Season One / Chapter 1 Sunday Morning PG. 1-5


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==== “WHERE WILL you spend eternity? Hell is real; the decision is yours. Will you choose heaven today?” Pastor Bill’s voice, robust and impassionate, boomed from the altar. He stood tall, with arms raised and eyes ablaze, embodying the fire-and-brimstone preachers of old. His words, charged with fervor and conviction, reverberated off the stained-glass windows and echoed to the high ceilings of the cavernous church.

All the places I wanted to be, could be, but weren’t. A wave of disappointment crashed over me, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. “I’ll be damn!” I sighed, realizing I was caught in another altar call. Usually, I had mastered the art of timing my escape to the restroom, conveniently avoiding these soul-saving solicitations. But today, Pastor Bill, with his unorthodox approach, blindsided me, catapulting me into his altar call mid-sermon. “These churches, with their inconsistent rituals and ever-shifting protocols, are exasperating.”

A good salesperson primes their prospective buyer before making the ask, but here, it seemed the pastor – or cult leader, depending on your perspective – was following his own unpredictable playbook. I am forever mused at the tactics employed in these spiritual sales pitches.

My gaze swept over the congregation, observing their varied reactions. Some faces were etched with fervent agreement, others with hopeful curiosity, and a few mirrored my own sentiment of skepticism. My disdain for organized religion prickled beneath my skin like a thorn in my side. “And now, watch him single me out,” a sense of impending doom haunted me as Pastor Bill’s piercing gaze hovered in my direction. “Please, not today, I am not in the mood for this shit.”


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 ==== As my frustration mounted, a silent protest began to echo in my mind. Get your knee off George Floyd’s throat; “I can’t breathe!” These words, a symbol of a struggle far greater than my own, vibrated within me. Attempting to calm the storm raging inside, I took the sharply creased church program and began fanning myself. The paper fluttered in my hands like the wings of a caged bird yearning for freedom. The cool air generated a small yet welcome solace against the heat of my simmering emotions.

 “Panya!” Peter’s voice, laced with concern, sliced through my tumultuous thoughts. He sat next to me, his posture tense, an embodiment of discomfort and empathy. “Are you alright?” he asked, his eyes searching mine for an answer.

 “No, I want to disappear,” my voice a mere wisp of sound, laden with the depth of my wish to vanish from this scene.

In an attempt to infuse some fun into the heavy atmosphere, Peter quipped, “Click your heels and repeat after me, ‘There’s no place like home.’ His quirky smile briefly illuminated his face, and a gentle nudge of his elbow against my ribs was his unique way of offering support – a beacon of friendship in the midst of my sea of discomfort.

Sid, forever the keen observer, leaned in from his seat beside Peter, “Clicking those heels worked for that bitch Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,” he chimed in, his voice tinged with humor and a knowing smirk playing on his lips.


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==== “Panya, move your purse; I’m heading for the restroom.”

“The restroom, Peter? We did that before that usher led us to these front-row seats. I already had an inkling of his motives.

“I have a hangnail; you know how irritating those can be,” Peter trying to sound casual. “And why would you have your Ferragamo sitting on the floor?”

He was right. This purse cost me $4000, and sitting on the floor was just plain disrespectful to the brand. But placing it there had been a strategic move on my part. I knew Peter too well; he’d often escape during these church altar calls. My Ferragamo, now a luxury barrier, was there to thwart his usual restroom ruse. I wasn’t about to let him smoothly sidestep over me, leaving me exposed to this preacher’s zealous overtures. After all, this wasn’t our first church escapade alongside Jenn.

“Ushers, block the exit doors; no one walking,” commanded Pastor Bill from the pulpit. “God has spoken to me, today is your day for salvation; Jesus paid a debt he did not owe because you have a debt you cannot pay. Will you come?”

“Block the exits?” Peter murmured under his breath, disbelief coloring his tone. “I’m sure that’s a fire hazard.” Realizing his escape plan was foiled, he quietly slid his 6’2” muscular frame back into the pew, resigning himself to being wedged between a visibly annoyed me and Sid, his partner.

Ever observant, Sid caught the attention of an usher and managed to procure a church fan. Handing it over to me, he quipped, “That’s why you should go forward, Panya. You can barely stand this heat. Hell’s going to be a real bitch, boo.”

“We’re already in hell,” I snapped back, my frustration reaching a boiling point. Sid tugged at the neckline of his Polo sweater. He shot me his ‘I’m taking the high road’ signature look, a mixture of amusement and resignation playing on his face.


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==== Sid is quite fond of church gatherings. He often jokes, “No sales appointments necessary.” He’s the dynamic founder of a non-profit organization, and he is ardently involved in organizing demonstrations. They champion causes like LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, etc. Essentially, if there’s a battle for freedom, you can bet Sid’s organization is in the thick of things.

Together, Peter and Sid form a formidable gay power couple. While Sid’s personality is flamboyant and unapologetic, Peter tends to be more subdued and mild-mannered. That is, of course, until he steps into a courtroom. In this arena, he transforms and is known for his fierce advocacy and undefeated streak. Sid and Peter complement each other flawlessly, not just in their personalities but in their impeccable fashion sense. Sid credits his fashion prowess to the years he spent in the closet, a line that never fails to elicit laughter.

“We’re a complex bunch, a mix of diverse life experiences, religious tolerance, and social practices.”

Our teasing is constant during these church visits. Peter, ever the pragmatist, messaged me: [Can we please get to the grape juice and crackers? I missed breakfast 🍳]

My reply was quick and playful: [Not happening this Sunday. Plus, you have to be without sin to partake 🤣]

Meanwhile, Pastor Bill’s voice thundered across the church, his enthusiasm undiminished. “Don’t miss your opportunity to go to heaven; what a GREAT day it will be!” he shouted, his voice straining against the microphone. His movements were almost frantic, pacing back and forth in front of the church and weaving up and down the aisles. He’s Jenn’s affluent pastor, living in a mansion and known for benefiting from what many would call the slave labor of his congregation.

The irony of religious discrepancies often strikes me. The debate among Christians about whether Jesus owned a house seems to mirror their worldly possessions. Those with extravagant homes claim He had one, while the less fortunate clergy argue the opposite. They can’t even agree on the earthly abode of their deity. Yet, they expect unanimity in the belief of His divinity. “Well, if I’m going to be a lunatic, it will be on my terms.”


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==== Speaking of Jenn, known on stage as Jenn B, she stands at the heart of why Peter and I are entangled in this uncomfortable situation. As I steal a glance at her, poised center stage, there’s no denying her charisma. Jenn radiates a Taylor Swift-like allure, her presence magnetic and commanding attention. Her talent is inarguable; with a voice that could effortlessly enchant an audience, she’s a natural-born performer. In the tapestry of our four-legged friendship, she weaves in as a pivotal thread, and today, we find ourselves in her orbit as somewhat reluctant guests.

Jenn is the beloved daughter of Ms. Helen Brewer, a name that resonates with prestige in the local choir circles. Ms. Helen, a woman of considerable influence and financial means, has reportedly contributed a staggering $100,000 to this church’s recent expansion, a project reminiscent of a modern-day Tower of Babel. This grand gesture, though wrapped in the cloak of generosity, served a dual purpose. It carved out a prestigious platform for her to direct the choir with an iron fist and spotlight her daughters, Bree and Jenn, as the church’s star soloists. It’s a blunt reminder of a harsh reality: contrary to idyllic beliefs, its money, not love, that makes the world go round.

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