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The Church on the Server - a RECLAMATION short story

The Church on the Server - a RECLAMATION short story

            Edward Kline had been the church greeter since the day the church was founded and he was always waiting at the door when the first members arrived. So when Mrs. Richards showed up to church half-an-hour before normal (which was half-an-hour before the service started), she wasn’t really surprised that Edward opened the door for her.

            “Good morning, Mrs. Richards!” His voice was just as squeakily happy at 7:00AM as it was at 11:55AM when he bid the final worshipper from the second service farewell. He never just opened the glass door, either, but stepped out with it, standing to the side and holding it with one hand while extending a program with the other.

            “Well, good morning to you, too, Edward,” Mrs. Richards chirped in reply. “What a nice young man you are to be here so early.” She took the offered handout and tucked in into the pages of her large, black Bible.

            Hand now empty, Edward placed it on Mrs. Richards elbow and walked her in, making sure the door didn’t swing back and smack their derrières as they entered. “Never too early to open up the house of God, Mrs. Richards! Never too early for that. What brings you here at this hour of the morning?”

            “I have to do some decorating in my Sunday School classroom and wanted to get it done before the service.”

            “Wonderful!” Edward sounded like he really meant it. Maybe he did. “May I offer you any assistance?”

            “Oh, bless you, son, but I can handle it. You’ve got to greet everyone else and keep an eye out for troublemakers. You try and do too much and you’ll crash, and you know this church just can’t operate without you here to take care of us.”

            Edward beamed, “Thank you! You are too kind! If you need any help, please let me know!”

            “I will, I will.” And with that, Mrs. Richards disappeared to her room.

            She was halfway done decorating her room when the Grovers arrived, but to Edward it was like no time at all had passed as he quickly opened the door for the family of five. “Good morning, Grover family!” He exclaimed, waving his hand excitedly to them as he opened the door.

            “Good morning, Edward,” replied April Grover, wife of Hank and mother of Henry, May, and June (yes, those were their actual names). Hank didn’t answer with any human words, just mumbled something into his coffee and rubbed his eyes. He eyed Edward with something between suspicion and distrust. The children all swarmed Edward’s legs laughing and giggling as he magically made bulletin’s appear seemingly from thin air and handed them each one.

            David Woods was the next to arrive. He spoke to Edward but ignored the offered handout. Perhaps he didn’t really see it. David was an older member and updates and new programs didn’t really interest him that much and the bulletins Edward was offering were a new thing to the church. They usually just read about everything on the church’s message board or heard them announced at the end of the service.

            Mary Foster and Adrienne Lance arrived at the same time and struck a conversation as soon as they cleared the door. They each shook Edward’s hand and took a handout as they discussed each other’s outfits.

            “Oh, Mary,” said Adrienne, “I love that dress, but isn’t it the wrong season for it?”

            Mary gave a twirl in her short, sleeveless dress and shook her head. “It’s always the season to look your best, and I’ve gotten so many compliments on this one when I’ve worn it out that  I thought I’d give it a go at church.”

            Adrienne shivered in her fleece dress and denim jacket. With leggings. “I just hope you don’t get cold.”

            “If I do,” Mary said as the two entered the sanctuary, “I can take care of it.”

            They trickled in for a few minutes after. Roger Foot and his girlfriend Linda. Jimmy Graham and his mom. Devin Dodger and his best friend Luke who was threatening to end their friendship if Devin continued to wear t-shirts with Marvel heroes on them in public.

            Then at about ten-till-eight the flood started. Everyone began appearing at once, taking bulletins and asking for information at a rate that Edward could barely maintain.

            “The service begins at 8:00AM and Sunday School follows at 9:30AM.”

            Give a bulletin, shake a hand.

            “Pastor Barnes is scheduled to speak today. I am unaware of any changes to the regular schedule.”

            Give a bulletin, shake a hand.

            “We do not offer refreshments, but we do recognize and accept those brought by church members and make sure other members are aware of their presence.”

            Give a bulletin, shake a hand, then give another.

            And another.

            And another.

            At 8:00 everyone found themselves in the sanctuary. Mrs. Richards wasn’t quite done decorating, but she showed up in the sanctuary with everyone else, anyway. Pastor Reed Simmons was standing behind the lectern on the stage before anyone even realized he was there.

            “Good morning, everyone,” he said, straightening his tie and tugging at the lapels of his suit. “I trust everyone can hear me and see me?”

            Nods and murmured yeses greeted him.

            “What?!” David Woods was waving one hand at the stage and adjusting invisible earbuds with the other. “I can’t see you very well, pastor, and you sound like an old radio.”

            “What’s a radio?” Devin asked.

            “Oh, I’m sorry, David,” Pastor Reed looked down at something and fiddled with something seemingly behind the lectern for a moment before saying, “Everything checks out on my end, is anyone else having problems?”

            “I’m seeing double,” grumbled Hank Groves over his wife’s shushing.

            “Double?” Pastor Reed was confused.

            “That’s not your fault, pastor,” apologized April, “or the church’s. Henry sat on his dad’s glasses earlier this week and we haven’t gotten them fixed, yet.”

            “Things are too dang expensive.”

            “I’m sorry, Hank. Does anyone else have problems? Since we relocated the church during the week I want to make sure the new place isn’t giving anyone any difficulties. There are always wrinkles. Navigating to a new address, making sure you have the memory for it, trying to learn new features and take in all the options, it can be a challenge.”

            “Pastor, are you in a swimming pool? You look all wavy.” David was poking himself in the side of his head as he talked. “Nothing is helping, you look like a funhouse mirror and you sound like you look.”

            “What’s a funhouse?” Devin, again.

            Edward appeared beside the pastor, “If I may be of assistance,” he said, “I believe Mr. Woods is experiencing difficulty because, according to records, he has not subscribed to the automatic software updates and has not manually downloaded an update in over three months.”

            “Oh.”

            “Also, security has detected that one of the devices in use has been hacked and is running unauthorized software, including,” here Edward’s mouth kept moving but the congregation could no longer hear him.

            “Oh my word,” Pastor Reed blanched, “who the heck? Um, I’m sorry everyone, but before the service starts Edward needs to run a security scan to find out who is using their glasses to try and see everyone naked.”

            “Dear heavens!” Mrs. Groves

            “OMG, what?!” Adrienne Lance

            David said something better left unrepeated.

            The congregations at large murmured and whispered to each other.

            Devin fidgeted and pulled at his Batman t-shirt. Luke began jabbing himself in the side of the head. Edward was suddenly beside them, giving Luke a most disapproving look. “You, sir, are to be removed from this gathering and your unit ID is hereby permanently banned.”

            Luke opened his mouth to protest about the same moment he vanished from sight.

            Devin followed suit.

            “I am so, so sorry, everyone,” Pastor Reed said, “we have never have something like that happen before and I am shocked that it happened to us, but the risk of things like that happening Is just part of our reality now. Part of what it means to be the church, I guess.”

            People nodded all around the room.

            “When we made the choice to become the Serving Church and embrace the new frontier of community via virtual reality, we knew there would be risks. We did. And we’ve been blessed that nothing worse than this has happened. One of our sister churches was hit by a virus within months of their launch and they never recovered.”

            “God’s hand has been on us,” offered Mrs. Richards from the back.

            “So rather than worry about things like this, let’s resolve to do two things.” Pastor Reed was really enjoying this opportunity to offer an impromptu sermon. “One, be thankful that we are blessed enough so afford a server with the kind of security and hands-on AI support like this one. Not every church has an Edward, we do. And second, let’s not squander that blessing. Let’s resolves to use this season of blessing an favor to make an impact as a church.”

            Claps and hearty “Amen”s could be heard from all around the room.

            “Now, let’s put this behind us and focus on worship, shall we? We are observing the Lord’s Supper today, did everyone get there pre-packaged wine and bread in the mail this week? We had it delivered by drone and everyone should have gotten them no later than Friday. Anyone not get it?”

            David’s hand went up.

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