The first-ever Ned Flanders Night was run by Ship of Fools at the Greenbelt festival in August 2001. Pre-publicity for the event included A Saint in the Simpsons, a feature article by Steve Goddard, and a call for Ned lookalikes to come to the evening to win fabulous Simpsons prizes.
Steve Tomkins, who had a ringside seat at the evening (well, he was on the stage, actually), gives an illustrated report on the event dubbed "the runaway success of the weekend" by the Church Times, no less.
The Ned Flanders tribute night has come and gone, but the name of Ned shall endure forever.
A huge crowd came to celebrate the life and work of America's best-known "God-boy". There were clips, live sing-a-ding-a-ling-along-with-Ned music, learned Nedological discourse, Flanders lookalikes, Simpsons chocolate, a throbbing dance track, apocalyptic temperatures, Gadgets for God live, and ministry from Rev. Gerald Ambulance all dreamed up and hosted by Ship of Fools Capt. Jenkins and First Mate Goddard. It was, we think, the only event of its kind in the world.
And it was fandiddleriffic, neighborinos!
The Flanderama was put on by ship-of-fools.com and fish.co.uk at this year's Greenbelt festival, and turned out to be the hot ticket (in every sense) of the weekend. With the 500-seater venue packed to melting point, a queue of 1,500 was turned away from the door. (Apologies if you were one of them. Let's try again next year.)
The lookalike competition was a little one-sided, unfortunately. Several people came dressed as the great pink-shirted and green-sweatered one, but only one of them managed to get in. Dave Parkins looked wondrously Flanderous, a dead ringer-dinger-doo, though he later had to admit that most of the clothes came from his wardrobe.
David Dark who is writing a book about the Simpsons lectured on religion in the Simpsons, and subjected ol' Steady Neddy to a more probing analysis than even Dr Nick Riviera has ever managed. And despite the fact that Springfield's "Charlie Church" is the butt of many jokes and tends to get up certain people's noses, David warmly thanked him for being one of the most positive images of Christianity in contemporary culture.
Ned is reported to have responded, "Well, get out the Crayolas and color me tickled pink!"
Tony Campolo confessed to personal reasons for identifying with the Simpsons: his two children (born in pre-Simpsons days) are Bart and Lisa, "which is tough when you look like Homer."
Tony also had some kind words for the mellow yellow fellow. At a high-flying religious summit meeting where people were knocking evangelicals, he ended up asking them to knock it off: "We're not all like Ned Flanders, or that guy who holds up Bible verses at baseball games, you know."
It turned out that one of the evo-bashing church leaders there had in fact been converted by him (the text-maniac, not Ned). The moral of the story is that there is a place in God's plans for the kind of Christian that the rest of us are embarrassed by. "I'm a big, four-eyed lame-o and I wear the same stupid sweater every day!" Ned once said. Well maybe, but that's not the whole of the story.
We relived some of Ned's greatest moments on screen. Trying to win Homer back from heresy by singing, "God said to Noah there's going to be a floody floody." Going to Las Vegas and having his senses inflamed by the lights, the colors and overuse of the letter "X". And the great moment of doubt when his house is blown down:
"Why me, Lord? Where have I gone wrong? I've always been nice to people! I don't drink or dance or swear! I've even kept kosher just to be on the safe side! I've done everything the Bible says even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! What more could I do?"Moving let's be honest at a slight tangent, we paid tribute to Ned with a review of some of our favorite Flandersesque Gadgets for God: the Last Supper pillow that plays Hey Jude, the What Would Jesus Do? flyless boxer shorts, the talking ("Hi there, my name was...") tombstone and the Jesus-shaped hot air balloon.
All this was tied together by Ned's very own tribute band, Ned Zeppelin, whose theme tune, A Whole Lotta Ned somehow managed to superimpose the Simpsons theme over well, see if you can guess.
Led by international spiritual celebrity Rev. Gerald Ambulance, they took the assembled flock into a time of Flanders-style worship. We joined as one in songs from the Ned Flanders Hymnal, featuring songs from the (sadly now closed) Re-versed Lyrics website, which reclaims favorite pop, rock, country and TV theme tunes for Jesus by setting them to words that you can sing in church.
And so we raised the roof with, "He'll Be There For You (like he's there for me too)", "Stand By The Man" and "Hey Hey We're Not Monkeys". For those who failed to sing the latter with conviction, a time of ministry followed to deliver them from a spirit of Darwinism.
Perhaps the bizarrest sight of a bizarre evening was that of a row of worshippers moshing to the strains of a full-blooded rendition of "Smells Like Holy Spirit".
As the Rev. himself concluded: "The Lord has really been here tonight, as he is all the time everywhere. So that's nice."
Anyhoo, time for me to skidaddily-doo. So till next year, toodily-oodly.
© Ship of Fools 2001