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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Priest Uses Monkeys As Altar Servers To Compete With Megachurch

(AoftheAP) Fr. P.T. Bailey, frustrated at the steady stream of parishoners leaving his parish for a new evangelical megachurch, recently made a potentially controversial change at his parish, designed to attract new members and convince old members to return.

The change? Using trained chimpanzees as altar servers.

"Ever since Bobo, Gonzo, Chico, Matata and George arrived at Our Lady of Extenuating Circumstances, our attendance has increased by 250%," Fr Bailey said. "Donations have been rising, too. It's been fantastic."

(front) Chico, Matata; (rear) Gonzo, George, Bobo

For well over a year, Fr. Bailey saw more and more people leave his parish for a newly opened megachurch, and he felt powerless to reverse the trend.

"We just couldn't compete with the evangelical megachurch phenomenon -there was no way we could afford the big screens, the laser light shows and the rock 'n roll bands. Week after week, attendance was dwindling because they put on a better show. But I knew I had to do something."

And that something revealed itself last December.

"A story ran in the local paper, where a small traveling circus with five chimpanzees was closing down," Bailey explained. "The owner was hoping to find a good home for them. I thought, what better home is there, but a church? And that's when the idea hit me."

Chico (l) and Bobo

Because the circus had trained the chimps so well for their acts, it didn't take long for them to learn the motions and actions required of altar servers - the procession, assisting at the altar, holding the paten during communion, and so on.

"About the only things they can't manage," Fr. Bailey said, "are lighting the candles and handling the thurible. Fire and smoke sorta freaks them out, so the deacon takes care of those responsibilities."

The chimpanzees were introduced in late February, and that has thrown a monkey wrench in the works at Whispering Cavern Bible and Entertainment Production, Inc. Community, the local evangelical megachurch.

Pastor Joey Schmaltz has felt the impact of Fr. Bailey's change in a big way. "We joke about it here, calling them 'Our Lady of The Planet of the Apes', but it presents us with a serious problem. A lot of our members have returned there, bringing their friends with them. It puts the whole Gospel message on a whole new level, yeah? I mean, how can you compete with trained monkeys? I'm not sure what we're gonna do. I just hope his idea doesn't go nationwide - it could sink the entire rock n' roll bible school industry."

A spokesman from the USCCB commented: "While Fr. Bailey's plan is original and unorthodox, the bishops haven't issued any formal statement of support or condemnation. And they probably won't. Or maybe they will. No one's quite sure what the bishops intend to do, about this or any other issue, for that matter."

An overwhelming number of parishoners support the change.

"I think it's great," one woman said, a mother of three young children. "My kids never whine about going to Mass anymore. In fact, they ask if they can go everyday."

"It's different, that's for sure," said another mom. "At first I was a bit taken aback, but when you see how well-trained they are...they actually act more reverently than some people I know."

"I like it a lot," a man stated. "Plus, the chimpanzees put on a show after Mass, during Donut and Coffee Hour. They're hilarious!"

So what's next for Fr. Bailey and his parish?

"We're having several dogs trained to bring up the gifts at the offertory. That should really help us maintain our advantage."