I’m one of those cold-hearted Christians. I believe in God because my mother taught me to. I go to church because my spouse wants me to. And I join committees because my friends ask me to.
And because I’m a better-safe-than-sorry kind of heathen, I also go to Bible Study, have taught Sunday School and always make the tuna salad sandwiches at the annual Holiday Fair.
It may sound somewhat impressive, but compared to many people at our little church in Leonia, I am but a peripheral Presbyterian, just trying to do the minimal amount to make it to heaven.
In January, the pastor of our church retired. Presbyterian “rules” dictated that we had to let her go in peace; that we shouldn’t contact her with our personal woes or our pastoral concerns. And certainly we shouldn’t whine about the constant stream of guest preachers in and out of the pulpit while we waited for “the one.”
Instead of embracing change, seeking support from my fellow congregants and at least trying to glean some inspiration from random ministers’ sermons, I did what all Christians of my caliber would do. I checked out.
After a long and arduous process, continuity came and Leah Fowler was hired as an interim pastor and I came back to church — if for no other reason than to check her out. The deal is she’ll stay for a year to get us over the hump and if she likes us and we like her, she can apply for a permanent position. If not, we keep on looking for the person who will lead us into perpetuity, or with any luck, into the next decade.
Leah seems to be everything a pastor should be. She a lovely person, full of great ideas and loving thoughts. She’s young enough to bring energy and old enough to bring wisdom. She delivers meaningful sermons and is spiritually sound. She’s a good catch.
Back in the fall, before our previous pastor departed, one of my favorite churchsters, Ginny Brown, made her annual plea, asking me to join the Session. I turned her down, with my usual empty promise that I’d really, really consider it next year.
The Session, according to my limited knowledge, is the governing body of our church. It’s made up of ten or twelve pious parishioners, who care about the inner workings of the church, chair important committees and sit through long meetings on the second Tuesday of every month. I know this because my spouse has been on Session more years than not in our 20-year tenure at the Presbyterian Church in Leonia.
My spouse is a model ruling elder, as they call those who serve on Session. He is a much more serious Christian than I will ever be. He scowls when I try to rile up the Peters’ grandchildren in the pew next to me. He rolls his eyes when I sing loudly and defiantly off key. And he believes that my inappropriate and sacrilegious comments should be saved for a night out with the girls rather than delivered at a church meeting with pious parishioners.
But somewhere between then and now a pseudo-friend made an interesting comment that caught me off guard and made me reassess my religious involvement.
“I am so jealous of you,” she said. “I want to be you!”
Which furrowed my brow, making me wonder what kind of hell she must be living in to think, even for a fleeting moment, that being me might be an upgrade. She of the fancy house and youthful skin, of the skinny waist and fashionable dress.
Those who know me best know how difficult it is to be me, and that I am not an easy person to be friends with, let alone live with. I battle demons on an hourly basis, equate my self-worth with a number on the scale, ruminate and regret 90 percent of the words that come out of my mouth (and at the rate they spew, that’s a lot of rumination) and question the motivation behind my every action, downplaying every good deed I’ve ever done.
And so, I just laughed. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what she had said.
The next morning I was out on a 20-mile bike ride, giving me plenty of time to think deep and shallow thoughts. I got to contemplating the state of my life and wondering if pseudo-friend maybe had something there. After all, here I was out riding my bicycle on a beautiful spring morning in the middle of the week. Why do I get to bang out marketing copy from the comfort of my own home while so many of my friends have to board a bus to the city or dodge traffic to beat their bosses to work? Why, when I got breast cancer did I manage to make it through with a double mastectomy while my dear friend had to lose her hair and get sick to her stomach? How did I get kids who actually seem to like me when my friend who has done nothing more than devote her life to loving her children gets profane and venomous texts from hers? How did I get the one-in-a-million spouse who says, “Sail Away! Have fun with Patty! I’ll have a super supper waiting upon your return!” when so many of my friends “could never” go away without their husbands?
I could have gone on to question the fairness of life. Why some of us have so much, and others have so little, but at that point I swerved to avoid hitting a dead and bloody squirrel and a blasting horn broke me out of my reverie.
That was the point at which I had an epiphany.
I realized I should just stop questioning why. Stop looking for the but in every blessing. Stop looking over my shoulder wondering when the axe is going to fall. And maybe start believing that there might be someone up there who’s ultimately responsible for all my good luck.
Perhaps it was time to show my thanks and start giving back.
I may never spend the night at the Family Promise shelter with Linda McGarry. I doubt I’d go to Guatemala to build a bottle school with Suzanne Broffman. And I’d be hard pressed to pick up a brush to paint the sanctuary with Pete Shanno. I know I’ll never be selfless enough to tithe to the church, proselytize on the corner or praise Jesus on Facebook.
But I could certainly become a member of Session.
And so I did. On Sunday I was ordained as an elder.
“I’m actually a little bit nervous,” I admitted to our kind new pastor.
“Good,” she said. “That means it must mean something to you.”
Yeah, right. I said to my cynical self.
But when I knelt in front of the church and dozens of past and present ordained congregants laid their hands upon me, something happened. I can’t say I was moved to talk in tongues, but I was speechless. And for me, that’s pretty much one in the same.
I’m not sure they really know what they’ve gotten themselves into at the Presbyterian Church in Leonia, but as we all know, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
So, as I work on becoming a better person, a more charitable soul and a more involved parishioner, all I can say is, God help us all.