My church has enjoyed a little bit of fame recently.
It started when I had an idea for our sign that would acknowledge the season and make light of how a lot of grocery stores, restaurants, and coffeehouses serve “pumpkin spice” flavored drinks and confections this time of year.
There it is to the left: “Now Serving Pumpkin Spice Communion.” It’s a churchy spin on the autumn flavor craze, baked in with a slight commentary on how excessive and absurd said craze can get.
And yes, it’s a joke.
We didn’t actually have pumpkin bread for communion last Sunday. We didn’t substitute grape juice with apple cider. So if you’ve driven past this sign or seen it on social media, you don’t need to report us to the Sacrament Police.
I just decided to have a little fun and hope someone noticed and laughed.
It turns out that a lot of people have been noticing and laughing. As of this writing, it’s been seen by nearly 45,000 people and shared over 300 times on Facebook. Most people seem to get it, but I’ve seen a few comments and messages suggesting that not everyone has.
“Please tell me this is a joke.”
“That is going too far.”
“This isn’t serious, is it?”
I don’t know the minds of the people who made these comments. But if I had to guess, the thought of a church serving anything but the standard elements has struck some as irreverent at best and blasphemous at worst.
And perhaps to even joke about it is a bridge too far. One email the church received expressed concern someone would show up on Sunday actually expecting us to serve them a pumpkin-flavored Body of Christ.
There’s a reason the term “frozen chosen” is sometimes applied to people of faith—many churches have a reputation for being Serious People who do Serious Liturgy Things in a Very Serious Way. A joke during the sermon is met with silence; a silly unexpected comment from a child is met with disdain.
Some of this reaction is founded in a desire for reverence, for keeping a sense of the holy. But I think humor is holy, too.
In the Gospels, Jesus is accused of enjoying himself a little too much with the “wrong kind of people.” I wonder if he at least smiled while telling parables and seeing the look on people’s faces when a Samaritan turns out to be the hero. His act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a satire on the usual triumphant entries of royal and military figures. Imagine some of the jokes the likes of fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes may have told around the table or campfire in his presence.
I’m pretty sure Jesus laughed. We in the church are allowed to laugh, too.
Humor helps remind us to not take ourselves so seriously. It shows us the side of God’s creation that is playful and creative. It helps us differentiate between what needs our real attention and what can be gripped less tightly. If people of faith are unable to laugh, unable to make that differentiation, unable to be playful, then we’re neglecting a divine gift that helps us see creation, the church’s mission, and ourselves more holistically.
Jeff Nelson is a pastor, spiritual director, and writer. He is author of the book Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday. He lives with his wife and two children in Uniontown, Ohio, where he serves in ministry at Grace United Church of Christ. In his free time, he enjoys playing music, reading, and keeping up with Michigan sports teams. He regularly blogs about ministry, spirituality, and pop culture athttp://www.coffeehousecontemplative.com.