Hollywood Hack JobBy: Nathan Allen
“Jesus knew Satan was at work in that very hour,” Fr. Gerdtz intoned from his pulpit. “The devil had already enlisted Judas to betray him, and Christ knew the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was being empowered by the principalities of Hell. He was also aware that a devil-inspired mob was coming shortly to take him prisoner. That was when Jesus said to the disciples, Satan, the undead one, is coming.”
Fr. Gerdtz paused when the snoring in his church became too loud to ignore.
He lifted his eyes from his notes and scanned the room for the source of the disruption. It wasn’t long before he identified the culprit. The pews were sparsely filled; only seventeen people had bothered to drag themselves out of bed that morning to give thanks for all the Lord had blessed them with. It came from the back row, where a tattered pair of mismatched shoes stuck out from the end of one pew. He didn’t need to see the shoes’ owner to know who was responsible. It was the same man who interrupted his sermons on a near-weekly basis. His name was Jefferson Slade, a local vagrant who frequently stumbled into his church to sleep off a heady Saturday night of cheap liquor, public nuisance and lascivious behavior. He was at least grateful that Jefferson was sound asleep, and not heckling and muttering profanities as he sometimes would.
Thirty seconds had elapsed since Fr. Gerdtz last spoke. None of the parishioners appeared to have noticed. Many had their heads bowed and bibles open, although it was fairly obvious they were doing this to disguise the fact that they were really looking at their phones.
A sinking feeling of disillusionment took hold as he surveyed what remained of his congregation. Thirty-six years ago, when he arrived here from Vienna, he frequently addressed packed houses. Parishioners would arrive an hour early on a Sunday morning to snare a good seat, then wait a further thirty minutes at the end just to let him know how much they enjoyed hearing him speak. But that was a different era altogether. Now his entire audience could carpool home in a minibus.
Crowds had steadily declined over the past four decades, and only a dedicated few remained. The majority were closer to the end of their lives than the beginning. They were the ones who wanted to make peace with the Lord and reserve their place in heaven before being trampled underfoot by the inevitable march of time. But the older crowd was thinning out, their numbers waning with every passing year, and a younger generation was not stepping up to take their place. The church was fighting against irrelevance, and it was a fight they were losing.
He returned to his notes and pressed on.
“Evil, of all kinds, has risen to an exceeding height in this world, and highly exalted itself against God, Christ and the church. Satan has highly exalted himself and greatly prevailed. By his subtle temptations, he brought about the ruin of the whole race–”
A snort erupted from Jefferson Slade’s open mouth, and Fr. Gerdtz lost his place once again. The cathedral’s vast emptiness gave the sound additional volume. The high walls and ceilings amplified every one of Jefferson’s involuntary interruptions, reverberating for seconds afterwards.
Fr. Gerdtz closed his eyes and exhaled through his nostrils. He prayed that the Lord grant him the strength to carry on in the face of these constant challenges.
The parishioners filed out of the church in a slightly hurried manner following the conclusion of the service. Fr. Gerdtz found himself speaking with Lance and Colleen Robertson, a couple in their early forties who had been coming to the St. James Church for many years. He had known Colleen since she was a young girl. He had officiated at her wedding to Lance, and he had baptized their infant daughter Briony. But as was the case with many families, their Sunday attendances were growing further and further apart. It wasn’t unusual for entire seasons to pass by without an appearance.
“We’re sorry it’s been so long,” Colleen said, wheeling out the same excuse Fr. Gerdtz had heard many, many times before: “It’s just that we’ve all been so busy.”
“I understand,” he said. “It can be difficult to find the time, especially in this day and age.”
A small part of him died upon uttering these words, embarrassed by how completely devoid of meaning they were. He resisted the urge to point out that his weekly church services demanded less time than a single episode of those HBO dramas Colleen and Lance obsessively devoured. He often overheard them talking about how far behind they were in their viewing schedules, and the great lengths they would go to when setting aside time to catch up. They spoke as if scripted television was some arduous chore that had been enforced upon them against their will.
“But it’s been great seeing you today,” Lance said. “We always look forward to your services. We really should try and do this more often.”
This last comment produced an involuntary but nonetheless audible huff from Briony, Colleen and Lance’s now-teenaged daughter. Briony had clearly been dragged along today against her will. She was the only person in attendance under the age of forty, as well as the only churchgoer Fr. Gerdtz had ever seen wearing a t-shirt with the words “BITCH, I’M FABULOUS” emblazoned across it.