By Erik Alsgaard, Special Contributor…
Do you know the difference between a pulpit and a lectern? Do you know why your pastor wears a funny collared shirt—or not? And what’s up with “Shrove” Tuesday, anyway?
Maybe you should ask Chuck; he knows church.
And every week, thousands of online viewers are getting answers to questions like these, and more, thanks to a new video series called “Chuck Knows Church,” produced by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship’s communication office.
The brainchild of the office’s executive director, the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, “Chuck” began two years ago as an idea to provide information on the church for the church, and to do so in a somewhat humorous way.
“It was originally going to be called ‘Whit Knows Church,’” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. “We didn’t start calling it ‘Chuck Knows Church’ until shooting began.”
The “Whit” is a reference to Whit Elam, former staffer at the denomination’s communications office, and someone who Mr. Horswill-Johnston said knows a lot about the church.
“We would be talking over lunch and he just knew stuff about the church that we all didn’t know,” he said. “And he’d have a funny comment about it at the end, too.”
At the same time, Mr. Horswill-Johnston was studying biblical irony. The Bible, he said, is full of ironic stories, from the first being last and vice versa, to the Messiah being born of a young virgin while other important biblical characters bear children in old age (Elizabeth, Sarah).
“We did base a lot of CKC on the idea of ‘irony’ in Scripture,” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. And that irony creates tension, which creates opportunities for humor, he said.
From that beginning, the concept grew into a resource for confirmation classes, Bible study groups, fellowship meetings and even worship services. Thanks to the power of Twitter and Facebook, the series has grown rapidly.
“There’s no way we could deliver CKC without social media,” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. The team has done no advertising, no promotion; it has all been done by Facebook and Twitter sharing. In mid-February 2013, Chuck Knows Church’s Facebook page had nearly 3,500 “likes” and is growing daily.
“We started by shooting 14 episodes,” he added, saying that they figured that that would be the end of Chuck. They have since produced 14 more, and thanks to its popularity, the production team—which numbers nearly a dozen staff and volunteers—has plans for a total of 52 episodes, one for each week of the year.
At its core, CKC (as it’s known) is an attempt to teach the church about some of the objects and symbols we see and terms we use each Sunday during worship. A recent episode, for example, explored the baptismal font, while another looked at offering plates. Future episodes will look at lay ministers, stained glass, the bread and the cup, and the paschal candle (where fire extinguishers may or may not be involved).
“It’s a lot of fun to produce these,” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. “We try to bring a little humor into our learning. As United Methodists, sometimes we have a hard time laughing at ourselves.”
In truth, CKC might owe its existence, in part, to the 2012 General Conference. Mr. Horswill-Johnston said he “felt the denomination needed some levity following General Conference. I thought our agency needed it, too.” That’s one reason why CKC episodes often show Chuck poking fun at himself, or making puns, and allowing the production team’s off-camera laughter to be caught on tape.
CKC is seeking to reach a wide audience, Mr. Horswill-Johnston said.
“The church normally produces things like this for a very specific, narrow audience,” he said, such as youth, young adults, older adults or children. While all that is well and good, he said, “I don’t think we need to do that so much anymore. With social networking and the way things are today, we don’t need to put people in boxes anymore. People self-select the resources they need.”
The actor playing Chuck is a Nashville-based performer, Josh Childs.
Mr. Childs “is an active Christian leader and is often the smartest guy in the room at production time,” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. “He’s not putting on a character. He is playing himself.”
That integrity comes through, especially on a recent episode where Chuck explored Shrove Tuesday, or “Fat” Tuesday, and sat down to a large plate of pancakes. After explaining the connection between pancakes and Shrove Tuesday, Chuck dug in, even offering the idea that putting jelly beans in pancakes might not be a bad idea.
Mr. Horswill-Johnston also thanked the United Methodist Publishing House, which has provided props and items for some of the episodes. In addition, United Methodist Communications posts episodes on their website, umcom.org.
“We had no idea that this thing was going to take off like it has,” said Mr. Horswill-Johnston. “If we did, we would have had a better idea of what we’re doing,” he said with a smile.
But that’s the whole idea behind CKC. If you don’t know, ask Chuck. Or, as he says at the end of every episode: “Ask your pastor. Tell them Chuck sent ya.”
The Rev. Alsgaard is the pastor of St. Ignace UMC in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.