My Undelivered Stand-up Routine for Those Not Likely to Come Back to Church

(April 5, 2018)

How is everybody doing tonight? You look great. You’re less sober than the people I usually talk to.

I’m surprised to be at the Comedy Cellar because—and I know how this sounds—I’m a minister. Saying that you’re a minister shuts down conversations with barbers, waitresses, and the person sitting next to you on the plane. That last one is helpful.

I’m not a minister who thinks he’s cool enough to fit in anywhere. I’m not the Unitarian campus minister at NYU. I don’t wear a tweed jacket and a turtleneck. I don’t run a soup kitchen in Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t actually do the stuff I tell everyone else to do. I’m not the chaplain for U2—which is not a real job—but I can dream.

My church isn’t Episcopal, so I don’t get paid much. My church isn’t a rock-and-roll church, so I don’t wear jeans to work. My church isn’t a Pentecostal church, so I’m not on any medication.

Think of it this way. Episcopal churches are the New York Philharmonic. Rock-and-roll churches are Coldplay. Pentecostals are the Sex Pistols. I’m the minister at a Congregational church, which is Adele—and who doesn’t like Adele?

You might be surprised to learn that churches talk about some of you a lot.

How many of you went to church more often when you were nine years old?

You’re the ones churches talk about. Churches think they can get you back. Churches are your mother trying to get you to come home for the weekend by promising the beef noodle casserole she insists you loved when you were a kid.

Like your parents, churches think you don’t come home because you’re embarrassed by them. We understand. Most churches are embarrassed by other churches.

Lots of people who go to church voted for Trump, which leaves churches like mine wanting to put up big signs that say, “We’re not like them. We swear. Damn it.”

Some churches think they’ll get you to come back with bad drummers. They believe there are twenty-year-olds who wake up early on Sunday mornings and say to themselves, “I feel like singing along with a sixty-year-old drummer playing eighteenth-century hymns.”

Some churches have started meeting in pubs for “Theology on Tap,” where they drink beer and talk about God. They hope you’re looking for an inebriated minister to explain the meaning of life.

Some churches have changed their names with you in mind. If a church has a name that sounds like a ’70s band—Journey, Passion, The Bridge, Scum of the Earth—you’re the target audience.

Some churches still have people who literally believe in some crazy stuff—talking bushes, talking snakes, and talking donkeys—but we also have people who think just about everything is a metaphor for things you like—peace, love, and joy.

We know the church can be disappointing, but we also know the church can be wonderful. If you decide to give us another chance, we’ll try not to act cooler than we are. We’ll learn your name and ask how you’re doing. We’ll find gracious ways to say that we find hope in believing in something bigger than we are, and we think you might, too. You can help us with hard questions about meaning and purpose. You can help us do things rather than just talk about them. You might find that you enjoy being part of a group of friends trying to live more authentically.

Deep down, we know that you’re probably not coming back, but we hope it’s comforting for you to know that someone is thinking of you.

This post was originally published in Funny When You Think About It: Serious Reflections on Faith by Brett Younger.

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