Originally published at Real Live Preacher in May of 2003.
These people asked me to do a wedding in a hollow church. I shit you not. A hollow church.
They found this place in Dallas. The congregation lost touch with their neighborhood and went away, leaving their building behind. I guess they went away; they’re not there now. Maybe churches are like hermit crabs. When they want a new shell they just crawl away and leave the old one to whomever finds it.
Anyway, someone bought the building, gutted it, and turned it into an art gallery. The outside still looks like a cute little church, but inside there’s nothing but walls going every which way, track lighting, and European bottled water arranged on tables.
They do a heckuva wedding business there, too. It’s perfect for people who want the charm of a pretty church but are a little uncomfortable with what goes on inside churches.
So these people, the ones I was telling you about, they rented the hollow church and were looking for a minister to do the wedding. They hoped to capture the classic beauty of the Christian ceremony without the bother of Christianity. They wanted the delicious English from the Book of Common Prayer, but they didn’t want the Word behind the words, if you take my meaning. They were looking for someone to roll out our tradition, like a precious Torah scroll, so they could see it naked and lay familiar hands on it. They wanted to stretch it and pull it and slide it around on the table. The wanted to cut it into swatches and see if it matched the bridesmaids’ dresses. They needed a preacher in a robe who would deliver the goods with a wink and a smile, then go away and not bother anyone. They wanted someone they could call onstage and then dismiss with a wave and a little cash in an envelope.
They actually said to me, “We want a nice wedding and all. You know, classic. But can you tone down the God and Jesus stuff? We’ll pay you, of course. How much do you charge?”
They said it very innocently, and looked right at me, like they weren’t asking for much. Like it was no big deal. Like my beloved faith was as hollow as their church and just as available. They were like pickpockets, these two, him distracting me while she slipped her tiny hand between my ribs and felt around for my soul.
Someone told them I was cool, so they thought I was the minister they were looking for.
if I ever gave anyone that impression.
Their modern flippancy made me feel primitive. It brought back my old demons. At that moment I wished I could be anywhere but there and anything but a minister. I felt them drawing me to the center, to the place of American Christianity, soft and uncommitted, enmeshed with culture, neither here nor there. I wanted them to go somewhere, somewhere away from me. I wished they would move toward the cold clarity of unbelief or toward the throbbing heat of primitive religion. I wanted to reboot and call out to my pagan brothers and sisters. I wanted to howl like a Banshee with a wailing cry that would chill their bones and make them believe in the little people.
They made me so tired.
They were young, and they didn’t know what they were asking. They really didn’t, God love em. And how could they know? American Christianity has been marketed to death. It’s been bundled with our culture and sold two-for-one on the discount table. Why should we be surprised when people show up at the hollow church, rummaging through our icons and using them to decorate their cakes.
We’re the ones who put on the sale. We can’t blame people when they come looking for bargains.
I tried to be nice in my refusal. “I’m sorry. I can’t do what you’re asking. I can’t take God out of the wedding service. It would be a betrayal of my calling. I just… I’m not the minister you’re looking for.”
What they did next was the most disturbing thing of all. It was more saddening than walking into the hollow church. It was more depressing than when they asked me to deGod the service.
They huddled for a second, whispering to each other. Then they nodded, apparently coming to a decision. He spoke for the two of them. “That’s cool. That’s okay. You can leave all that stuff in – do the service however you like. We’re fine either way, really. It’s all good.”
They really didn’t care one way or the other. It absolutely did not matter to them at all.