Holy Roller

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"Holy Roller" is a term for some Protestant Christian churchgoers of the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions.[1] The term describes dancing, shaking or other boisterous movements by church attendees who perceive themselves as being under the influence of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Holy Rolling is sometimes used derisively by those outside these denominations, as if to describe people literally rolling on the floor in an uncontrolled manner.[3] However, those within these Wesleyan traditions have reclaimed it as a badge of honor; for example William Branham wrote: "And what the world calls today holy-roller, that's the way I worship Jesus Christ."[4] Gospel singer Andrae Crouch stated, "They call us holy rollers, and what they say is true. But if they knew what we were rollin' about, they'd be rollin' too." Decades earlier, in the notes for his 1960 album Blues & Roots, jazz musician Charles Mingus used the term, seemingly neutrally and as a simple description, to indicate his own religious upbringing.[5]


Merriam-Webster traces the word to 1841.[3] The Oxford English Dictionary cites an 1893 memoir by Charles Godfrey Leland, in which he says "When the Holy Spirit seized them ... the Holy Rollers ... rolled over and over on the floor."[6]

Similar disparaging terms directed at outspoken Christians but later embraced by them include Jesus freaks or, from former centuries, Quakers, and Shakers.


  • Joe Hill's 1911 song "The Preacher and the Slave" contains the lines "Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out / And they holler, they jump and they shout".
  • Gifford Pinchot in 1919: "Apparently no meeting for any purpose is to be tolerated except the Holy Roller meetings themselves. These theoretically and in fact ... The Holy Roller church in this community, as elsewhere, in its total influence promotes immorality. ..."[7]
  • The New York Times on May 2, 1923: "Bound Brook Mob Raids Klan Meeting: Thousand Hostile Citizens Surround Church and Lock In 100 Holy Rollers. ... Until the arrival of eight State troopers to reinforce the local police here at 1 o'clock this morning about one hundred members of the Holy Rollers were ..."[8]
  • G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem entitled "To A Holy Roller."
  • Time on October 12, 1936: "When Jesus Christ first appeared to His assembled disciples after His resurrection, He told them that believers 'shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents' (Mark: 16:17, 18). To many a U. S. religionist of the Pentecostal or "Holy Roller" variety, the 'gift of tongues' has long been vivid reality."
  • In the 1969 Beatles song "Come Together", the line "He one holy roller" can be heard within the first 15 seconds.
  • Spoon's 2014 single "Inside Out" contains the line "I don't make time for holy rollers".
  • The 2014 Thank You Scientist song "Feed The Horses" contains the line, "I won't be your holy roller..."
  • The Scottish hard rock band Nazareth has a song titled "Holy Roller," which uses the term throughout the song's lyrics.
  • "Holy Roller" is a song by Country Joe McDonald from his 1981 album "Into the Fray".
  • Holy Roller is a 1999 compilation album by Reverend Horton Heat.
  • Holy Roller (song) is the fourth track on Apple (album) released in July 1990 by Mother Love Bone
  • Sarah Palin on January 19, 2016, referred to some in the crowd as "holy rollers" when she endorsed Donald Trump: "Looking around at all of you, you hard working Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock and rollers and holy rollers! You all make the world go around and now our cause is one."[9]
  • The phrase is also the name of the 9th song on The Amazons' debut album.
  • The American rock band Portugal. The Man released a song titled “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)” on their 2013 album Evil Friends.

The song "Holy Roller" also appeared on Nazareth’s 1975 Greatest Hits Album, but has not appeared on any previous studio album by the group prior to that albums release. It had been performed Live on stage by the group, however numerous times and remained a crowd favourite throughout the 70’s and 80’s.

  • “Holy Roller” is also the title of the 10th track on the 2015 Awolnation album, “Run”.


  1. ^ Snyder, C. Albert (1 May 2006). Spiritual Journey. p. 69. ISBN 9781600340161. Holiness means different things to different people. Our church, the Free Methodist, is a "holiness" church. One doctor said to me: "Free Methodists? I know about them; they are holy rollers. They used to have camp meetings near where I grew up."
  2. ^ Fahlbusch, Erwin (2008). The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 438. ISBN 9780802824172. The "shouting Methodists" of the early 1800s, and the later Holiness or Pentecostal "holy rollers" in both Caucasian and African-American congregations, insisted that a genuine experience of God's glorious presence called for exuberant, bodily response.
  3. ^ a b "Holy Roller". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2010-09-14. A member of one of the Protestant sects whose worship meetings are characterized by spontaneous expressions of emotional excitement.
  4. ^ "Why I Am a Holy-Roller", a sermon by William Marrion Branham, August 1953
  5. ^ "The first tune, 'Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting', is church music. I heard this as a child when I went to meetings with my mother. The congregation gives their testimonial before the Lord, they confess their sins and sing and shout and do a little Holy Rolling. Some preachers cast out demons, they call their dialogue talking in tongues or talking unknown tongue (language that the Devil can't understand)." Roots and Blues liner notes, Atlantic Records
  6. ^ "roller, n1", definition 17b. The Oxford English Dictionary. (Account required for online access).
  7. ^ Charles Otis Gill and Gifford Pinchot (1919). Six thousand country churches. p. 23.
  8. ^ "Bound Brook Mob Raids Klan Meeting: Thousand Hostile Citizens Surround Church and Lock In 100 Holy Rollers". New York Times. May 2, 1923. Retrieved 2010-09-22. Until the arrival of eight State troopers to reinforce the local police here at 1 o'clock this morning about one hundred members of the Holy Rollers were locked up in their church, the Pillar of Fire, in Main Street, surrounded by a mob of nearly 1,000 hostile citizens, several hundred of whom broke up a meeting held by the Holy Rollers to organize a Klan here last night.
  9. ^ "Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump". CNN. 2016-01-20. Retrieved 2016-01-23.