Once they’ve entered our lair, they are subjected to free entertainment, moonbounces and other activities for children, and are occasionally accosted by friendly women giving away free packs of gum, bubbles and other giveaways. More often than not, when given a little goodie, adults and children alike will ask for another for some family member who was not foolish enough to enter our little trap of kindness.
Raffle ticket numbers are read throughout the day – in English and Spanish – for prizes ranging from complimentary oil changes, to a free round of golf or dinner for four at a local restaurant. Again, skepticism abounds and the winners sheepishly approach the announcer and ask how much their prize costs. When they learn that it is a no-strings-attached gift, they sometimes ask for a different prize as though we were playing Let’s Make a Deal.
I have the hardest time with our Sea of Galilee fishin’ hole, in which kids are asked to cast a hook over a screen. Behind the screen, church members clip a toy or piece of candy on to the line, which is for the child to keep. Kids will go through this line all day, anxious for more booty from Oriental Trading Company or another piece of taffee capable of removing all of their dental work. They will return to the front of the line, pockets overflowing, and complain that they already received a Jesus Loves You beach ball. I haven’t been asked to volunteer at the fishin’ hole since the time I barked, á la Linda Blair, that perhaps it was time to get out of the line.
Another volunteer duty that makes it difficult to be a Christian is the free food tent. Folks are supposed to present their ticket (one per person) at the front of the line and are then given the choice of a hot dog or hamburger, lovingly grilled by some of the younger adults in the congregation, a bag of chips and a beverage. I have frequently donned plastic gloves and served the free food. We have been asked if there was anything else, a vegetarian option, what kind of meat was used in the hot dogs, did we have gluten-free buns, and many times simply for more. One man, an odd fixture in the neighborhood, returned time after time to the free food tent until we noticed he was stuffing his backpack with free hot dogs. We finally decided to cut him off and he replied, wait for it, “You are the most un-Christian people I have ever met.” That was the end of my food tent tenure.
Now my pagan people skills are used for more behind-the-scenes work, or for trash pick-up during and after the event. Every year it’s a test, and every year I fail. It’s a good thing we’re a forgiving bunch. And all that forgiveness is absolutely free. Really.