Volume 19 | Issue 29 | December 01 - 07, 2006

Photo by Fred Askew

Perfmance artist Reverend Billy exhorts Macy’s shoppers hellbent on sales to repent and renounce their ways.

‘Preacher’ prays for possessed post-holiday shoppers

By Lori Haught

The end is near, the Shopocalypse is coming.

Reverend Billy Talen, of the Church of Stop Shopping, tried to spread that message on Black Friday, or as he and his followers called it, “Buy Nothing Day.”

Reverend Billy and his choir staged “services” in front of Macy’s on 34th St., outside the Tourneau watch store at 57th St. and Fifth Ave., and on the streets of Soho, proclaiming the message of his church — that consumerism is killing America and the world.

The Macy’s sermon took place at 5 a.m. as the performance-artist preacher stood at the front door and urged the shoppers to save their souls and their credit and not max out that last card at the huge store. When the doors opened, however, he said the eager consumers began “acting like extras from ‘Dawn of the Dead.’”

“I was repeatedly swept [through the revolving door] into the Devil’s hailstorm,” Reverend Billy said.

He said that the message he and his flock are trying to convey is not to stop shopping altogether but to shop at small retailers as opposed to the big-box stores.

“Hellfire is a chain store,” Reverend Billy said. “We can’t trace [where money is going]. And when we are able to trace it, we don’t like where it’s going.” He said that Wal-Mart was one of the biggest donors to Republicans in the last election, and even left-wing companies like Disney and The Gap are “sinners” for using sweatshop labor.

At 11 a.m. the parishoners made their way to the city’s hub of high-end retail, 57th St. and Fifth Ave.

“We exorcised Victoria’s Secret and preached in front of Gucci and The Gap,” Reverend Billy said. Unlike at Macy’s, he said that some people on Fifth Ave. were receptive. People stopped to listen and took fliers, which contained the 10 Christmas Commandments and a list of companies that use sweatshop labor on the back.

He said it is imperative to keep the pressure on Victoria’s Secret, which is just now starting to work with environmental groups to stop its clear-cutting of virgin forests and begin using recycled paper for its catalogs.

In Soho, they also preached at Victoria’s Secret. According to the reverend, a detail of 12 officers from the New York Police Department turned up to monitor the sermonizing.

“I think the N.Y.P.D. is trying to stop its shopping too,” he said. “They didn’t arrest us, and I was able to get back on the F train to Brooklyn that night.”

The fact that the protesters weren’t arrested was a win in their fight for First Amendment rights as well, he added.

“It’s important to be on the sidewalks and in the streets,” Billy said. “The First Amendment is the only permit you need.”

The reverend and his choir also paraded through the gridlocked traffic, spreading the word that the Shopocalypse was coming.

All told, the “Battle Against the Axis of Consumer Evil” was a 12-hour-long experience for the Church of Stop Shopping. More excursions are planned closer to Christmas, along with several services.

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