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iChurchI’ve really been struggling lately. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression have been overwhelming. It feels as if my operating system has crashed, and I need to have a complete spiritual reboot.

It’s time to visit the Apple iChurch.

The first thing I do is try to sign on at www.appleichurch.com with my iChurch ID, but I can’t remember my password. Is it isaiah4031 or isaiah4110? I try to enter my password a few times. Too many attempts, and I get locked out. Great. Do they have to make it so complicated?

This means I’ll need to pay a visit to the Pastor’s Bar in an actual brick and mortar Apple iChurch building, so I have to make an appointment. When I check online, they’re all booked up for the next three days. But I can’t wait three days. I need to talk to someone today! I decide to take a chance and drive down to the iChurch building and see if I can sneak in and see one of the pastors between appointments.

When you enter the Apple iChurch building, you immediately notice how big and shiny and minimal everything is. The building is has been purposefully designed to be all metal and wood and industrial. Then you notice the indy Christian music being played in the background. Is that Sufjan Stevens? The Brilliance? Propaganda? The next thing you notice is that the iChurch is constantly packed with people. Whoever said the church is in decline has apparently not stepped foot in an Apple iChurch, because they are always filled with people looking for the latest in spiritual help or theological technology. As you look past the simple wooden tables lined with tablets advertising the latest Christian self-help books, you see the goal: A long industrial-sized table with a half dozen pastors sitting on the other side, talking with the lucky few who booked ahead of time. Video screens behind each pastor flash Bible verses and times of appointments.

It doesn’t look good.

Since I don’t have an appointment, I get in a line that stretches from midway through the building all the way back to the massive glass front doors. And like every person in that line, I’m hoping I can get an appointment to see one of the pastors today.

It really doesn’t look good.

I’ve heard that the greeting ministry at the Apple iChurch is one of the hardest ministry jobs in the church. Everyone thinks that their problem is the Most Important Problem In The Building©, and these are the guys who have to listen to sob story after sob story, all with a patient smile on their face. Personally, I don’t know how they do it.

The young man who we are all waiting to meet is wearing one of the simple iChurch t-shirts with a nametag that says “Brock”. Brock has tired eyes, a Bible-shaped electronic tablet, colorful tats going down his left arm complete with Bible verses and biblical imagery, and an impressive super-beard (I remember when goatees were the poils du visage du jour in church ministry, but trends change). Brock is using the Bible tablet to take down personal information (“Can we contact you about tithing opportunities?” he says with a gentle and persuasive smile) but more importantly, he uses it schedule Pastor Bar appointments.

I’ve been in line for about forty-five minutes now, and I’m finally one person away from young bearded Brock. The woman in front me is in tears, probably telling the earnest greeter how her husband has been unfaithful, or maybe that she caught her children experimenting with drugs, or possibly she’s afraid she will lose her job. Whatever it is, she makes it clear through the sobs that she needs someone to pray with her.

But she doesn’t have an appointment.

Brock nods empathetically and tells her that if she’s willing to wait around, she might be able to see one of the pastors later in the afternoon, but there are no guarantees. The woman gets more insistent, saying that she drove for a couple of hours to get to the iChurch building, that she took time off from her job, that she is too busy to wait around. I guess Brock must hear these sorts of stories a couple of dozen times a day. He nods understandingly, and tells her that she can come back in the morning. Doors open at 10:00, and if she arrives by 9:45 she might be able to score a pastor visit if someone doesn’t show up for their appointment. The woman mutters “hipster doofus” and storms out.

Yeah, she won’t be reaching the Pastor Bar until sometime next summer.

Brock seems unfazed as he turns to me and smiles. But I can see that he has been fazed. His eyes are even more tired than they were a few moments earlier.

But I’m ready for young Brock. Standing in line, watching person after person try the same tactic, I figured out the perfect strategy: I will see his empathy and raise him a healthy dose of sympathy and a sprinkling of small talk. That ought to help with those tired eyes, and might just get me past him to the pastors sitting in the back of the room.

I shake my head, wordlessly communicating my understanding of how difficult people can be. I rub my chin, drawing attention to my own beard, letting Brock know that we are beard brothers. Brock visibly relaxes, and I can tell that my strategy is working. He’s already on my side. This will be a piece of cake.

“How you doing today?” I ask, mustering as much Andy Griffith friendliness into my voice as I can. Come on, pal, lay it on me. Before this is over, I’ll have Brock telling me all about his family, his girl problems, and which vaping bar he’s visiting this weekend.

“I’m well, thanks,” Brock says, looking back at his tablet. “What can I do for you?”

Hmm. So much for the small talk. Guess I’ll have to try a more straightforward approach.

“Well, I’ve been feeling pretty depressed lately,” I say.

“Been reading your Bible every day?” Brock asks, looking at his tablet.

“Of course,” I lie.

Brock looks up at me, his formerly tired eyes now piercing. He doesn’t believe me.

“Alright, not every day,” I admit. “But my brother’s always posting these Bible verse memes on Facebook, and I read those.”

“Umm-hmm,” Brock answers, tapping something onto the tablet. “Prayer life?”

“Oh, I pray all the time,” I answer more confidently. This part is true. I’m always asking God for things, and I pray before every meal.

“Umm-hmm,” Brock answers, tapping more onto the tablet. “Church attendance?”

I’m ready for this one. “Oh, I watch all the sermons that Pastor Axl streams. And I listen to his podcast, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.”

main-qimg-c3534d5cb80e20c01a9b117e0b3040fb-cPastor Axl is the founder of the Apple iChurch. He is a former executive from Silicon Valley who left behind a promising career in the tech world to start a church in his garage in Los Altos.

In the past ten years, Pastor Axl has grown the church to be an international powerhouse. He’s loved by progressives and conservatives alike, and is a rockstar in the world of pastors and skinny jeans. He’s been on Oprah, Colbert, Fallon, even sang carpool karaoke with Corden. Mentioning him is bound to score me some points.

“Umm-hmm,” Brock answers. More tapping. He doesn’t appear to be impressed. I try to catch his eye so I can work on my strategy, but he’s not looking up at me any more. Just tap, tap, tap.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Time to bring out the big guns.

Sincerity and desperation.

“Listen, Brock, I really need to talk to a pastor today. If there’s anything you could do to help, I would really appreciate it.”

Brock looks up and stares at me for what seems like eternity. Finally, he nods empathetically, looking past me at the line that is just as long as it was when I arrived forty five minutes before. He is struggling, trying to decide what to do. Did my big guns actually do the job?

Finally, he leans in and speaks in a quiet, conspiratorial voice. “If you’re willing to wait, there is the chance that we’ll have some time open up this afternoon. But I can’t make any guarantees.”

“This afternoon will be hard,” I mutter, panic rising in my chest. Brock does not see me as a beard brother after all. I’m just another middle-aged beard in the line.

Brock sits back up and nods again, saying, “Well, we open tomorrow morning at 10:00, and if you show up around 9:45 you might be able to score a visit with a pastor if someone is late for their appointment.”

Pastor AxlI look back at the Pastor Bar, and see the pastors talking to the lucky few, some praying, some looking at tablets which probably contain a Bible or the latest Christian self-help book, or Pastor Axl’s autobiography, Pastor Axl.

I guess I have no choice.

“Thanks, I’ll be here in the morning,” I say.

As I turn to leave, I hear Brock talking to the next person in line. “What can I do for you?”

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