Guest commentary by William McConnell
About two years ago, I went to the dark side.
I succumbed to the temptation to be one of the “cool” Presbyterians. (Is that an oxymoron? I think not). It was predestined to be. I started wearing – wait for it – bowties!The denomination’s stated clerk wears them regularly. There is even a day at General Assembly where everyone on the platform wears a bow tie in honor of the late Bill Forbes, who for 35 years was platform manager for the assembly.
So, with great fear and trepidation, trusting in the providence of God and counting on the perseverance of the saints and my own patience (or lack thereof), as I struggled to decipher the tying instructions on YouTube I took my first plunge into bowtie-dom.
Bowties have a long and storied history. They are first recorded in 17th-century Croatia. They pre-date Langsdorf (long) neckties by some 300 years. They aren’t easy to tie. They don’t give your belly any protection from dripping soup. Many wear them only when forced into a rented tuxedo as a member of the wedding party. Tenor and bass singers in nearly every choir outside the church tolerate the uniform of black tuxedo, white pleated shirt, black shoes, black socks and a black bow tie. Most who endure wearing bowties wear the pre-tied, perfectly symmetrical versions of the historic accessory.
In my relatively short tenure as a bowtie wearer, I’ve discovered something fascinating: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a lot like a bowtie.
Before you write me off as a complete Presby-nerd (which I very well might be), stay with me:
Bowties have a long and storied history dating back to the 17th century. The Presbyterian church has a history that goes back even farther. Our roots reach to John Calvin in 16th century France.
Many people who choose to wear ties never learn to tie a bowtie. Many who attend church will try us, but ultimately choose another denomination.
Tying a bowtie takes time and patience. Have you attended a presbytery meeting lately?
There is a moment in the tying process where that thing around your neck looks more like a gnarled knot of undisciplined fabric than anything to be shown in public. Have you attended a presbytery committee meeting lately?
Getting said “gnarled mess” to final product requires that you trust the process. Have you followed General Assembly overtures that begin in presbyteries citing references in The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, Book of Order, Directory for Worship, Rules of Discipline and Book of Confessions,only to then be discussed and approved (or not) based on Robert’s Rules of Order – Newly Revised?
And finally, a bowtie is never perfect. You sometimes just have to start over from scratch. Even when finished, it is never quite symmetrical and always seems to be a work in progress. The church consists of lots of humans doing their level best to join in God’s mission. Reformed and always reforming. Madam Moderator, I rise to offer a motion to postpone until time certain the discussion of the amendment to the amendment of the substitute motion currently on the floor.
Sounds a lot like the PC(USA), doesn’t it? Here’s to our history, our perseverance, our asymmetry and our maddening, yet ultimately satisfying, gnarled up messiness — all for the glory of God.
WILLIAM McCONNELL PC(USA) from Louisville as a mission engagement advisor in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. He is a lifelong Presbyterian, church musician and bowtie aficionado.