The Dreaded Church Pictorial Directory


We just had our family picture made for the church’s new pictorial directory.  A number of older churches make these.  My parents still have the one with all of the family pictures from 1970!  I’m a cute little booger, and believe it or not, I’m wearing a bow tie.

I wanted to participate and have our family’s pic sandwiched between the Tabors and the Taylors, just like the last two times we’ve done this.   In 2006, Lisa was square in the middle.  Just not the same this time around.

olan1As much as I enjoy thumbing through the old one and seeing how goofy everybody looked eight or 16 years ago, I would rather have toenail fungus than to go through the process.

I warned the girls, “I AM NOT buying any of the pictures tonight.  We do not need a six shot montage of our family with a fake wagon wheel in the background.”

I do, however, always feel guilty not to purchase something.  I know that’s how the photographers make their living.

This time was painful.  The slick salesman in the hot pink shirt met us in the lobby after running 35 minutes behind schedule.  His thick gold bracelet let me know he meant business.  He was planning to make some money tonight.

olan4He started warming us up from the moment we caught eyes.

“I like your bow tie.  You always worn those?”

He then asked each of the girls their age and birthday month.  Seems like everybody in his family has the same birthday as everyone in our family.  It was truly ironic.

He escorted us back to the portable studio which had been set up in our church Gathering Hall.  He quickly began with the cheesy nicknames.

“We’re gonna get the Big Man (that was me: the guy in charge, the decision maker, one with a lot of money to spend) to sit in the middle.  Come on over here Dad, sit on this stool.”

He proceeded to have me straddle another shorter stool and tossed Michelle uncomfortably close between my legs.

olan5“Now darlin’ you get up on this block,” he instructed Stephanie as he set down a piece of wood that made her six inches taller than she really is.

He slid DJ in behind Michelle.

“Big Man, tilt your head a little bit to the center.  Now chin up a tad.  Hold your shoulders up – that’s too much, bring them down a hair.  Drop your nose a half-inch and look toward the door with your right eye only.”

“You’re looking a little posed there.  Juuuuust relax.”

How in the hell can I relax when my children are breathing all in my space and my head is contorted like I’m starring in Cirque du Soleil?

At one point he got the idea that he was going to take three consecutive pictures.  Later I found out he thought they’d look great in a triple matted frame.  He had all three girls lay their heads on my shoulders, one peeking out from behind.  He took a shot.  He then had them move closer to my face for the second picture.  By this time, DJ was digging her fingernail into my back as if to say “get us out of here or I’m going to hurt you.”  When it was time for the third picture, he had them all turn toward me and then he said, “strangle him!”

The kids looked at him to gain clarity on this rather odd instruction.

“Seriously, strangle your dad!  It’ll be fun!”

For everybody but Big Man.

Olan3He then took us to the table where he loaded our photos onto a computer from the camera.

He got very, very serious and looked behind himself to see if anyone else was near.  One of my friends was at a table across the room going through the same pain I was.  My new buddy leaned in and motioned me to do the same.

As our heads got closer, he quietly gave me the news, “Big Man, I can’t do this for everyone, but in addition to the church discount, I’m going to give you an additional 25% off anything you buy today.  Got it.”

It was like being the millionth customer at the Food Lion or something.  I had won the jackpot!  Why me?  Why was I so special?  Why did I get that incredible deal and all of my fellow church members not?  Something smelled a little fishy to me.

“You know, we went to Hawaii last year.  My mother-in-law had a photographer come to our house and take some great family pictures while we were there.  I just don’t see me buying anymore right now.”

“The disk of all of these pictures is normally $200, I can get it to you – let’s see,” he did some math, “for 82.99!  Then you can print the pictures and frame them as you like.”

“Nah.  I’m not buying anything.”

I could see the desperation in his eyes.

“How about the proofs.  You’d get the one with the girls choking you.”

You could fulfill that dream for me?  “How much?”

“$20.  Plus taxes, shipping and handling.”

“How much is that?”

“Let’s see,” more math, “All in, $36.35.”

“Damn.  Is Olan Mills gonna bring them to my house himself?”

This time I leaned in and whispered, “Does that include BM’s special 25% off that no one else gets?”


“You got a deal!”  Now you can go buy more jewelry.

“I’ll be praying for you buddy.”

All the way to the bank I’m sure.

Leave a comment


  1. Hopie

     /  June 5, 2013

    I was laughing out loud in the doctor’s waiting room while reading this — can’t wait for my turn!! I’ll be armed and ready to resist the smarmy salesman:)

  2. Worst portrait ever of our family came into this world courtesy of the parish directory and our church has been using the same book since 2000. Yikes. Funny post.

  3. Can’t say no to a good salesman!

  4. Classic. Great post 🙂

  5. Aunt Susan

     /  June 5, 2013

    I do hope you bring those to the beach!

  6. Sometimes you just need a laugh! I loved this. I actually have one of these photos hanging in my house. Lol

  7. Just discovered your blog. I am really enjoying your writing!

  8. Cailyn

     /  January 11, 2014

    This made me laugh so hard! I work for a church directory company and it is nothing like what you are describing, but I hear it all the time from churches who have switched over to us from our competition. You should check out the company I work for ( and let your church know for next time, there are other options! In the meantime, enjoy your choking picture! LoL!

    • Danny Tanner

       /  January 12, 2014

      I will absolutely let our church know! Would be great to have a different experience.

  9. Loved your post – from the moment I read the title! You articulate perfectly what seems to be on the minds of many. I was cracking up through the entire read. I’m a pastor. And I have been asked to write up a short note/letter to the congregation for the opening page of our new pictorial directory. I want to indicate some of the reasons why we do these, because I really wasn’t sure. So I was looking on line for reasons that have been given. Your post has given me inspiration for what I need to write. Thank you!

    • Danny Tanner

       /  June 4, 2014

      Good luck! I hope your pic looks as nice as some of these.

  10. Billy Stegall

     /  July 2, 2015

    Just completed reading you description and details if your last directory program (in 2013?) I wanted to thank you, as someone who has worked in this industry for over 18 years for your attempts to confirm every stereotype we work so diligently to move beyond. I can’t believe you didn’t put a mustache on the salesman, that he constantly twirled in his fingers, and mentioned his overbearing cologne. First note, you mentioned Olan Mills doing the portraits. Olan Mills went out of business in 2011. Secondly, price list are provided ahead of time to customers so they know the cost and so there doesn’t have to be a “sales pitch”. The photographer could have let you hold your head any which way you wanted, so you would then have the opportunity to complain and make fun of the shadows on your face. That would have been hilarious! Sure you didn’t just create this whole story? Finally, maybe you should have a conversation with children who parents have passed and the only portrait they have is the one provided by the church directory process. Check with any parent and ask what they would take for portraits of their children, now that they are grown. Let me tell some of my stories of the calls I have received begging for images after a tragic event. Oh yeah, and forgive us all for working to make a living. Can’t wait for your next exaggerated, stereotypical, semi-truthful story.

  11. Eldon Smith

     /  March 7, 2017

    I didn’t like the backhanded , snide remark about Olan Mills. They are very much alive as a partner with Life Touch directories. Olan Mills produced some of the best church directories for many years.

  12. I think, that you are mistaken.


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