Learning to Water Ski

I have been having fun doing the podcasts with leaders in the presbytery. If you haven’t listened yet, you can go to the presbytery website to get to the right place to hear them. I knew before I came here that the presbytery had been through some troubled waters in the last few months. Whenever there is uncertainty and when hard decisions have to be made, there is a tendency to turn leaders into caricatures. We sometimes forget that they are real people and, unless they have very deep issues, are all trying to do the very best they can based on the way they understand the situation. My main goal for the podcasts was to help “humanize” the leaders of the presbytery. I hoped that we would all get to know them a little better and see them as three dimensional, not just in their roles in the presbytery. I hope we are accomplishing some of that.

What I did not anticipate was some of the benefits of having these conversations. I have gotten to spend almost an hour with each of the leaders in a concentrated conversation. That is a rare commodity these days. I have also gotten to learn about these leaders and about their interests in a way that might have taken months in other circumstances. For instance, I learned that Greg Boyer and I share a love of gardening. We spent a few minutes talking about that smell the first time you turn the earth over in the spring. Gardeners share a love of that sensation. I learned that John Chu was brought up, in part, in Great Britain and has a cockney accent that he can pull out when it might startle someone. And, I learned that Barbara Gorsky is fond of water skiing.

I asked Barbara about how she would teach someone to water ski if they had never done it before. She talked about loving to do this, especially when the student is a child. She does not start new water skiers out in the water. Instead, they put on the skis on the dock. Then they stand on the dock and hold the rope in their hands so that they can feel what it is like to ride behind the boat. Only after they are comfortable with all of this, does she get them into the water. Even there, they are not on their own. She swims behind them and buoys them up and helps them to standing on their first few tries. She wants them to enjoy skiing as much as she does. She wants them to be successful.

While she was talking about this, I was thinking about how this compares with the way we bring in new members or launch new officers in the church. Oftentimes, we have them sit in a class to learn about John Knox and the committees of our church. Or we have them sit around a table and hear about the budget woes of our church and strong arm them into signing up to lead the committees that no one else wants to lead. What if we used Barbara’s analogy of teaching people to ski, instead? How could we let new members get comfortable with their newfound faith, or their newfound commitment to the church before we expect them to act on it alone? Perhaps we could have them shadow our friendliest person on Sunday morning as they greet people before worship. Perhaps they could work alongside the person who sorts the food for the food pantry to learn about the needs of the neighbors of the church. Maybe they could sit next to someone who loves worship so that they could ask questions about the service as it is happening. How could we provide the same kind of companion training to new officers? Maybe no deacon should be expected to take the flowers to the hospital after worship alone until they have accompanied someone else a few times. Maybe an elder should not be expected to moderate a committee until they have had a chance to see how that committee works and to decide if this is where their gifts fit. We could even have elders attend a couple of session meetings between the time they are elected and when they are installed to see how this really works.

I have never been on water skis. I am not sure I ever will be J But if I ever decide this is something I want to do, I hope that Barbara Gorsky or someone just like her is available to be my teacher.

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago