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

In those days a decree went out from the Senior Pastor that all the newcomers should be registered. And all sat to register, each in his or her own pew or collapsible chair.

How was this to be accomplished? Some worried that they might be required to enter a state of perpetual registration, continuously called upon to announce their attendance by visiting homes to notify other congregants of their having been to the church, and furthermore of their having decided that maybe they would become Occasional Attenders because it seemed like a nice enough place, they supposed.

Others feared being asked to tattoo their almost-memberships upon their necks or shoulders, silently proclaiming their occasional interest in the church as well as the fact that they would rather not be called or paid a visit by the pastoral staff, according to the empty bubbles next to the relevant questions set in a flowing script above their clavicles.

But all these fears were to be assuaged. The Senior Pastor went on to indicate the handy bulletin insert upon which one’s registration might be made, the better for the taking of the Church Census, the better for accounting for oneself before God and Man. “The better for us to get to know who you are.”

And the visiting faithful bent their bulletins into parentheses in the manner of birthday kids checking their cards for money, and out fell the soft yellow inserts, and lo, there were enough for all the people who were in attendance, even the members and regular attenders.

And there upon the soft yellow cards was printed an inset box that stated for all to see and be heartened by, “New? We’re glad you’re here.” And the social anxieties of all who were susceptible to such things were thereby calmed.

And beneath this welcoming inscription was another inscription even more welcoming than the first, and this inscription read: “Visit the atrium after church for a special gift.” And those who were new in town rejoiced in silence, their needs for Travel Mugs and Gift Certificates to Local Participating Restaurants and Businesses having been met without their having announced the needs. Many treasured all these things and pondered them in their hearts.

But lo, the Bait Hung Upon the Hook. For below the inscriptions of welcome were printed lines, level as the roofline of an office building against the sky, and before each line sat words in a font so devoid of serifs as to have become geometry itself. And the words constructed out of these typographical beams and pillars made requests for information, and many came to realize that this information would be the true price of the Travel Mug and the Gift Certificate to a Local Participating Restaurant or Business.

“What is in a name?” the church wanted to know. What is every letter in the name and the order in which each letter appears? Please, sing the song of yourself. What is the preferred name, the name by which a cousin or aunt or partner might address you; what is the name meant for the use of chums and loved ones, the name for addition to an Excel sheet that will export to a comma-separated list for the personalized follow-up form email?

The email field itself, of course, requires a value of its own on the spreadsheet, as indicated by the architecture beside the next underline.

Addresses come in both digital and material varieties, and hark, the material was called for at the next line. A place of residence. Perhaps a slanted shack by the railroad at which a Doctor of Divinity might make a house call by way of his manual pump-cart on a length of railroad track under a burning frontier sun? No? Oh, you live on Tolowa Trail. There is no railroad there.

In fact the whole frontier has long been lost, braced under untold miles of telephone wire and dark brown poles. How might one of our staff reach you when you are at a distance and the pushcart is broken? How might we plant the still, small voice in your ear after you have chosen to hang out with the Lutherans for a few weeks?

How? Where? What? But this information is only the start because lo, there are service opportunities and tithing needs and requests for teams of young men to help an old lady move into assisted living and VBS to be staffed and potlucks to be outfitted. Furthermore, there are numbers to be counted: metrics and algorithms to say whether the Senior Pastor should be smiling as much as he is on Sunday morning, and a sacred algebra to determine whether the degree to which our church is growing is healthy or actually very sick and indicative of some kind of spiritual blockage.

And before all, and above all, there is the Great Physician, who knows of these sicknesses and of the relevant blockages, and He knows too of whether these sicknesses and blockages are psychosomatic in the last assessment of things. But by the way, He would like for you to cast your Connection Card into the passing plate, too.

New? We’re glad you’re here. Please tell us how we might pray for you. We’d love to be in touch.

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