Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rock Around the Flock – Part One

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In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Like most churches, they are always looking for ways to bring in more young people. Unfortunately the current crop of young people is notorious for not being particularly interested in traditional church services. So it was with great excitement that Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell gathered the staff of the little church one Tuesday morning to declare that he had found the solution.

Henry had spent the weekend at a pastoral conference attending a variety of mind numbing seminars and speakers. But one seminar late on the second day called, “Making Church Cool,” had so piqued his interest that he had actually stayed awake for the entire hour. Susan, the vivacious young woman with the dazzling smile who led the seminar, laid out the psyche of her generation in a way that completely transformed Henry’s way of thinking.

He explained all of this to the little church’s staff who, in spite of their better judgment, found themselves leaning forward in anticipation of this sure-fire youth attracting method. Henry paused to milk maximum drama from the moment. Then he said:

“We need a house rock band.”

The staff stared at him. It was not quite the reaction Henry had hoped for. The thing was a church rock band wasn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. But Susan had used a very persuasive Power Point presentation with lots of impressive statistics. Henry tried without success to remember some of them.

Finally he resorted to simple logic. “Today’s young people don’t want to hear dusty hymns. They listen to rock and roll. Heck, I listen to rock and roll when I’m not at church and I’m hardly young. Churches that incorporate modern music into the service often see a dramatic increase in youth attendance.”

“What about the choir,” asked choir director Shane Reed.

Henry realized he had not considered the choir. “Maybe you can provide back up for the band,” he suggested. “And you can still do special performances like the Christmas concert.”

“I’m not sure the choir members are going to be too happy about singing back up to a rock band,” Shane replied. He was none too happy about the idea himself.

“We’ll figure it out,” Henry said. “Sometimes change is a little painful but it’s still necessary.”

“Where are we going to get this band,” asked Associate Pastor Michelle Tellum.

Another annoying detail Henry hadn’t considered. “There must be members of the congregation who play rock instruments. Your boyfriend plays guitar, right?”

“Yeah…” Michelle replied. Ian, her boyfriend, played guitar in a jazz band. She thought he might be willing to play in a rock band as well, but doubted that he would be very excited about a regular gig at the church.

As it turned out, she knew Ian pretty well. He was definitely not excited when she told him about the idea. But he agreed to do it because he didn’t want her to look bad in front of Pastor O’Donnell who was, after all, her boss.

“Who else is in the band?” Ian asked her.

“Well, you’re the first,” Michelle admitted.

“Great,” Ian sighed. “Hey, you should get Audra to be the lead singer.”

“Good idea,” Michelle said. And it was a good idea. Audra was a new member of the church and had a fantastic voice. She was also young and pretty and Michelle felt a small pang of jealousy that Audra had come so quickly to Ian’s mind.

Still, Michelle did ask Audra to sing in the rock band. Audra initially declined, but when she heard Ian had requested her personally she changed her mind. “Ian’s a great guitarist,” she gushed. “If he’s doing it I guess I could give it a try.” Michelle did her best to be sincere when she thanked Audra.

Not everyone in the church was reluctant to participate. When word of the band got around, Missy Moore quickly volunteered to play drums. All concerned were surprised. Nobody even knew Missy played drums. Missy was a big, cheerful forty-four year-old woman who did not seem like the rock and roll type. But she assured Pastor O’Donnell and the founding members of the band that she had been playing drums since high school and owned her own drum set. This last fact sealed the deal.

Kevin Boyer also begged to participate. This was another surprise because Kevin usually begged not to participate in church activities. But Kevin had been part of a garage band in high school. That band had big dreams but lacked an equivalently sized work ethic. The highlight of their career was playing at Kevin’s sister’s fifteenth birthday party. The prospect of picking up “the axe” again sent a wave of youthful nostalgia through Kevin.

By axe, Kevin of course meant guitar. Kevin assured Ian that he would be happy playing rhythm guitar to Ian’s lead. Ian suggested Kevin try playing bass since they needed one. But bass did not fit with the rock star image in Kevin’s dreams.

As it turned out, the position of bass player proved very difficult to fill. Finally church secretary Tammy Billings agreed to the job. Tammy didn’t play bass guitar, but she did play the upright bass. Ian assured everyone that though it might look funny to have an upright bass in a rock band the sound was basically equivalent when the strings were plucked.

While the band was forming Henry was dealing with the fallout among the broader congregation. Shane was correct in his assessment that the choir would not be happy about being replaced by a rock band. There were even threats of a boycott.

The Little Old Ladies – three senior members of the congregation who were no more fans of rock music than they were fans of today’s youth – echoed those threats. Celia Simmons was a member of both the choir and the Little Old Ladies and was so wound up Henry feared she might explode. He urged everyone to just give the new direction a chance and promised when the church was full of teens and young adults they would all appreciate his plan.

As the day of the band’s debut approached, Ian hoped the pastor was right.

To be continued…

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Great Carrot Controversy

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In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Each spring the church hosts an Easter egg hunt and party for the Sunday school children the day before Easter. This year Karen Winslow, who was in charge of the party, decided to set up an area where the kids could have their pictures taken with the Easter bunny.

Karen was worried it would be difficult to find someone willing to wear the costume she had rented. But to her surprise, head usher Ralph Billings volunteered. What she didn’t know was that Ralph had an ulterior motive. He had always disapproved of the unhealthy candy that Karen put in the plastic eggs she hid around the church grounds. But everybody had shouted down his annual suggestion to use healthy snacks instead of jellybeans and marshmallow chicks.

The photo op was scheduled at the beginning of the party before the kids became covered in dye and grass stains. Karen dragged a chair out near some bushes at the edge of the back lawn and surrounded it with bouquets of spring flowers. Ralph donned the costume and took his place in the diorama as the first families started to arrive.

Most of the kids were delighted by the giant purple Easter bunny and happy to sit on his lap to get their pictures taken. Two year-old Susie Boyer was the exception. Despite her parents’ pleas, she wouldn’t go near the oversized rabbit.

After about half an hour everyone moved inside to dye eggs. This was the opportunity Ralph was waiting for. He had surreptitiously watched out the window as Karen hid the plastic eggs around the lawn before the party, memorizing their location. Now that he was alone he quickly went around replacing the candy in the eggs with small packets of baby carrots. He figured the kids would understand that carrots were the kind of treats that a real bunny would give away.

He would later conclude that perhaps he had overestimated the kids.

As much fun as the children were having dying their hands, clothes, the tables, the floor of the social hall and even the occasional egg a multitude of colors, they quickly abandoned the activity when Karen announced it was time for the Easter egg hunt. Messy crafts were cool but candy was candy.

That excitement turned to disappointment and then to anger as the kids discovered the contents of the plastic eggs. Karen was a little miffed as well. She sidled up to Ralph and hissed, “Where’s all that candy I bought?”

Ralph just shrugged. After all, Karen had given him strict orders not to talk while in costume.

Meanwhile, the kids endeavored to work out the nature of this strange phenomenon on their own. Six year-old Tyler Park thought he’d deduced the answer. Clearly the Easter bunny was an imposter. Tyler suspected a leprechaun was behind the ruse, perhaps as part of a rivalry between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter.

“What do we do,” asked Mary Boyer, Susie’s older sister by two years.

“We use his trick against him,” Tyler declared.

Karen was still trying to grill the unresponsive rabbit when the children charged. They turned the plastic eggs into weapons, pelting the faux Easter bunny without mercy. Karen scrambled out of the line of fire, and then tried to regain control of the kids. She did not succeed.

Tammy Billings, Ralph’s wife and the church secretary, watched the assault with horror. She grabbed Karen. “We’ve got to do something,” Tammy cried.

“We need candy,” Karen declared.

Tammy’s eyes lit up. “I know where we can get some!”

She ran for the church office. Pastor Henry O’Donnell was a fan of a certain brand of toffee-filled chocolate egg that was only available at Easter time. Each year he stocked up on several boxes so he could enjoy them in the months after Easter. Strangely, no matter how many boxes he bought, he usually went through them in about a week. Tammy knew that the pastor kept his stash in his bottom left desk drawer.

Meanwhile, Ralph was trying unsuccessfully to distract the attacking horde of kids by doing a little dance. The plastic eggs didn’t hurt him through the heavy costume but he didn’t want the kids to waste their carrots.

Susie did not quite understand what was going on but she did like throwing things and so she joined in the bombardment of the big purple bunny. In her excitement, her fear of the large creature drained away.

The plastic eggs may not have done any damage to Ralph on impact but one did finally find its way under foot, causing him to slip and fall. And when Susie saw the big, fluffy, no-longer-scary bunny lying on the ground she ran up and jumped on top of it, landing right on its crotch.

Up to this point Ralph had managed to avoid speaking. But the unexpected impact of the two year-old on a rather sensitive part of his body elicited a single word that was not really appropriate for bunnies or people to use in polite society. The kids reacted to this outburst by screaming and fleeing. Susie didn’t quite understand this either, but she also liked to run and scream so she joined in this new game as well.

Ralph crawled back toward the church building to find an ice pack.

Unfortunately he reached the door just as Tammy burst out shouting, “Candy” and waving the boxes of chocolate toffee eggs in the air. The door hit Ralph in the head, knocking him over.

The children’s fear of the swearing leprechaun disguised as a bunny was forgotten at the mention of candy. They swarmed Tammy who broke open the boxes and passed out the eggs while Ralph dragged himself inside.

Two minutes later the kids were all sitting quietly on the grass stuffing the treats into their mouths.

Five minutes after that they were tearing around the lawn on a sugar high.

And Ralph spent the rest of the afternoon searching stores for boxes of the chocolate toffee eggs to replace Pastor O’Donnell’s stash.

Happy Easter!


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