Were there religious services held in Jonestown?

There were no religious services conducted in Jonestown that we have been able to identify.

There were scores of meetings in Jonestown, but they revolved around concerns of the community itself. Some meetings dealt with the progress of the various agricultural, industrial and maintenance programs; some discussed the problems and the progress in the behavior of individual people; some were celebrations – especially when visitors came to the project – and featured music and entertainment; some considered the problems raised by political enemies back in the United States; and some pondered the possibility of death. But there were no church services, and no religious sermons or extended addresses with religious overtones such as those in the States.

The people who were emigrating to Jonestown believed that they were migrating to Promised Land, a heaven on earth that they themselves had created, and the fulfillment of everything Jones had been talking about for several years. That perception was undoubtedly reinforced by the proscription on Bibles coming into Jonestown, although there are reports that a few made it in. Similarly, Jones asked people to refer to him as “Jim” or “Comrade” rather than “Father” – this was especially true when visitors were scheduled to arrive – and even the name “Dad” was used more to describe Jones as the leader of the community than as a religious figure.

Some tapes describe miracles that Jones performed in Jonestown – the accidents that didn’t happen, the injuries that could have been worse, the illnesses that he cured – but they were ascribed to his own power, not one that emanated from a Christian God.

Perhaps the greatest indication of how far  the residents of Jonestown had moved away from Christianity was in Larry Schacht’s description of a man – either Emmett Alexander Griffith or Plickards Norris – who died there. “He called on Jesus, he didn’t call on the power that’s in Dad,” Schacht said in a tape dated October 9, 1978. “And owning that power, the power that’s in Dad, could’ve saved him. But he kept calling on the wrong power, he kept calling on Jesus, … and when Dad heard him calling on Jesus, he said, that’s it. There’s no hope. You have to call on Dad, you have to call on the power and the light that’s in him.”

Last modified on December 22nd, 2014.
Skip to main content