Hello, everyone! Sorry it has taken me this long to come through on my promise (or threat, depending on your perspective) to conclude my Presbytery Reports with a final Post-Presbytery Analysis. Things haven't been all peachy over here (at least, not from a health perspective). I am reminded of the old song we used to sing in elementary school: "The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be ..."
Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway ..... about Presbytery .... Presbytery was a special opportunity for me. You see, I don't know much about Reformed churches. My experience is largely limited to Calvary OPC, and while that has been a good experience for me, the question lurks in the back of my mind: are other Reformed churches maybe very different? So I went with a lot of questions, some of which I was able to get answered by observation, and some of which I am still camped out in Pastor Tom's email inbox about.
But here are some of the questions that I had and what I was able to learn:
(1) Do Reformed pastors believe in God?
Hey, don't laugh. It's a real question. Sure, they can preach. But do they really believe what they say? When they are making their decisions, are they conscious of their own duty before God? Or do tempers flair and egos run wild and are decisions made on an arbitrary sense of what is best for the church officials rather than what is right? Based upon my observations, I think they really do believe in God. Sure, there were moments in which tempers became a little edgy, especially as dinner time approached. But overall, patience was in good supply and God seemed always on the minds of those present. "We should do this because God commands it" was always a good reason in that group. As I noted in my last Presbytery report, this was very impressive.
(2) Can Presbyterians do anything on time in a meeting?
Yes. They went to lunch and to dinner precisely on schedule. Other than that, no. In fact, getting them to return from lunch and dinner practically required the use of a cattle prod.
(3) Do Presbyterian pastors ever wear regular clothes?
Well, I don't know about ever, but certainly not at Presbytery. You'd think they'd break out the jeans for a thirteen hour meeting, but no.
More than fifty men in formal attire for 13 hours on a warmish day is what it was. Imagine the dry-cleaning bill.
(4) What is the EPSI at a Presbytery meeting?
EPSI is an acronym for Elders Per Square Inch that I developed back when I was looking for a church. Ordinarily, I use it to calculate the balance of authority within a church.
Generally, a good EPSI somewhere in the middle range. A very low EPSI suggests a cult-like authority by one or two people, whereas a very high EPSI suggests that the church ordains anyone who will stand still long enough. Both extremes spell trouble.
Of course, I knew that the EPSI in Presbytery was going to be off the charts, for reasons that had nothing to do with the authority balance. But it was interesting to note how it progressed throughout the day. Below is a chart showing the change in EPSI over time in the sanctuary (blue bars) vs. the fellowship hall (red bars).
As you can see, the day started off quite well, with all representatives in the sanctuary and none whatsoever dawdling about in the fellowship hall, and that was surprisingly well-maintained throughout the morning. The EPSI of the sanctuary dropped off sharply at the lunch hour, as the representatives rushed upon the fellowship hall like a herd of cats that just heard a can-opener. Following the lunch hour, there was a weird time (marked by an asterisk on the chart) in which many of them seemed to be nowhere at all, apparently in a vain attempt to put themselves beyond earshot of the call back to the sanctuary ... until they were gradually pulled back by the insistant and rather forceful hymn-playing that signaled the beginning of the next portion of the Presbytery meeting. The pattern was repeated for the dinner hour, after which attendance in the sanctuary began to gradually drop off.
(5) How was the time divided in Presbytery?
The allotment of time in Presbytery is shown in the chart below:
Due to the unusual number of candidate exams, a large portion of the meeting was devoted to this. Other than that, the bulk of the time was spent on rewording documents. You see, what would happen is this ... some committee would report on some problem and how they proposed to resolve it. Usually this involved writing a some sort of declaration of intent to do something. At this point, all the representatives would frown deeply and begin to rewrite the document. "It says we intend to erase his name from our rolls. I think it should say, 'Intend to erase his name from our rolls unless we hear from him in writing before our next meeting.'" "Wait. The next meeting is a special meeting. It should be the next regularly scheduled meeting. Or how about before the end of the year?" "I move that we say 'intend to consider erasing his name'." And so on.
By the end of the discussion the Note would be qualified fifty different ways. "Our dear Brother in Christ," it would read, "We pray that all is well with you ( if you are okay with us praying for you). It is with deepest regret that we must notify you (or I suppose 'must' may be too strong, but we should notify you) that, inasmuch as you have not shown up now for three years and you emailed us all a karaoke version of Steam's song Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye (except Fred, you didn't send it to Fred, but we think maybe you didn't have his email address), you may no longer wish to be in fellowship with us. That being the case (and we hope that we do not misread these things, we suppose there are lots of reasons that you might want to send us that song), we are considering erasing your name from our rolls (but don't panic if you didn't really want to leave, because, really, we are only just starting to think about this) ..."
(6) What was the best moment?
In a complex case that I won't go into completely here, there was a complaint brought before the Presbytery regarding a decision made previously. The complaint itself was clearly out of order, and yet there was a lengthy and anxious discussion regarding whether the person bringing the complaint should be granted the floor anyway, just to be sure that all due concern was given to that person, followed by another lengthy discussion about whether the decision should be overturned even if the person was not granted the floor. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have simply dismissed the complaint out-of-hand. The fact that this was agonized over at such length was impressive and showed a diligence and concern for average church members.
(7) What was the most ironic moment?
A very sincere and even emotional discussion regarding whether children's Picture Bibles showing illustrations of Jesus were violations of the second commandment took place ... directly in front of the enormous stained glass picture of Jesus that dominates the front of the sanctuary at Covenant OPC (see photo below). Nobody mentioned Huge Jesus, but the potential viewing of picture Bibles was a grave concern to some.
(8) What will I always remember from this experience?
To bring my own chair. I'm pretty sure the chairs at Covenant were designed by someone who had an agenda to avenge the slaying of Servetus.
Besides that, I will remember the hesitancy--perhaps even to a fault--to do anything harsh or drastic. Actions that seemed mild even from the start were qualified, softened, worried over. It was rather like watching a group of over-protective parents trying to plan a day trip for their children: "We should make sure they wear sunscreen." "And a hat. Don't forget the hat." "What if they don't want to wear sunscreen? Would it seem harsh to insist on it?" "Well, we should make it available to them and strongly encourage it." "How shall we word that?"
It was sweet.
I was knitting a shawl for my daughter Kaylee this week (yes, this is related to the subject, you'll see). I have a shawl and she thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world, and she wanted one too, so I let her pick out some yarn and spent an afternoon knitting it for her. When she got home from school, I gave her the new shawl and we went outside and sat in the lawn chairs while she told me about her day at school. She told me that they had run a mile in gym class, but she had been way behind the other kids. Not only that, but she had a worse time this year than last year, even though she was taller and had thought she'd be able to run faster.
"Well, sweetie," I explained, "you know you've got your mama's disease. Don't feel bad about it. When I was your age, I couldn't keep up with the other kids either. But it's not a fair race, so don't ever be embarrassed. The other kids don't have the problems that you have, and it's not your fault that you can't run faster. Just do the best you can and that's all you can do."
She thought about this for a minute. "Am I going to be all shaky like you when I get older?" she asked.
"I don't know, honey," I said. "Most people who have this disease don't get the neurological problems like me. So probably not. But you will probably always be slow and have pain in your joints."
"Ok," she said. She thought for a moment. "Well, Mom," she added, "we both have the same disease but we also both have beautiful shawls. So we are even."
And sitting outside in the spring sunshine, watching a chubby squirrel hanging upside down from a branch to steal sunflower seeds from our birdfeeder, I kind of understood what she meant.
The world is full of pain and fighting and sin and grief. We can become overwhelmed and drown in it if we stare at it for too long and think too much about everything that could happen and all that could go wrong. But the world is also a good place with pretty shawls and sunshine and cute squirrels and good conversation with people we love.
In some ways, Presbytery is like that. Fifty guys in suits will never make a dent in the condition of the world; they will never stop wars or turn the tide of a cultural rush toward godlessness. They aren't gods ... they are just guys who talk too much and take too long to come back from lunch and make the meeting run late. All the same, they are guys who do believe in God ... and so it's a small glimpse into the church of Jesus Christ that spans centuries and denominations. In fact, every Sunday at worship is such a glimpse, although from a different perspective, which is why I love going to church so much. These are moments sitting in the sun, looking at a peaceful and happy world that isn't quite here yet, but will be someday.
And so we are even.
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