Dearest Rachel –
There are times when I think I may have been part of a rollout test… but only in retrospect, of course. When I was in second grade (and an almost obnoxiously precocious kid), I would see my Dad heading off to serve as a leader in the church’s Awana club, and insist on joining, despite the fact that it was (at that time) specifically for third through eighth graders. The thought was that any younger, and kids wouldn’t be able to handle the material; certainly not at the pace at which it was presented.
I’m not sure if Dad made a case to the club commander, of if he used any pull as a member of the church board, but I understand there was some discussion about it, and a decision was made to allow me in a year early, just to see how well I would adapt. And while I was no great shakes at the gaming portion of the club meetings (apart from the circular tug-of-war, where I would eventually demonstrate myself to be a more than serviceable anchor), I did creditably well with regard to absorbing the lessons and memorizing scripture. So, I stayed a year ahead of my peers for the next three years. They drew the line at advancing me to the middle-school club for sixth-through-eighth graders, however, and had me spend my fifth grade memorizing the book of 2nd Timothy, in absence of a regular handbook.
I suspect that I might have been a test case as to the feasibility of an expansion of Awana Clubs to younger kids, because it wasn’t too long after that when they rolled out the Sparks club for kindergarteners through second grade. I’m pretty sure that Jenn was a part of that, in fact, because I recall the occasional stories about the fact that Bill (her eventual husband) was a junior leader in Sparks at that time; that’s right, my sister married her Sparks leader.
Similarly, you’ll recall the classes I took during 2019 and 2020 on theology with Pastor Scott. Normally, this was something done by the elders as a part of their ordination process – although I understand anyone on staff would be expected to take the class at some point, to ensure that they were doctrinally in line with the church’s teachings. Which makes sense; it’s no different from any business’ team-building exercises, wherein employees are expected to understand and integrate themselves within the corporate culture. Only, this is a bit more important, having to do with one’s relationship with God, eternal salvation and all that.
While I have no desire to be a part of the elder board (it’s hard to see oneself as an elder when your mental self-portrait still tends to be of a callow twenty- or thirty-something), nor do I wish to be hired on by the church (my volunteer role is quite sufficient, thanks), I’ve always wanted to learn more about theology, if for no other reason that my own experience growing up. I’ve told you about it all before, of course: years in a Lutheran school with a mildly adversarial stance toward certain of their catechistic teachings, coupled with the distant observation of the Jonestown incident and the corresponding belief that ‘that could happen to me if I’m not careful,’ led me to want to understand what exactly I believed, and whether it could be trusted, as opposed to other religious points of view.
And after all, I still had questions about certain things. In some respects, I have more questions now than I did back then, but that’s a whole series of other stories to be discussed as they come to light.
In any event, at some point I requested to be a part of the next time Pastor Scott would do an ordination class for a prospective elder or two, especially now that I was retired and had the time to spend on such studies. Of course, as it turned out, I would often find myself working on my notes the day before we were scheduled to meet, like cramming before each class session. Honestly, it’s like I developed into some much worse of a student than I remember being back in college. Or maybe I just remember badly.
I’d like to think I did credibly, but I was never asked to assemble an essay outlining my personal beliefs and how I arrived at them (the ‘final exam’ required of elder candidates prior to being officially ordained, complete with having to endure a question-and-answer session about said beliefs before the congregation). I had an essay in my back pocket (based on the volume of these letters, I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised at that), but I never had to actually publish it, so I’ve no real idea how well I might have been considered to have done. It’s not like any of this is ever graded, in any event.
However, as an ordinary lay person (I know, there will be those that might take issue with that self-characterization), I wonder if I might not have been a test case yet again. While our church designs its Sunday services to be accessible to all who attend, it would seem that Pastor Scott would prefer a well-educated congregation; or at least one that, like myself, has something of a grasp on the specifics of what and why we believe this or that. And so, he’s rolled out an educational series on it, meeting every week (and he’s leading this personally at each of the locations, so he repeats this process three times over), and going over much of the material you’d already seen me going through prior to taking your leave.
To keep it from being too dull (and clearly, he’s conscious of the fact that it might be so considered), he does what he can to cram as much material as possible into a single-hour presentation. The problem this presents is that it’s really hard to take notes that fast. It’s almost like those professors in college who would absolutely fill a wall-sized chalkboard with notes for everyone to write down even as he lectures.
It’s really quite the challenge to keep up, sometimes. However, I know of a way to get a little ahead of the crowd; thanks to my work in the booth, I know where to go to look at his presentation ahead of time, and jot down a good chunk of notes beforehand, so all I have to add are his verbal asides as he expounds upon it all.
And that’s what Daniel and I did last night, after having left the house, picked up dinner, and eaten in the church lobby with way too much time to spare. It allowed us to kill that extra time, while getting a jump on all that information that was going to be dumped on us in the following hour. Although admittedly, I didn’t think of it with enough time to spare in order to copy everything down, but every little bit helps.
Now, if I can only find someone who wanted to see these notes…