A long time ago my great-uncle Bill told me a joke. I enjoyed it. A lot. I enjoyed it so much that I started telling it to people, and much like Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," the joke got a little longer and more involved with each retelling. Between the first draft of this post and the second one it grew some more. It's almost a short story now. It involves bats. And men (or women) of the cloth.
Once upon a time there was a little town. In this town there were three churches: a Lutheran church, a Catholic church, and a Methodist church. The pastors and the priest associated with these churches were friends and used to meet weekly in a booth at the local diner to drink coffee and talk shop. One summer morning they found that they were all having a similar problem: bats.
"Honestly," said Father Mike, "this is getting out of hand. One of the boys in the choir had a bat get tangled in his hair, and now they all flatly refuse to go near the loft. They sing from the back of the nave."
"Tell me about it," Pastor Owens commiserated. "I was locking up after the United Methodist Women's group last Wednesday and noticed something fluttering around the lectern. I thought it was a bird until it smacked into a window and started to climb up it."
"Ugh." Pastor Larssen shuddered. "Ours get disturbed when the pipe organ plays. One blast of that thing, and they dart among the rafters in a frenzy. I need to do something. I really don't want to call an exterminator, though."
"No, me neither," said the priest. "They are God's creatures, after all."
"He can have 'em," Pastor Owens muttered into her coffee mug.
"Why don't we try getting rid of them ourselves?" suggested Pastor Larssen. "How hard can this be? We are intelligent, resourceful people. I'm sure we can figure it out."
The other two agreed. They would each make independent attempts at bat-removal, with an eye toward reporting back to each other about successes and failures. After draining their mugs all three stood up, grimly wished each other luck, and marched off, determined not to be bested by winged rodents.
A week later they were back in the diner.
"I really thought noise would work," Pastor Larssen groaned, head in his hands. "They hated the playing of the organ so much, I thought if I made a whole lot of clamor they'd decide to move to a quieter neighborhood. But it didn't matter what I did -- organ, cymbals, air horn, none of it worked. Finally, in frustration, I went up there with a shotgun; not to hurt them, mind you. I just thought the explosion would scare them off."
"And?" Asked Father Mike.
"Now I need an exterminator and a roofer. And my wife thinks I'm an idiot."
"I decided to try trapping them," said Father Mike. "Humane traps. My sister's husband knew where to get them and how to use them. He helped me set them up. We even managed to catch them all! Then I borrowed his truck, put the bats in the back, and scouted around for likely place for them to live. I drove for about an hour, I'd say, until I found a spot that looked just perfect! It was a meadow full of wildflowers, with trees round the edges of it. I figured they could live in the trees, eat the bugs from the meadow. Right? So I let them loose." He stopped to take a swig of coffee. "Those bats made it back to the church before I did."
The Methodist minister sat quietly sipping her drink, and only looked up when she felt both pairs of eyes on her.
"Well?" asked the priest. "How did you do?"
"Oh, I got rid of mine," said Pastor Owens.
"What!?! Well don't just sit there, Susan, tell us what you did!"
"I thought this over for most of last week, wondering what on earth I could do to make them leave my church and not return. This past Sunday was the day we graduated our most recent Confirmation class...I told you, didn't I, that my dad is a minister too?"
The two men nodded.
"Thought so. Methodist ministers get moved around a lot, but my Dad was Episcopalian. He's been serving the same flock for almost forty years. Seen a lot of kids grow up in his church. Anyway, as I was looking at these teenagers and listening to the rest of the members welcome them into the congregation, I heard Dad's voice in my head. It's something he says when he's on one of his rants, lamenting the lack young people at church. Suddenly I knew exactly what to do.
"Monday morning, I went up into the rafters with a bucket of water and the United Methodist hymnal. It's just like Dad's said: first I baptized them, then I confirmed them, and I haven't seen one of them since."
Cue: rim shot.
Okay, really it was more about church than bats.