Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why "Father Hollywood"?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Now that more people are actually checking into my blog (including parishioners looking for past sermons), I guess I need to explain "Father Hollywood" to those not in on the joke. It's a sad, happy, funny, and yet tragic story. Like most things in this life, it's a little complicated.

So here's the quick answer: Last year, I worked at Hollywood Video.

If the quick answer takes care of you, please feel free to read no further. I won't be offended. Ite missa est. Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Deo gratias. If you feel like reading on, well, now might be a nice time to grab a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, tea, or of you prefer, a beer, wine, or other Lutheran beverage. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now, isn't that better? Okay, so I was working at a Hollywood Video store last year.

The "why?" and "what happened?" makes the nickname Father Hollywood a little more interesting. How is it that a 40+ year old ordained minister and high school teacher with a master's degree finds himself wearing a purple shirt, working for 18 year old bosses, and earning minimum wage at a retail store?

Well, once upon a time...

My first call into the ministry in 2004 was to be a campus pastor at a certain Lutheran High School. I won't say which one or where it is, and if you know, let's just keep it "our little secret."

Let's just say it was a very "interesting" year. I had the opportunity to look at the call documents before being offered the call right out of seminary - as it was an unusual position. I wanted to make sure that I had health coverage for myself, my wife, and my unborn child. The call papers were a little confusing, but I confirmed with the head of the call committee (who confirmed with the rest of the committee) that the bottom line was that I would pay $360 a month out of pocket to cover the whole family. This is a lot of money - especially given that new pastors aren't exactly rolling in the dough. But I took a leap of faith and accepted the call.As I said, it was an "interesting" year. I was not permitted to exercise the office entrusted to me by that call document. To make the point that I was not being considered a "campus pastor" but rather a "teacher," some in the administration insisted on calling me by my first name (traditionally, Lutheran pastors are called "Pastor So-and-so") - in spite of my objection to such informality. I won't go into the ugly details, but thanks to the administration, my time there was, shall we say, less than salutary and inspiring.

And then it happened. Lo and behold, the administration discovered a "mistake" in my call document. A "mistake." Now, we Lutherans speak of the call document (a.k.a. The Divine Call) in hushed tones. The Call comes from the Holy Spirit, and is somewhat on par with when the College of Cardinals elects a new pope. But in my case, the Holy Ghost apparently just plain screwed up. Actually, someone in his office probably did. I'm sure it was an angelic oversight, probably a seraphic trainee or a cherubic office temp filling in for someone in the Heavenly Bureaucracy - for of course, the Holy Spirit (like school administrations) doesn't make mistakes (only He really doesn't make mistakes...). But there it was: a "clerical error" of divine proportions - signed by the call committee, the principal, and even the District President himself!

In order to keep the family on the Concordia Plan, my share of the payment was going to be more than a thousand dollars a month! However, to be fair, the school decided to change health plans at the beginning of the year, which would bring my payment down to a mere $750 a month.

There was no way to afford the Concordia Plan. I could not opt out of Concordia for myself, but I did have the option to remove Grace and Leo-to-be.

So, it seems that Pastor Beane's, er, I mean Larry's wife and unborn kid were on their own for health insurance. What to do? I suppose Grace having an abortion and getting a job would be the obvious solution in the non-Christian realms. Or perhaps Grace could take Leo and move back to Canada for a while (they are both citizens and entitled to health care). We didn't like either of those choices ("I could order the devil, but then again, the deep blue sea might be nice with the wine..."). So the obvious answer is a PTJ for PB: a Part Time Job for Pastor Beane. Once Leo was born, I purchased a health care plan for him and my wife. In order to pay for it, I had to go to work.

And that's where my connection to Hollywood began.

I began to employ my "full court press" method of job-hunting. I began to visit the store every day to ask for a job. I took my cue from the woman in Luke 18:5 who pesters the judge until she is heard. It didn't take long, and Chris, the 20-something store manager gave me a job. I am grateful to him to this day.

Obviously, it's not every day that a 41 year old clergyman is hired to hawk videos and DVDs. My co-workers (and bosses) were almost all high school and college kids. I can imagine their first impression on learning that a pastor their parents' age would be working with them. Yuck! Well, if they had any resentment, they covered it up well. In fact, the level of respect for myself as a person and for the office of the ministry which I held was remarkable.

One co-worker had a real problem addressing me by my first name. She was a Roman Catholic, and had a higher view of the office of the Lutheran pastor than some of my co-workers at the Lutheran high school (most of them did treat my office with respect). For the first couple weeks of my employment, she called me "Father Beane." Some customers thought it strange that Hollywood Video had a priest working the counter - until I explained that I was a campus pastor and high school teacher, and I needed the money to pay for health insurance. A lot of people struggle with health care costs, and they understood.

Eventually, Dee did manage to address me by my first name - which was just fine by me. We all got along really well. In fact, I had a blast. I doubt that my co-workers expected me to have a sense of humor - and I cracked them up all the time. I considered it my job to entertain the troops. In addition to Dee, I worked with Walter, Kelly, Kevin, Josh, Kristina, and sometimes Chris the boss-man. Since I had to be there, I was determined to make it a fun and interesting experience. I really came to have a lot of affection for my co-workers. And of course any time someone had a question regarding the Christian faith, I was the go-to guy.

It was a real eye-opener to be a 40-something guy working at a minimum-wage job. Most people had no clue that I had a master's degree and was a called and ordained pastor and high school teacher. All they saw was a middle-aged loser renting videos. Some people looked down on me, and others used language that they might not have used were I wearing ecclesiastical garb (indeed, a lot of people had trouble pronouncing "Meet the Fockers"). On the other hand, many of my customers were kind, respectful, interesting, and a delight to speak with.

It was a valuable experience for me in observing (once again) human nature from the point of view of someone not wearing a clerical collar. I would rather have had my family time - but the store is close enough to home that Grace and Leo came to see me often. As a bonus, we got free movie rentals - not a small perq when one has a small infant. We saw a lot of movies in that time. Maybe I really am Father Hollywood now after all!

The irony of it all still amazes me. God's sense of humor never disappoints. My ministry at a Christian school was miserable (though it certainly had its rewards). My office was not respected. My "divine call" was changed several times. I was given a disciplinary write up for simply doing what the Lord called me to do. The atmosphere was so venomous that two churches withdrew from the high school association because of the situation.

By contrast, my part time minimum wage job at a store named after a city that personifies sin and self-indulgence - was pleasant. I was treated fairly by my employer and I was respected by my co-workers. In other words, the high school was a terribly unchristian atmosphere, while Hollywood was more along the lines of the way a Christian employer should function.

There were other ironies. Some of my high school kids came in an rented videos and DVDs from me. They never ratted me out. The faculty never knew until two of my co-workers came in one Friday to rent a movie. They were utterly shocked to see the their campus pastor (whom they had rarely seen without a black shirt) standing there with purple shirt and yellow name tag that said: "LARRY" working a cash register and putting returned videos on the shelf.

I really expected the administration to find out about it and fire me. They eventually did fire me, but they never mentioned working at Hollywood as a reason. I was canned with one day left in the school year. I was left with two weeks pay - and a dependant wife, infant son, and mortgage. It wasn't a total shock. Two weeks before meeting Donald Trump in the boardroom, my impending termination was leaked to my students. Very professional, eh what?

I'm tempted to advise people not to work for Christians. Stick with the heathens - at least they respect a contract more than the Lutherans regard a call document. But I won't go that far. For the Lord always provides. Several area churches (especially Salem, Mt. Olive, Faith, Gloria Dei, St. Matthew, and Redeemer) kept me active in the ministry by inviting me to preach, teach Bible classes, and officiate at the Divine Services. Furthermore, after I was fired from the high school, I left Hollywood and went to work as a full-time software consultant for a man I truly admire, an elder at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church: Ramsey Skipper. It was a privilege to work for him and with him. His taking a risk and hiring me allowed me to provide for my family - for which we are all grateful - as we are to God Almighty for his abundant grace and mercy.

After summer was over, I was called back into the holy ministry and teaching profession full time by my current congregation: Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church and School.

Salem has taken extremely good care of me, my wife, and my son. They pay me what I'm supposed to be paid, they cover my insurance, and all of my co-workers respect the office of the ministry. We are loved by the parishioners here, and we love them in return. They stuck their necks out for us when things looked pretty grim. If it is the will of God, this will be my last call. I would like to serve the sinner/saints of Salem until I'm too old to hobble up the stairs of her grand marble pulpit.

Having said that, I have something to fall back on. My friends at Hollywood tell me again and again that I'm still in the computer, and should I ever want to come back to work, the door is open. Heck, they've even gone to an all black uniform! So who knows? If another hurricane hits us and renders it impossible for Salem to pay my salary (God forbid!), I know I can always go back to work at Hollywood on the weekends.

For a man supporting a family, it doesn't pay much, but it's honest work. And, the people respect the office of the holy ministry and actually behave like Christians in the way they treat one another. That, and free videos.

And I must confess, part of me felt it the work of God that hurricane Katrina blew away the local Blockbuster...


Favorite Apron said...

Glad to hear you are back in your Office. I had a tiny hope you might end up in Ohio . . .

Askinstoo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pastor Beisel said...

Wow, that is quite a story. I posted something about your blog at my own blog ( I look forward to reading your sermons and other posts.

Pastor Beisel said...


Sorry, the website for my blog was actually

Father Hollywood said...

Miss Apron (I don't know if we can use your real name...)

Thank you for the kind words. I was born in Akron, but it's just too cold there, and crawfish is hard to come by. Mardi Gras in the Buckeye State is kind of anemic. I do still cheer for the Cleveland Browns, though!

You'll be gratified to know that Mrs. Hollywood has just made herself a nice apron - frilly and feminine - not like the masculine barbecue aprons you get in the stores.

All the best on your new church digs, and please give my kindest regards to your faithful pastor.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Fr. Beisel:

Thank you for your way-too kind endorsement on your blog. I've always been a fan of your writing - especially in documents that don't officially exist (let him who has ears...)