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Oh, the burdens pastors carry

POSTED: May 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.

There has been a lot written lately about people and their preachers, particularly folks who want to be president of the United States.

A woman running for president said that you can't pick your family but you can pick your preacher.

She's right.

But what if the shoe was on the other foot? Can your preacher pick you?

There are some churches that require you to do all sorts of preliminary stuff before you can join up. But at some, like the one I attend, you pretty much walk down at the end of the service, shake hands with the preacher and tell him you want to become a member.

I joined a church once on the 11th verse of "Just As I Am, Without One Plea." If you look in the hymnal, there are only six verses of the song, but this was one of those churches that wanted to "Sing them into the kingdom." That is, they keep repeating it over and over until somebody comes down.

Sometimes preachers stop between verses to stir you up.

"This could be your last chance," the preacher said.

I came down and, sure enough, they took me.

Once you've been baptized, you can join another Baptist church by moving your letter from the previous church. I had never seen my letter until this week. I went down to the church and asked to see it.

Attached to it was the last several letters from previous churches (I moved around a good bit.)


Dear (current church),

Here's that boy's letter. See ya, wouldn't want to be ya.


Dear (last church)

This is the letter. Would you mind sending the postage?


Dear (the one before that)

Sorry for the delay, we couldn't stop laughing when we heard he joined your church.


The church isn't like some diner with a sign that says, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."

Looking back on my checkered church career, I'm amazed any of them kept me.

When I was 3, I asked out in church, during the sermon, "When is he (the preacher) going to shut up?" My little pair of saddle oxfords never touched the floor as my mother flew me out of the sanctuary.

I asked a traveling evangelist with a toupee that looked like it came from Carpets of Dalton, if that was really his hair.

I've been downright abusive to my current pastor, Bill Coates.

First I told a waitress in Augusta that he was a famed heart surgeon and moved my heart from up near my shoulder to right where it should be.

He asked me to go to a Catholic hospital with him to visit someone who was sick. I wore a priest collar. By the way, if you wear a priest collar to a Catholic hospital you do get a better parking spot.

I took him to New York and convinced him to go to "The Late Show with David Letterman." He wasn't too familiar with Letterman. I told him the C in CBS stood for "Christian." He was familiar with the guest, actress Sharon Stone.

He's tried to get rid of me. He offered my letter and cash to several congregations, but so far, no takers.

So, before you go jumping on the preacher, think about the burden some of them have to carry with people like me as church members.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays in the print edition.



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