EVANSVILLE, IN—A mere eight days into United Methodist Church's summer Bible school, youth pastor John Dearden, 49, was forced to break out his trademark "Hell Is Not Disneyland" speech Monday, outlining the differences between eternal damnation and the popular Anaheim, CA, theme park.
"Hell is not Disneyland, people," said Dearden, unleashing a 12-minute version of the oft-delivered speech on a group of misbehaving fifth and sixth graders. "You may think this is funny now, but you won't be laughing when it's time to meet your maker. You won't be riding in teacups and drinking soda pop down there, believe you me. You'll be wishing you'd heeded God's Word."
Dearden, who has directed the church's youth program since 1987, pulled out the speech after the rambunctious children repeatedly ignored warnings to settle down.
"I've warned you time and time again that I was not going to tolerate this sort of behavior in God's house," said Dearden, returning to the classroom to find erasers flying and students out of their seats. "And what happens when I leave for five minutes? This."
At approximately 10:20 a.m., Dearden left the youths alone in the classroom, instructing them to work quietly on their "Thank God For..." posters while he went to the office to help Mrs. Carlson change the ink in the ditto machine. When Dearden returned some six minutes later, the classroom was in chaos. Students were screaming and throwing markers, the felt board had been pulled off the wall, and the homework assignment on the chalkboard had been altered to read, "Thank God For... Going Home."
"Do you know what the Bible says about Hell?" Dearden asked the suddenly silent group. "Hell is a place of blackest darkness with smoke and unquenchable fire. Matthew 24:51 says, 'He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Does this sound like Disneyland to you? It sure doesn't to me."
"Who do you think will be in Hell with you?" Dearden continued. "Not Dopey and Sleepy. Not Peter Pan. You will be surrounded by the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the idolators, and the liars."
Dearden, who first devised the "Hell Is Not Disneyland" speech in 1989, has pulled it out an estimated 20 times since. Monday marked the first time in nearly two years that he was forced to compare "The Happiest Place On Earth" with the eternal damnation awaiting children who fail to consider the consequences of their actions.
According to Dearden, this summer's class is "the wildest I've seen in years." In addition to whispering during prayer time, running in the hallways, and wasting craft materials, the group recently knocked the folding classroom divider off its tracks in before-class roughhousing and is believed responsible for the June 5 breakage of the bathroom soap dispenser.
Giggling was heard as Dearden continued his description of how the Lake of Fire differs from the home of Mickey Mouse and Goofy.
"You will not be laughing," Dearden said. "It will not be a big game. There will not be cotton candy or balloons. Or any happy little elves singing 'It's A Small World.' And Hell never closes, kids. It's open all night, every night until the end of all time. You won't be going back to the hotel with your family and watching HBO. There's no TV in Hell, and the Devil and all the demons with tongues of fire and hooves for feet will be your new family."
Added Dearden: "If you find yourself in Hell, you'll be wishing you had been paying attention to the Bible instead of Gregory [Reiderer]'s and Chris [Anderson]'s antics."
Dearden wrapped up the diatribe with any remaining Disneyland references he could summon.
"In Hell, the Haunted Mansion is real, haunted with the souls of those who failed to heed God's word," Dearden said. "There's no Main Street USA in Hell. You think it will be like a trip to Space Mountain? Well, it's not. It's Hell, and it isn't a party. You remember that. Now, let's get back to those collages."