I grew up a P.K. On the off chance you didn’t know, P.K. is short for Preacher’s Kid. Along with that dubious moniker came some lofty expectations. Namely, as a P.K., apparently I was supposed to be perfect. Like every child of Adam and Eve since the Fall, I was unable to meet that unattainable goal. Well, at least my brother and I were. Our older sister Becky came pretty close.
Since our dad was the pastor, we kids were expected to be in church every Sunday...which we were. Dad was never happy when one of his kids got in trouble, but nothing aggrieved him more than when his own kids misbehaved in church. In 1 Timothy 3: 4-5 it says: (A pastor) must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? I suspect there were a few times when dad had second thoughts about his career choice.
When we were little boys, my brother and I would sit next to our mom in church. She always sat very still, ramrod straight, hands folded in her lap, somber and stoic. Perhaps she was ruminating on the two little strong-willed gifts from God sitting to her right. Any shenanigans were met with a firm pinch to the inner thigh. Man, that hurt!
(An elderly pastor with his three no-longer-naughty-in-church sons.)
Every so often, she would be asked to fill in for the regular organist. On those Sundays we would be put under the direct supervision of our nearly perfect sister. Let’s be clear, we loved and respected her, but we knew she had no real authority over us. My brother and I would scooch over a couple of inches at a time until we were outside her disciplinary purview. We would then proceed to make paper airplanes or catch flies or play tic-tac-toe on the back of the bulletin.
There’s a scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Joe Harper are fooling around with a tick during school. Engrossed in their game, they fail to notice the teacher standing above them about to administer a mighty thwhack! with his ruler. My brother and I were similarly oblivious to the fact our dad preached from an elevated pulpit. He could see everything that transpired in the pews. When we got home from church, my mom would prepare our favorite Sunday lunch of hamburgers and chocolate malts. Then dad would invite my brother and me up to his bedroom for a ‘session.’
He would say, “Boys, you are not to misbehave in church. I’m going to give you a spanking and I want you to know that this is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you.” He would then administer a couple of well-deserved swats to the bare behinds of his wayward sons. We would sit up in his bedroom and cry for a few minutes before coming downstairs. Looking back, even though the spankings did hurt, I think what was more upsetting was seeing our dad disappointed and angry with us. I’m embarrassed to say that this scene repeated itself far more times than it should have. Apparently we were slow learners.
Anyway, here’s where this is leading. On New Year’s Day, my wife and I went to church with our youngest son, his wife and two little girls, ages two and five. The five-year-old drove with me and Grandma. I dropped Grandma off at the front door. She was in charge of saving us seats. When the rest of us got inside, we saw them wayyy down front in the second pew. We trundled on down the aisle and joined her. In my wife’s defense, people were pouring in and the church was nearly full. We had been in church with the little ones on Christmas Eve and they were perfect, so sitting in front seemed like a no-brainer.
There was nobody in the pew ahead of us and then just 10 feet of open space to the base of the communion rail and pulpit. The floor of this church is varnished concrete. Everything was going along swimmingly. Both kids were behaving like angels. The two-year-old was sitting in her mom’s lap, and the five-year-old was between mom and dad. Both had some sort of magic tablet on which they could draw. One was purple; one was pink.
About halfway through the sermon, the two-year-old noticed that her sister had her tablet. In a fairly quiet voice, she said, “I want the pink one.” Mom said, “Shhhhh.” Older sister ignored her.
She said it again a little louder. “I want the pink one!” Mom said, “Shhhh.” Older sister ignored her.
She said it a third time a little louder. “I want the pink one!” Mom said, “Shhhh.” Older sister ignored her.
This happened two more times, each time a little louder. Finally, dad had enough. He grabbed the pink tablet from the five-year-old and switched it with the purple tablet that was supposed to be hers. When he took the purple tablet from the two-year-old, the stylus used to write on it flipped into the air, landed on the floor and started rolling under the front pew heading south. Dad quickly got up and retrieved it before it rolled all the way down front.
Then the two-year-old decided she wanted to sit on grandma’s lap to my left. I had brought a red metal thermos filled with coffee into the sanctuary. This seems to be common practice today. I had set the thermos on the floor ahead of me and pushed it under the very front pew. As the little one was trying to squeeze past me to get to grandma, her little feet were swinging hither and thither. Sure enough, she accidentally kicked the thermos and knocked it over. It toppled with a loud CLANG! and started rolling. I summoned up some cat-like reflexes from my youth, squatted down quickly on my terminally sore knees and somehow managed to grab the thermos or it would have rolled all the way down to the communion rail. Even though there was a cover on the top, the slot in the lid was open and half the coffee exited the container.
At this point, if you asked me what the sermon was about, I’ll freely admit that I have no idea. I sat back, cheeks burning, fixated on the point ahead of the front pew where I was sure a river of coffee would soon start flowing. The woman playing piano up front looked up when she heard the clang. There was another mom with her daughter sitting close by. They looked at each other quickly as if to say, “Who is that dummy with a coffee cup in the front row?” The pastor, I’m sure, also witnessed the commotion from the heights of his pulpit.
Finally, we stood for a prayer and I could see there was an expansion joint cut into the concrete. All the coffee had pooled in it, preventing it from flowing any further. I hustled out to the bathroom and got some wet paper towels. I came back in with my face still red, knelt down in front of the pew (Knees, don't fail me now!) and wiped up all the spilled coffee, praying that it wouldn’t leave a big stain on the concrete floor. Fortunately, by the end of the service, the stain had dried and disappeared. See? God does answer prayer! Toward the end of the service the five-year-old crawled up onto my lap. I said, “You were such a good girl today!”
We got back out to our car. As we were driving home, the five-year-old said, “Grandma, Buppa was talking during church!”
I said, “Hey, wait a minute! I just told you what a good girl you were!”
She said, “Buppa, you’re not supposed to talk in church.”
Sometimes, you just can’t win.
There was one bright spot in the whole saga: the two sips of coffee left in the thermos were still piping hot!
(Two little angels!)