Last week, Fr. Strand received a letter from the Minnesota-based consumer electronics company requesting that he “cease-and-desist” his God Squad logo, due to copyright infringement. The shape of the logo, font and colors, all on a black Volkswagen Beetle, were too similar to their well-known Geek Squad cars, according to the complaint sent through the company’s legal department.
Fr. Strand’s 2008 Volkswagen Beetle is the second one he’s owned since receiving a hand-me-down one from Fr. Quinn Mann in 2008, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, and spiritual director for Catholic Youth Expeditions. Fr. Mann also operated the “Paschal Mystery Machine,” inspired by the popular cartoon television show “Scooby Doo.”
Whether it’s television, newspapers, talk radio or Internet message boards, Fr. Strand has garnered national attention. Many compare his situation to that of David and Goliath, in which the young priest is pitted against a greedy corporation and its lawyers. Fr. Strand, however, doesn’t see it that way.
As for now, Fr. Strand, who consulted a lawyer about his case, has removed the decals from his car and will redesign the God Squad logo. While he is grateful that people care so much about his public legal situation, he feels that many are making this out to be a bigger deal than it is.
“I was surprised,” Fr. Strand said in an interview with your Catholic Herald, recalling when he first opened the letter from Best Buy. “Obviously I didn’t expect it.”
After consulting with a lawyer, he took the logo off his car in an effort to comply.
“We were really using the car as a way to bring the Gospel message to the streets,” he explained. “To develop relationships with people and spark conversations with people, and offer them an opportunity to approach someone from the church and maybe talk about what’s going on in their life.
“I just found it to be a phenomenal opportunity to really spark those conversations with people who might be questioning their life, want to talk a little about where they are in their relationship with God,” he added.
A statement released by Best Buy’s public relations department stated: “As a matter of practice, Best Buy aggressively defends all of our trademarks, including the Geek Squad logo.”
“We sent a notification letter to Fr. Strand and God Squad because of the unfortunate similarities between their logo and ours. This was a really difficult thing for us to do because we appreciate what Fr. Strand is trying to accomplish with his mission,” it read.
“But at the end of the day, it’s bad precedent to let some groups violate our trademark while pursuing others. We’re now working closely with Fr. Strand’s organization to modify the God Squad logo so that it still works for him and yet doesn’t violate the Geek Squad logo. We’re confident that together we’ll come up with a good (dare we say heavenly?) solution for everyone.”
Throughout the two years he’s been driving the God Squad car, conversations with curious onlookers taught him that it wasn’t the car that mattered, but his easy-going approach that truly struck a chord, according to Rhea Behlke, director of stewardship at Holy Family Parish.
“It wasn’t really the logo itself or the type of car itself that was important as much as the fact that it provided people an opening to talk about their faith, or to approach a priest when they might not otherwise do so. He would like to find a way to be continually creative in bringing the Gospel to the streets,” she explained.
Fr. Sean O’Connell, associate pastor at St. Dominic, Brookfield, a classmate, often rode around in the God Squad car as they carpooled while attending Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis.
“There were many times that I rode in the God Squad with Fr. Luke (Strand), and sure enough, you would see people passing you by on the road, and they would be pointing at it, or giving you a thumbs up,” he laughed. “It was certainly something that caught the eye of people on the freeway or around town.
“I think (Fr. Strand’s) goal with the entire car was to just have this whole evangelization piece that was a conversation starter, and a way for him to connect with people in their ordinary lives, doing their ordinary business throughout the day, seeing it and then starting a conversation with him,” Fr. O’Connell explained.
“I think that’s something that’s good for the church, especially these days. People are doing a lot of soul-searching and finding out what their path is in their own lives, and when they see his car and they encounter Fr. Luke (Strand), they might ask him questions about things that are happening in their own lives, that maybe they’re looking for some answers. As a priest, that’s his ministry, to help lead people in their search for Christ in their life,” he added.
Fr. Dan Janasik, associate pastor at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Cedarburg, also a classmate of Fr. Strand, agrees that having the car was a “great conversation starter.”
“I think we got the full gamut of reactions,” he said when recalling his days of riding in the car. “People see it and would kind of start laughing, thought it was something cool and clever. Other people would give strange looks, like, ‘What in the world is that?’
“People see God Squad and see a couple of people get out of the car with Roman collars, and it’s a great way to start conversations with total strangers about their faith, about the church, about things that are going on in their lives. (It) was just kind of a great gateway to those conversations,” Fr. Janasik added.
Although Fr. Strand will have to go without his logo until a new one can be redesigned, he is adamant that his mission – uniquely recognizable on the streets or not – will continue.
“…the new evangelization is not about one car with God Squad written on it, but really about leading people to an encounter with Jesus, and that’s what we’re about as priests, what we are about as Catholics, the church, and that’s where I want to put my time and energy,” he said.