Belfast Telegraph

US spiritualists celebrate 'brother' Van Morrison's birthday

By Ivan Little

Members of a controversial Californian spiritualist church have chanted unusual Happy Birthday messages to their 'brother' Sir Van Morrison - days after he spoke about his involvement with the organisation.

And at the same service the evening before the east Belfast singer turned 72, the congregation at the Agape International Spiritual Centre in Culver City wished him 'Happy Earth Day'.

The greetings came after Morrison sung three songs at a packed Agape gathering on Wednesday night and he acknowledged their chants by clasping his hands in front of him and bowing to the congregation.

When Morrison first visited the centre, its founder Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith said the Grammy-award winner live-streamed Agape's services from his home in Northern Ireland and listened to its weekly radio programmes.

Beckwith introduced Morrison on that occasion by calling him 'our brother' and the visitor could be heard in the middle of a song exclaiming: "What an adventure."

Sir Van returned to Agape on the eve of his birthday and, after overcoming a few minor problems with a microphone, launched into his first song, Transformation, from his forthcoming album Roll with the Punches - incorrectly called Rolling with the Punches by Beckwith.

Transformation includes the lyrics "Gonna be a transformation down in your soul", and Morrison has said it was inspired by Agape.

Backed by Agape's house band, Morrison also sang In the Garden and finished by singing one of his biggest hits, Have I Told You Lately that I Love You.

The entire 92-minute service can be viewed in the streaming archives on the Agape website.

After the performance, Beckwith asked Morrison - who for once wasn't wearing his trademark hat - to come back and stand in front of the congregation and he told them that Van's birthday was the following day.

The Agape members, who were urged to 'extend their hearts to their hands', followed Beckwith's lead and with their hands outstretched they chanted in unison: "Sir Van. You are the Man. Happy Earth Day. Happy Birthday. And many, many more. God Bless You."

After Van returned to his seat he was captured on camera standing to sing along with a song called Blessed Always.

In a recent interview with the British rock music magazine Uncut, Morrison confirmed he was a member of Agape.

"And I'm a friend of Dr Beckwith. I can't tell you much right now. If anyone wants to find out, I'd rather they looked it up themselves," he said, adding, "It's not religion. It's spiritual but it's not religion. It's beyond religion."

Before the Cyprus Avenue concerts two years ago, Morrison told an Irish Times interviewer that he wouldn't touch religion with a '10-foot pole'.

How he discovered Agape isn't clear.

Beckwith set up the Agape centre - the name is Greek for unconditional love - in 1986 as 'a movement that would take a stand for love, for peace, for being a beneficial presence on the planet'.

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