclusion. Everyone is welcome in the Church of Sexy Jesus. “You can be gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, man or woman, it doesn’t matter wherever you’re
from or what you look like, you can come down, you can just fucking let loose and have a good time.” These spellbinding shepherds just want everyone to get together, realise we are all the same, have a good time and drink some Absinthe. “We know that the people of Brighton are the naughtiest in possibly the entire UK. People there party hard and get up to mischief, so we want them to come down to the Church and share that mischief with us, so we can absolve their souls!” Praise Sexy Jesus…
Oh My God! It’s The Church play Brighton’s Concorde 2 on Weds 18 Nov 2020. Their debut EP, Genesis, is available now