Churches have gotten more powerful in recent years. There wasn’t really another organization that supported and enforced sexual purity in teens, the main time purity matters. You don’t want young girls getting pregnant before sterilization and mandatory birth control are applied. You don’t want your sons losing their chance at creating a more viable offspring by wasting it while he’s young. You don’t want a mandatory abortion just because one of the parents isn’t scoring well on the tests. Reverend Hinkely was very adamant about it, and so he prospered when the Third Great Awakening started. His church donated to the county’s athletic program, and he offered to give prayers before the games – which almost all the parents approved of and wanted. The prayers took place in the locker room since schools can’t outwardly show favoritism toward any faith or lack thereof.
After the first locker room prayer Dani was subjected to, she pleaded with me not to let him come back. She was distraught, lashing out with random and impossible accusations. I promised to talk to the preacher about his prayers before the next home game, and that at least got her off my case for the time being.
And so I did as I promised.
While the girls were changing and we were waiting outside the locker room, I put a hand to Pastor Hinkley’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming out today, Reverend. I know a lot of the parents appreciate what you do.”
He chuckled goodheartedly. His eyes were kind, and the wrinkles around them filled with the wisdom of a man of God. “I do what I can. We don’t have too many young people anymore, so we gotta do everything we can to protect ’em.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “There’s…there’s one young person, though, who I think you need to consider more this time. Remember how you called Dani Huffman a demon last time?”
His brows pinched. “The spider?”
“Yeah,” I answered. A pit formed in my stomach when I thought about how I’d agreed with him that she wasn’t human, but it was a clear way to identify the girl. “You said some pretty hurtful things about her last time, and she complained. So, uh, don’t do that this time. Not good for team cohesion.”
“Oh.” He blinked a few times. “I see what you mean. You do want to win, after all, eh? You do want this little girls to run their hearts out, glisten with sweat.”
I clapped him on the back. “So we’re good, right?”
“Yessir. Crystal clear.”
A girl opened the door to signal that they were ready, so me and the reverend stepped inside. I tried to ignore as much of my surroundings in the sacred space as I could, then made my way to a little bench against the back wall. I bowed my head and closed my eyes like I was supposed to, like all the girls on the team did. My bench allowed me to sit back from the team, not counting myself among their number because – I mean, look at me, I’m basically a middle aged man. I was more like a father figure to them.
Just like Reverend Hinkley should have been.
I heard his footsteps pace outside the team’s huddle. “Oh dear Father God, our beloved creator in heaven, bless these virgin girls as they prepare for their contest. Keep their bodies fit and beautiful.”
I bit my lip. The words were a little crass, but sexual purity was a big deal, especially when one was only permitted a few kids – if any – by the government. It was, after all, what had allowed his church to flourish. He had to focus on it.
“And, dear God, let’s pray that none of them or their opponents get hurt. They’ve worked so hard, God, to keep themselves healthy and active through sport. A broken bone or a physical problem now could ruin them come end of the year, so keep them safe.” I heard his hand pass from girl’s head to girl’s head, mussing their hair and laying a blessing upon each of them.
“Let’s not forget about their souls, dear Lord, dear Father. You know better than I that there is a demon in our midst, a demon worse than any other I’ve seen. You know how it tried to destroy my church, and it’s up to you to protect these girls’ souls and bodies.”
I gritted my teeth. He’d promised not to do this, and yet here he was. I’d have to be stern with him later.
He stopped near Dani and Stacy. “I want to pray for this one’s soul and purity, especially. She’s done things that appall you, and yet you still love her. You want to give her the best of all your gifts, despite what she’s done. Let each of these girls realize how beautiful they are, inside and out, and thus turn away the devil from their lives.”
He moved on.
“The devil works among us, making us do terrible things. Let us turn toward your holiness, your purity, and copy it in our own lives. Games and physical activity were blessings given by you, God. Let us run for the prize and fight for the win, but let us be graceful and beautiful even if we lose. In your son’s precious name we pray, Amen.”
In order to get everyone’s attention off his weird prayer, I lifted my head and clapped my hands. “Alright, everyone, let’s go out there and make this the best game yet!”