“You Will Have Eternal Life..” or, How Did I Become An Official “Pastor”?
I was a green 24-year old, been in Japan about a year and a half or so. ‘Teaching’ English at one of the chain-schools was not for me, I spent almost every night drunk and every morning doing lessons hungover. Anyone reading this blog is familiar with the type. I was looking for something different and also for a way to study Japanese full time. Randomly, I met ‘Austin Powers’, an English-man wedding pastor. He informed me it was the easiest gig in the country and would leave me free to go to school during the week..
Skip ahead a month or two. I was now a contracted employee of ‘ABC Music’, an events company with an office way out on the Chuo Line. They said I was a bit young to be a pastor but they were desperate. A few rehearsals, a gown fitting, some video viewing of famous pastors..it all went smoothly. One final thing to resolve and then I would be on my way. I needed a license..
The wedding industry in Japan is an odd one. Because Japanese law states you are married from the moment you sign the papers at the city office, all wedding ceremonies are merely performance. There is no “Justice of the Peace” as in the US who has legal power to marry couples. This would seem to pave the way for anyone and everyone to perform at weddings, yet there has always been controversy. Some Japanese Christian churches find it odd but generally harmless to have a Christian themed wedding at a hotel or restaurant. Unfortunately, some of the Western missionaries were a bit more vocal about their objections.
There is a long-term missionary in Japan, let’s call him ‘Benny Koseph’. He’s been here since after the war and at the time I met him must have been already in his late-70s. At some point, Benny got in a huff about the popularity of Christian themed weddings. Whether this was because he found it blasphemous or because he was not getting a cut of the rather hefty profits, I do not know. But he’s a well known figure in Japan and had some influence here and there..all of a sudden guys working in the industry had to get a ‘license’ from him in order to work.
ABC Music sent me to his house way out in Nerima-Ku for the ‘interview’. This was a long time ago but I can never forget walking into his living room, sitting down and looking up at a gigantic portrait of Jesus, the Mel Gibson “Passion of the Christ” version. I mean, this was a really bloody, garish painting, just terribly distracting and disturbing. I have no idea whether it was deliberate or not, put there to make people quake with fear.
Benny himself was fairly nice old guy and just asked me about my background as a Christian and what sort of charity work I had done. I made up some very convincing BS which he bought completely. Then I had to read out the wedding script that ABC had provided me. Benny listened, gave me some pointers, then said it was all fine. He tried to sell me a copy of his book on Christians in Japan (I declined politely), then I forked over his ‘fee’. To be honest, I really have no recall of how much that was..I’m guessing it was about 20,000 yen (roughly US$200). As I departed he leaned out the door and said “Don’t forget: You Will Have Eternal Life!”
And that was it. I got my license (still on my shelf) and was on my way to being an “officially sanctioned” wedding pastor. To this day I have zero idea why the wedding companies made this deal with Benny but I’m guessing they wanted to avoid any possible ruckus with the churches here. Easier to spread the drachma a bit and keep everyone happy I would guess.