Thursday, January 6, 2005

The Preacher's Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

“One of those churches that’s spelled with a P”

It has happened again! Our church with its befuddling name has again been confused with some of our stalwart believers who share a superficially similar moniker.

I was at the Rotary Club meeting, when one of the brothers greeted me by saying, “Well, I see you are going to have “Prayer, Praise, and Preaching” come January!

“Not us,” I said, looking at him blankly — thinking to myself that surely he knew perfectly well that it would be impossible to bestir us Presbyterians out of our hard-earned winter somnolence, the preacher first and foremost of all. (Now that I’m 50, I take that “long winter’s nap” from ‘The Night Before Christmas’ very seriously, almost as a religious duty!)

My friend was not easily dissuaded. He said, “I’m sure the signs around the square have your name on them.” Well, I know mostly what’s up with my flock; but I suppose it would not be impossible for them to organize something like this on their own. I ate my lunch and resolved to check into the matter.

Anyway, for the nearsighted or the nonplussed, let me clear things up: It is the First Pentecostal Church here in Holly Springs that is having its Winter Conference January 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m. And indeed, their placards around the square do promise “Prayer, Praise, and Preaching!” May God bless their effort.

My Rotary friend is not the first to confuse Presbyterian and Pentecostal. Indeed in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn., the local chamber of commerce helpfully printed up a church directory for new residents. The only trouble was that they switched the headings of the Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches!

My friends Will Berger and Sally Hughes who are co-pastors there hope that this is the reason that several first-time visitors have gotten up and left right in the middle of their service!

True, the two names seem initially similar. Both derive from the Greek language of the New Testament. Both are multi-syllabic and both begin with a P. But the styles of worship in the two churches are quite different. Pentecostals generally see the Spirit’s presence and action in terms of spontaneous and emotive behavior; we, on the other hand, believe the Spirit is manifested through rigorous self-restraint and carefully cultivated order. In other words, to a first-time observer, Pentecostals will likely seem exuberant; and Presbyterians inhibited.

Pentecostals must be among God’s happiest people; we, on the other hand, can be as sedate as a funeral parlor. Librarians love us. We never have to be shushed!

But as my great-grandmother used to say, the reason there were so many religions was that God created so many different kinds of people.

For our part, we’d never make correct spelling of our name a condition of membership. In fact, the registrar at Auburn University once reported that he’d seen Presbyterian spelled seventeen different ways on one set of enrollment cards!

Years ago now, our treasurer received a bill from the Piggly-Wiggly store, and noticed that the person who had charged the items was a faithful adherent of Christ Episcopal Church in this community. Guessing that the store’s bookkeeper had made a mistake, our treasurer phoned over there to see if his hunch was correct. It was, and the bookkeeper exclaimed, “Oh I’m sorry; I wasn’t thinking. But I just knew that lady goes to one of our churches that is spelled with a P!”

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