By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 17, 2009
Among people costumed as Star Wars storm troopers, bare-chested Spartan warriors and Superman, there stood Father Bryan Small in his black and white Roman collar.
“What character are you supposed to be?” he was asked.
The laugh was on Father Small, 35, who for four years has served as the chaplain at the Catholic Center at Emory University and Agnes Scott College. He was not in costume, but in his typical priestly clerics.
With “real geek pride,” Father Small participated in two panels at the annual Dragon-Con convention that draws some 50,000 people to Atlanta for the Labor Day weekend. It is a four-day blowout for lovers of sci-fi/fantasy stories and movies to gather.
“It’s a chance to meet extraordinarily intelligent people, some of whom are people of faith and many who are not. The latter often feel shunned by organized religion and I think it’s important to bring the discussion to a less polarizing place,” he wrote by e-mail.
Father Small, who was ordained in 2002, has been a longtime enthusiast of the genre. Let’s just say that with the supernatural TV drama “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Father Small has seen all seven seasons.
Pop culture shouldn’t be ignored, he believes. The church needs to be engaged to uncover the worthwhile nuggets because it is the environment that many Catholics live in, he wrote.
“The pop culture is a snapshot of what the thoughts, hopes and fears of a particular society are at any given moment. How can we preach the Gospel or ever hope to evangelize in a vacuum?” he wrote.
In 2008, he was asked to sit on a panel between “believers”—that would be people who believe in UFOs, paranormal activity, telekinesis—and “scientifically-minded skeptics.”
Having a priest on the panel adds “paprika in the mix,” he joked.
Father Small was asked to explain the biblical event of the Exodus when there is no archaeological record of what is described as hundreds of thousands of people wandering in the desert for 40 years.
His response was the Exodus likely wasn’t a one-time event, but something that occurred over the course of centuries.
It was “a bit more sublime than Charlton Heston would have us believe,” he said.
This past Labor Day weekend, Father Small sat on a panel with four others exploring the religious and spiritual themes of the popular science fiction shows, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Supernatural.” It drew an audience of about 50 people.
The shows have obvious religious overtones with story lines of characters undergoing a loss of hope and then finding a purpose in life, he said. There are themes of sacrifice, death and resurrection, he said.
A number of “these shows borrow some of the visual elements of Catholicism but seldom do they come close to conveying actual core beliefs and that’s an important distinction,” Father Small wrote.
The other panel was dubbed “Religion, Spirituality and the Paranormal.” Father Small said he opened the discussion by saying, “If we have friction, let it create light, not heat.”
Attending the event is equal parts fun and ministry, he said.
“Good ministry is always fun,” he said.