A lot of the David Letterman-type Top 10 lists seem to be going around recently. Though as a twist they are also being combined as part of people’s “bucket lists.” You know the Top 10 places skydivers should plunge (to their death?) in hopes that the parachute opens. Alas this list is not nearly so exciting, but…except in a few cases (see #6 below)…also offers much less chance for pain.
So here goes — the Top 12 Things PCUSA Presbyterians should do before their predestined death. (YES 12 not 10 – One for each disciple.)
1. OK this one may stop some of you from reading any further but…show up early to church AND sit in someone else’s seat. You know what I am talking about. The commotion it causes might cause a schism, but hey why not? If you like the preacher let him/her know in advance; otherwise s/he may pass out when they look out from the pulpit and see you in Ms. Irma’s spot.
A true story I need to interject here…I once heard a member tell a first time visitor to move because they were in their seat. I offered mine, but alas the visitor never returned. Ahhh for the love of Christ…
2. Attend a session meeting…preferably the one when the budget is discussed. Now I know many of you reading this are elders who have served faithfully on the session, and I also realize from my own service that it is not easy to be faithful stewards. However, if you ever just sit back and listen, you know Jesus is either laughing or crying as such weighty matters are discussed…like whether or not to renew the $35.62 subscription to “These Days” or if we could just reuse the Sunday School material that has already been colored in and cut out from two years ago…Such fighting over sacred pieces of the pie, I mean holy ground, truly makes Jesus proud.
3. This could be 2A but after the session meeting, be sure to attend one of the meetings that occur immediately after it in the church parking lot. These are the ones where the pastor is criticized and then often called overpaid.
4. Go with the pastor to offer comfort to a dying parishioner or a grieving family going to the funeral home to make arrangements. Afterwards tell the people saying that the preacher is overpaid to “shut the hell up.”
5. Visit Mecca….er I mean Montreat…It truly is a very special place. If you can go to a youth conference, it will be even better. You will leave excited about your faith and have a new optimism about the PCUSA’s future.
6. Next visit hell…That is go to a Presbytery Meeting…I would give the option of going to a Synod Meeting but you’d have to find one first…Presbytery Meetings are great reminders of the importance of salvation, for without the grace of God you might spend eternity in such a meeting where reports are read, the lunch is usually bad, reports are read, the sermon is really 4 sermons in one (the preacher has 15 years of things s/he wanted to get off their chest and impress their colleagues about), the reports are reread, and nothing resembling the Great Ends of the Church is typically found. As a former Presbytery staff person I would like to find something positive to say here…well, OK on to number 7.
7. Spend a two or three consecutive days volunteering in your church office. Then when you sit in a committee meeting (Presbyterians love committees – that is how we roll) where it is said the church secretary could be dumped and those tasks could be done by volunteers – you can tell them what you saw, share why perhaps that is one of the dumber things you have ever heard, and then ask them to “shut the hell up”…all decently and in order, of course!
8. Go to a General Assembly…be sure to attend the opening worship which is always very powerful…watch the debates…attend a committee meeting or two…read some of the reports (no one can read them all)…meet the crazy person who ran for and was elected Moderator…recognize that this is some of the very best (and I also must admit worst) stuff we do as a denomination…but if you sit quietly, you can often feel the Spirit of God in the place. Very Powerful.
9. Be in charge of an event at your church which really needs folks to sign up in advance to have enough for everyone…something like the church picnic…be sure your blood pressure medication is up to date!
10. Visit the Presbyterian Historical Society and read some of the old session minutes they have. Can you imagine what would happen if your session today banned someone from communion for 6 months because they committed some mortal sin like using the Lord’s name in vain? Perhaps we have made some progress. Also take the time to look at how often Presbyterians were leaders on areas of justice like Civil and Women’s Rights when it was certainly unpopular…In fact we have often led the way towards progress. (BTW, did you know that MLK spoke at Montreat?)
11. Visit a seminary and ask to sit in on a few classes. You will leave with a far better understanding on why your pastor cringes/convulses when you suggest s/he return for a D Min (unless they are a geek or mental). That said, marvel at the commitment it took your pastor to get through school and become a Reverend.
Konia Greek…Hebrew…Polity… Theology…Homiletics…Church History… and none of these classes prepared them for the tasks of preparing coffee, fixing plumbing, dealing with broken copy machines, explaining to someone why the church paraments CAN’T match the new carpet color and attempting to explain to the youth group why a church cruise to Hong Kong is NOT a mission trip.
12. Go on at least a week-long mission trip. Nothing more powerful than BEING THE CHURCH…It will change your life.
Ok so there you go….12 things for you to try before you die if you’re a Presbyterian…I’d give you a 13th by telling you to read the church’s constitution–the Book of Order and Confessions–but I would really encourage skydiving first.
Clay Gunter is a public school technology teacher in Cherokee County Georgia. He is a ruling elder at Heritage Presbyterian Church (USA). He is married to his college sweetheart Laura and they have two teenage daughters.