The saga of Presbytery October 2011 began all the way back in January of this year. At a nerve-wracking corporate meeting at our church, my husband Rick was made a trustee. He was immensely pleased for a second or so, and then an expression of terror crossed his face. “Oh, no … Calvary is hosting Presbytery in October!” he exclaimed.
If there is one thing my husband has learned from his eccentric wife, it is that Presbytery is really important. He glanced around in panic at the shabby walls, threadbare carpet, and sticky pews. Presbytery is in October!
And so, over the course of the next few months, I periodically became a Renovation Widow as my husband immersed himself in church projects. With his brilliant fellow trustee Phil (and the help of other wonderful volunteers) he painted restrooms, put in new lights, varnished pews, worked on roof repairs, and even recruited an artistic congregant to paint pictures for the walls. The past few weeks have been particularly hectic. The pulpit looked dismal next to the newly varnished pews, so he varnished the pulpit. New carpet showed up dull walls, and so he painted the sanctuary.
Our pastor wandered in. “This foyer is a little dingy,” he mused. “It would be good to paint that sometime. First impressions and all.”
He probably meant “sometime within the next decade, whenever we get around to it.” My panic-stricken husband heard: “Forty pastors are coming and they will think this church looks like the backside of a New York City subway tunnel.” He painted the foyer.
I helped by wandering over to the church several times a day during his projects, tracking carpet adhesive around the building, cheerfully munching down the food that Phil’s wife sent for lunch, and exclaiming, “This place is really coming along! I’m so excited about Presbytery!”
As Presbytery drew nearer, we participated in the pre-Presbytery meetings. We offered to bring food. Then, the church asked for volunteers to house pastors and elders during Presbytery. I finally balked. “I don’t like pastors,” I said to my husband. “Do you think our kids would be safe? I’m pretty sure those guys turn into werewolves under a full moon.”
It was a grim joke with too much reality to be very funny. For ex-cultists, love and fear are deeply intertwined, so much that it is often hard to even separate the emotions. In a world where the love of Jesus was preached amid threats and beatings, the distinction was meaningless. It is still hard to wipe away the painful image of bloody hands raised in worship amid shouts of, “Hallelujah!” and “Praise Jesus!” It is still hard to forget, even here in this quiet place.
I have often said that cultists are not destroyed by hate but by love. It was love that tied me to the only knowledge of Christ that I possessed even while it crushed me. It was love that bound me to the only church that I knew, even when it took everything I had. It was twisted, broken, foolish love, but it was love. And the worst effect of such an experience is not the lost money or lost time or even the physical injuries. It is the broken heart that follows such a profound betrayal of trust.
But it was still love that drew my husband and I back to church. Even amid our intense despair, we slunk into the back pew of a Presbyterian church one morning years ago, still looking for the God we love. To serve Him now is our greatest joy. We are like children being offered the great privilege of helping Dad. We beam in our pride at the prospect of doing anything useful, and our only horror is that we may mess it up and not be asked again.
And so we offer God’s servants the best we could manage around our hectic schedules and physical disabilities. We hope they like the brighter sanctuary. We hope the fumes from the varnish aren’t overwhelming (we have been trying to air the place out well for a week). We hope Mexican food sounds good for lunch.
We hope they find somewhere else to stay. They are kind of scary.