News of Richard Bleil
The church and I have had a long and frankly twisted relationship. Mom was raised Catholic, and although I was not raised as such, she did put all of her marvelous guilts and fears into me, especially about sex.
Personally, I was raised Methodist, but we were hardly “good” Methodists. I assume I was baptized, and I know I went through the procedure (the name of which escapes me) to join the church when I was in middle school. I was bothered, even then, that they wanted us all to pledge a weekly tithing to the church, something I didn’t feel comfortable doing since I didn’t get an allowance and therefore had no way to ensure I could keep such a pledge, but they made me do so anyway. Although I voiced my opposition to doing so, I felt pressured to go along with it anyway. It’s the first pledge I recall making where, due to circumstances, I didn’t really feel obligated to keep.
There was a year that I wanted to become a minister (which, ironically, I did kind of), but my connection to the church was never really strong. I did believe, strongly, with the lessons of the church, but found the actions didn’t always follow suit. The last straw for me was when the Methodist Church defrocked three ministers for overseeing same-gender marriages, an action I felt was too judgmental.
Through the years, I’ve been affiliated with many institutions that were private religious institutions. I went to graduate school at Boston College, a Jesuit Catholic college, held a post-doctoral research position at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, a Hasidic Jewish institution, and my first teaching gig was at a Seventh Day Adventist college. Today I’m working at a Lasallian Catholic College. My own religious proclivities are rather diverse as I enjoy reading the works of many religions and find meaning in all of them so far.
So, for somebody who does not consider himself religious, it’s pretty clear that my path has crossed with many churches throughout my life. What’s more, I actually am a minister and a saint (yes, the Saint of Science and Mathematics) in the Universal Life Church of Modesto, CA. It’s not a position I take seriously (Saint Bleil?!? How could I???). It happened late one sleepless night when I became bored and decided to surf the web when I happened on their website. This church started as a tax dodge, where people would register to become clergy, so they didn’t have to pay taxes. Eventually the government wised up and changed the rules to say that, no, you don’t have to pay taxes on revenue generated from church related activities, but you do on any other income. So, the ULC of Modesto changed its advertising. See, it’s recognized as a legitimate church in most states, and they’re allowed to come up with their own policy on clergy, so they now advertise to say that if you register with them, you can legally marry people. Basically, if you’re getting married, for example, and want your best friend to officiate, your friend can actually become a minister. I did it out of boredom, and because it was inexpensive, but I have actually performed a few weddings.
So today I did something that few people do. I bid on a church. A small church, originally Episcopalian and more recently Methodist, is up for sale. It’s zoned as a residence, so if I get it (and I hope I do) I will be able to live there. She needs some work, that’s for sure, but I love the idea of living in a church. The problem, of course, is what to do with it.
See, I’ve never been Episcopalian, and I no longer consider myself to be Methodist, but this church meant something to people for many years. Built in 1900, it housed many services, people visited in good times and bad, it housed people in times of emergency, marriage and death, and I do respect that very much. It has a basement area with a kitchen, full bath, and a couple of bedrooms, so my thoughts are to fix up the basement as my living space. That would allow me to reserve the upper floor, the sanctuary and a couple of additional rooms, so I can fix it up and maybe rent or lend it out for community functions. It’s not large, but it seems like for small gatherings it would be very nice, and I’m sure it’s an important part of the history of the nearby town.
But, seriously, how cool to live in an old church?!? The Church of Bleil!