When the Effingham Herald needed a reliable, consistent religion column, First Baptist Church of Rincon pastor Bob Rogers willingly accepted the challenge.
For the last 10 years, Rogers has delivered a weekly entry, often with a Biblical message and always laced with humor. Hence the column’s name “Holy Humor.”
And now, it’s published in three newspapers and in Nova Scotia.
“I had written occasional columns, and some other pastors had too,” Rogers said. “I had an idea because I would often tell these stories of funny things that happened over the years in church. It never seemed like sermons were the venue for it all the time. I thought, this would be an outlet to tell some of the funny things that happen in church. So I started doing it, and the rest is history.”
The column also gives him an opportunity to present a positive message about his church, he said.
“It’s been a been a blessing,” Rogers said. “I remember at least one church member because he read the column. So the preacher can’t be that bad if he has a sense of humor.”
His goal isn’t to promote his own church, Rogers said, but to open the doors to the larger denomination of Christianity.
“I do get a lot of feedback,” he said. “Every once in a while, I get something negative. I try not to have a message that applies only to Baptists. I try to make it more of a general Christian message.”
Being able to turn the anecdotes and tales into a story’s moral is, Rogers acknowledged, something he’s adept at as a minister. While he tries to turn amusing events from church into lessons, sometimes a funny story is just a funny story.
“I’m always looking for illustrations for my sermons because every week, I’m preaching new messages,” Rogers said. “Most preachers, we tend to think that way. When we hear a story, we think, how we can apply that to a sermon? One or two times I’ve said, what’s the point here? Nothing — it’s just funny.”
His first column ran Aug. 28, 2003, called “Chasing bats in church.” It was the real-life tale from his days as a youth and music minister in Mississippi when bats “swooped down on the congregation during the service and created total bedlam,” he said. “The lesson was that sometimes we chase after the wrong things in church. But it was a hilarious day and I got to go back to that church on its 200th anniversary and tell that story again.”
Rogers recalled that some of the more telling occurrences have taken place at the usually somber and reserved atmospheres around funerals.
“I did a graveside service in Mississippi and a little old man was there and said the family asked him to help with the service,” he said. “He named the deceased and it was the wrong person. None of us had the heart to tell him it was the wrong funeral.”
At another funeral, Rogers went to place a boutonniere on top of the casket and stepped on the green carpet placed alongside. But there was nothing underneath the carpet, and he slipped and fell into the grave.
“I’ve had some funny things happen at funerals,” he said.
One of the columns that has gotten the most comments is his tale of moving from a small town in Mississippi and taking his account from a bank that didn’t need to use account numbers to a large bank in New Orleans, where he was about to attend seminary. The bank manager told him there was no way the other bank didn’t use account numbers, so he called Rogers’ old bank. When he hung up, the New Orleans banker said, “he says to tell you ‘hello.’” For Rogers, the larger lesson is easy to impart, that God knows you and your name.
There is a backlog of stories, and Rogers will recycle columns, though the times between reruns are lengthening. He also asks fellow pastors about things that have happened to them.
“I’ve gotten great stories that way,” he said.
Rogers said he hears from people in the community don’t attend church but read the column, and he also hears from folks who appreciate having a Biblical message brought with a lighter touch.
“The Bible says laughter is good medicine. Humor can bring a lot of healing to people,” he said.
People also have asked his wife Mary about his columns and the incidents relayed therein, asking if they are true or if he thought them up.
“She gave a great answer,” he replied. “She said, ‘he doesn’t have to think them up. They really happened.’”
While making people smile and entertaining them helps, Rogers has a much larger mission in mind through his column.
“Maybe they’ll read it and decide to come to church,” he said, “or better yet, they’ll read it and come to Christ. That’s my ultimate goal. I’ll make fun of myself and make fun of churches, but it’s all done in love and it’s all done with a desire for people to know Christ.”