Daniel stood at the back of the theater and let the pneumatic doors to Theater Three closed quietly behind him.
A middle-aged couple and an extremely thin woman stood in the front of the theater, talking. The thin woman was gesturing madly with her right arm. She was clutching an over-sized Bible in her left.
Below the lower left hand corner of the screen, a twenty-something man and a teenage girl with a nose ring were setting up microphones. A man with a grey ponytail was sitting at a drum kit placed directly in front of the emergency exit. He tapped the high hat cymbal regularly with his drum stick. The repetitive ringing noise made Daniel’s head ache.
A platform had been installed directly in front of the screen. On it was a pulpit, vaguely similar to the one used by his mother’s traveling minister. Beside it was another card board cut out of Jesus, this time on the cross.
Daniel had expected the screen itself to be blank for the church service, but it flickered with red and orange flames that lapped at the edges of the words “The Fiery Embrace of Christ’s Love Ministries” in the same, blood-dripping font from the newspaper ad.
He was so engrossed in the scene before him that it took Daniel a few minutes to realize that the thin woman was now gesturing to him, waving him down to the front of the theater with her long, flapping arm.
The middle-aged woman put her hands around her mouth and called to him. “Come on up and sit with us!”
The entire congregation watched as Daniel self-consciously made his way down the aisle.
The thin woman transferred her Bible to left arm and held out her right hand for Daniel to shake.
“Hello!” she exclaimed a little too excitedly, “I’m Gretchen and this is Roger and Sally. What’s your name?”
Daniel shook Gretchen’s hand and smiled shyly at the middle-aged couple. “Hi. I’m…um… Daniel. Collins.”
Gretchen went on holding Daniel’s hand. Embarrassed, he stood silently, waiting for her to relinquish her grip.
Sally reached over and gently removed Gretchen’s fingers from his. “Let’s give him is hand back, shall we Gretchen?”
Gretchen giggled and batted her eyelashes at Daniel before moving over to take a seat in the front row. Daniel had never seen anyone actually bat their eyelashes before.
“It’s nice to meet you, Daniel,” Roger took the hand Gretchen had released and pumped Daniel’s arm. “What brings you to The Fiery Embrace?”
Before Daniel could answer, loud feedback filled the theater. Roger threw his hands over his ears. “Jeez Luigi, Meg! Do you have to do that every Sunday?” he yelled at the teenage girl, now holding a guitar.
The girl stared back at him defiantly, “Yes, I do, Roger. It’s feedback for Jesus!”
Sally leaned into Daniel. “That’s Meg, her boyfriend Seamus and Seamus’s son Todd. They’re our band, The Flaming Disciples.”
Daniel thought he had misheard Sally. Meg must have known what he was thinking because she suddenly leaned over and kissed the grey haired drummer passionately. Seamus continued tapping on the cymbal even while Meg kissed him.
Slowly the lights began to dim. Sally grabbed his arm and led him over to a seat next to Gretchen in the front row.
A giant smiling face appeared on the screen. Daniel couldn’t tell if it was Jesus or the friendly pastor he had met in the lobby.
The band started playing a heavy metal version of Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee as Pastor Sebastian emerged from a door at the right of the screen. He climbed the step to the platform and picked up a microphone as the enormous face above him disappeared. The screen continued to flicker with flames.
“Good morning, brothers and sisters,” The pastor exclaimed into the mic. Daniel wondered why he bothered with the microphone at all since his entire congregation was sitting in the front row.
Sally, Roger, Gretchen and the band all yelled back, “Good morning, Pastor Sebastian” like obedient children on the first day of school.
“Today, brothers and sisters, I would like to talk to you about choice. Now you may think that our lives are predetermined. That, to quote America’s sweetheart Doris Day, ‘whatever will be, will be.’ But I’m here to tell you that our Savior Jesus Christ doesn’t believe in Que Sera Sera. He doesn’t even know the lyrics to Que Sera Sera. Because his Father, our God in Heaven, created each and every one of us with the ability to make our own choices, to decide for ourselves where we will go and what we will do with our lives.
“Why did God give us this ability, you ask? Well, let me tell you, brothers and sisters. Our all powerful Lord gave us the capacity to decide for ourselves because then, when we choose to serve Him the victory is all the sweeter!”
Daniel glanced at Sally, sitting to his left. She was gazing at the pastor, entranced by his words or his good looks, Daniel couldn’t decide which. On his other side, Gretchen was hugging her Bible to her thin chest and leaning forward as if it would enable the sermon to reach her ears sooner.
In the corner, The Flaming Disciples had stopped playing and were also listening closely to Pastor’s Sebastian. Seamus had even stopped his incessant tapping on the cymbal and was holding his drum sticks loosely in his hand.
On the other side of Sally, Roger caught his eye and winked, surprising Daniel into a smile.
He didn’t believe everything the pastor was saying, but these people seemed nice. He relaxed back into his seat.
Slowly Gretchen inched her hand down her Bible and across the arm rest separating her from Daniel. He jumped a little when she took his hand, but didn’t pull away. Instead he used his God-given ability and chose to hold Gretchen’s hand until the end of the service.