Every Wednesday in Holy Relics, Martyn Jones explores artifacts unique to Christian subculture.

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Where were you when the youth pastor announced the lock-in,

and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

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Do you recall when we all poured into the building—devoid of adults, devoid of teachers—and ate Domino’s and Doritos as the sun went down?

How we assembled in the darkened narthex at midnight to be given the rules of the game?

“Two of you will need these.” (Holds up flashlights.) “When the light touches one member of a pair, both have to go to jail, which will be here.” (Indicates entryway enclosure.) If an uncaught person enters the jail, everyone yells ‘Jailbreak!’ and is free to go. If you’re caught three times, you will become the new police.” (Selects pair of athletic types to be the first police.) “No one is allowed to go into any utility closet; no one is allowed to go above the ceiling tiles. We will also be playing.” (Indicates himself and two adults.) “I will start the game in five minutes. Now run and hide.”

How we all scurried away like rats into the dark, in flight from that one cone of visibility hung under a single bulb in the ceiling?

Do you remember?

We raced away; I tugged you along by the arm and we flew by a row of open doors; laughs and screams went up all around us as we jostled in the great throng. We were away. Others rushed past and soon the silence fell. That total darkness peculiar to the indoors—unlike the blue-dark covering of nighttime in the woods—enveloped us.

Soon after, two beams of light began to comb the halls.

We hid, several of us to a room—under chairs, behind desks, in the folds of collapsible divider walls. When the lights came, we held our breath and tensed ourselves into outlines of the objects providing our cover. We were wide-eyed, afraid, ecstatic.

Shouts and screams would go up with each discovered pocket of crouched bodies. Many were in flight. Looking across the hall I remember sneers appearing in the doorframes, half-illuminated by the approaching beams. We tempted fate.

Lights like God’s own lines of sight perused rooms and hallways. They worked from one end of the building to another, rooting out those hidden in each corner and behind each fake plant or pleather sofa. Caught students would jog to the entryway, where they’d stand waiting for a figure to emerge from the darkness to free them to return to it.

Do you remember?

The lights, how they crossed the gym floor two times and left, watched from above by four sets of eyes at varying heights upon the far wall and in the rafters forty feet above the three-point line? How the darkened vault of the gym resounded with triumphant laughs when the lights were safely gone?

The couples, how they’d find a classroom  in the basement and wedge themselves into the space between the open door and the adjacent wall, how their kisses sounded to others they didn’t realize were already hiding in the room? How the chemical flower scents of hair and perfume would leave a traceable trail through the air, making their presence a double liability?

The adult leader in a tank top, the one who raced like an elf along the tops of the pews in the sanctuary, one footfall upon each tremulous wooden back before a great leap put him onstage and two more steps got him behind the organ? How nearby, a boy and the girl he brought were sweating out a tryst, the boy biting two knuckles in a choir seat at the sanctuary’s apex under a wooden cross suspended on two steel cables and pointing down at the boy like a spear?

The trunk of the half-Camaro, bolted into the wall underneath a Skillet poster, which trunk the flashlight carriers never thought to open?

For hours we sprinted from one darkened hall to the next, legs pounding like the wings of hummingbirds on cocaine. One guy was thrown by an angry girlfriend into the drywall in the main hallway; the flashlights discovered the wall thirty seconds later, absent of people and deeply concaved. It was Friday night, and the patch would be shored up by the following Sunday.

Exhaustion eventually overtook us. We collapsed onto ratty couches and woke with vulgar Sharpie tattoos on our foreheads. Some watched Napoleon Dynamite on the projector screen. Some open-mouth sleepers woke to the granular scratch of sugar packets being emptied onto their tongues.

The sun came up; the sweat cooled. Pizza boxes were stacked and vomit was mopped. We blinked in the light and considered the night’s decisions, the thrills and shames unique to chaste bacchanals such as these.

Do you remember?

The flashlights went back to the home of the youth pastor, who had to call a contractor to fix the smashed wall that afternoon. Sources of thrilling fear that they were, they now returned to their quiet and utilitarian purposes.

We kids, however, had known sin. Would God judge us for the mistakes we made, that first night that any of us felt alive in church?

Do you remember whether he did? I do not.


  1. Interesting article, Martyn! I thought it was interesting how you interestingly described the intern resting, their punishment, and the inner wrestling of the couples with the ramifications of the decisions made in trysting throughout the night. Interesting!

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