The Church Directory Debacle

This post has been a long time coming. I have wanted to put the pen to paper about this experience (or I guess, more accurately, fingers to the keyboard) for several months, but it was first necessary that I overcome the trauma I endured. This experience was truly one of the worst in my history as a church-goer. I cringe at the mere thought, and get the shakes when an actual memory runs through my embattled brain. What could strike such a blow to my psyche, you ask? I'll tell you, while nursing my months old scars...

Church Directory Pictures.

Seems like an easy enough thing to participate in, doesn't it? I thought so, too, which is why I got mine taken twice within a 6 month period.

I mean, I love a church directory! I love to look through them and see the families all spit-shined and cheesy-grinned. It's a wonderful thing to have; it helps you remember the names of the people in your congregation and gives you their contact information. Who doesn't love a church directory?

It's what goes on behind the scenes that now gives me the heebie jeebies.

My first foray into the church directory photo jungle was at my last church. The church asked its members to please get their photos taken, and said we would get a free directory and a free 8x10 of our photo. Seemed simple enough. So I signed my daughter and myself up.

Understand this... I HATE to have my picture made. I really do. That may come as a surprise to some, but it's absolutely true. So I had reasonably low expectations to begin with, but thought it was my duty as a church member, and was hopeful that maybe I'd end up with a good picture of my daughter and me together.

Our appointment was at 6:45 on a Monday evening. So after work, Emily and I fixed ourselves up and went to the church. When we arrived I saw the Olan Mills Photography lady sitting at a table with a form for me to fill out with our address and contact information. Then we sat in the hall with about 5 other families who were waiting their turn, including the pastor and his wife and son. I found out that a couple of families were waiting to have their picture made, and others were waiting to see the digital images on a computer in the next room so they could pick which one they preferred to have in the directory.

We waited for probably 15 minutes, and during that time I could hear the photographer saying silly stuff to try to get people to smile, and then saying things like, "Okay, let's get one of just the kids," and, "Time for a shot of just Mom and Dad." This did not make sense to me... why would you take a picture of just the kids or just Mom and Dad for the directory? Then I realized that this WAS Olan Mills, and they were obviously going to try to sell us additional pictures.

Our turn arrived, and Emily and I went into the room, sat where and how we were told to sit, and started cheesing for the camera. It was awkward, but I had already expected that. Backgrounds were changed, seating arrangements fixed, lights moved, more pictures taken. The photographer, a man in his late 50's with brownish hair, glasses and a bad moustache, then said he wanted to get a picture of just Emily. My child was not pleased, but we just rolled with it. What happened next, though, was where it all began to implode.

"Okay, let's get a picture of Mom by herself."

To which I replied, "Oh, thank you, but I really don't need any pictures of myself, if that's okay."

Silence. And an angry stare from Mr. Moustache.

Then he seemed to compose himself (slightly) and said, "Okay, then I guess we are finished. Wait in the hall and we will have your pictures ready to view in about 5 minutes."

We grabbed our stuff and quickly went back to the hallway.

Lady Who Took Our Information Card at the Table went into the photo room with Mr. Moustache and asked him something which I couldn't hear, to which Mr. Moustache replied very loudly and angrily, "Well! If SHE doesn't want to have HER picture made by HERSELF, then I'm not going to TAKE HER PICTURE!"

He continued to vociferously rant for at least 2 minutes, so that all the other families in the hall could hear him. I sank into my chair. Emily's eyes were wide as saucers as she silently questioned me. I had no idea what to tell her. It was awful. And I was embarrassed.

Finally the time came for us to view the pictures. Another Olan Mills lady was in the Photo Viewing Room sitting before a computer. She said "first we'll pick out your directory photo..." and she proceeded to click through the pictures taken with the blue background. We chose the one we liked best, and then looked through all the other photos, none of which we really liked. She began to give me a presentation on what packages were available, showed me the difference between untouched and re-touched photos, and went over all the different sizes and most preferred options.

I let her go through her presentation because I figured it would be rude to interrupt. And then, after she said, "If you get the whole package it will be $699.99," as nicely as possible I said, "Actually, we just came to get our photo made for the church directory to help the church. So we won't be purchasing any additional pictures."

Silence. And an icy stare from Photo Viewing Lady.

Then she dismissed us.

It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I've ever had. So it will come as a huge shock to you to find out that 6 months later I chose to do it yet again. I joined another church several months later and was a couple of months from getting married, at which time my new church asked the congregation to be part of THEIR church directory. I told my future husband that we should probably participate, not only because the church asked us to, but also because the pastor and his wife are two of our best friends. It was just something I thought we should do, regardless of my previous experience. Plus, I figured it couldn't possibly be as bad as the first time.

But, alas, it was indeed much the same. Very awkward. More icy stares. It was a different group of people and nobody yelled at us this time. This particular photographer was nicer, but he did tell Emily several times to "sit closer to Dad," which made her want to punch him in the stomach, and he told me a couple of times that I wasn't smiling right.

"Mom, you need to stop raising your eyebrows when you smile."

I wanted to tell him that if I didn't raise my eyebrows, my old lady eyelids would droop over my eyelashes, but whatever. It didn't matter much, really, in the grand scheme of things. We went to the Photo Viewing Room and I told the lady (pre-presentation this time so she wouldn't have to go through the whole thing) we wouldn't be ordering any additional pictures, and we left once again to guilt-laden silence (our guilt, their silence) and angry glares.

I can assure you, I will NEVER again participate in a church directory photo session with Olan Mills. I will be happy to send the church a picture, or just send in our contact information. But I am past the point of feeling it's my obligation, especially since the only real reason the picture folks are there is to make money. I want to help my church, no question. But I'm thinking those particular photo people need more from the church than just its money. I hope one day they get it.


rick said…
Olan Mills..It is unbelievable that they have stayed in business for some 60 odd years. As a former class officer I have been a perpetual member of my high school class reunion committee.At one of our reunions we had a clasmate volunteer his services in helping us organize an upcoming reunion. While this classmate had never been particularly active in school functions or anything during our years in school I was somewhat puzzled by his recent enthusiasm over a 15 year reunion. He hadn't attended a single one prior to this and we have them every five years.

You guessed it. He worked for Olan Mills and we agreed to have his company be available to take the class pictures that night. Everything that you experienced happened to all of us attendees. The high pressure tactics that he tried to use on many of the classmates actually caused some vow to never attend another reunion.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to make a living doing something like that.

By the way Linnea, I'll bet if you asked your husband his opinion of how you look I seriously doubt he has any idea that you have "drooping eyelids".

One of my best friends is a lady who is 43. Like yourself, she is very attractive and very "in tune" to the benefits of plastic surgery/ chemical peels / botox. etc. A few years back she went in for a lttle nip and tuck including the eyelids. Prior to this she had only had some chem peels and a few shots of botox. In the mid Atlantic area where we live we have a wealth of talented plastic surgeons. She went to one of the best and when she healed you could tell that there was a re- vitalization there around her eyes. I could see an improvement.

Unfortunately she has gone on to do other work on herself, Her upper lip is now frozen much the way I'm sure you have seen in some women. Her husband confided in me that he thinks she has gone too far.
I am thinking it must be a slippery slope on knowing how much is too much . you know? Im only bringing this up because I know you have mentioned in prior blogs that you would definitely sign up for some "touch - up ", If it was affordable. .. if you ever decide to do anything , I hope you don't overdo it. Im sure you wouldn't . Take a look at Dolly Parton now. I saw her in Pigeon Forge , Tennesee up close this past summer. What a lovely lady . What a horrible facelift.

On that note "Smile" and have a great weekend.

Rick Shrewsbury
Linnea said…
Hey again, Rick!

Yeah, the Olan Mills experience was surprising, to say the least, especially since they were at a church. Even mean people are usually on their best behavior when they go to God's house. It's a shame.

And about the plastic surgery stuff... most of what I've written in that regard was meant to be funny. I know exactly what you mean about people who have taken it too far. I think having a LITTLE work done can benefit some folks. But when a person no longer looks like themselves... well... it can be kinda creepy. I have no intention of becoming 'someone else'!

Have a great day!
ShirleyC said…
I knew exactly how this post was going to go as we had church pics made in June. We had just gone to Destin, and made a bunch of beach pics of the entire family.
Clay is always up front with them, and tells them ahead of time we are not interested in buying pictures. Our photographer was a little on the obnoxious side trying to be funny. I wanted to just say, "Get it done. We have sat outside waiting for 45 min., and we already know your fake sense of humor."
Yes, and the prices are ridiculous too!
Linnea said…
Hey Shirley!

It really is a sad state of affairs when you can't get a church photo made without those folks giving you the "hard sell." I guess that's why most churches only have directories made every 5 years or so. They are hoping everybody will forget how bad the experience was!

I can assure you, I will not forget. :)

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