Mrs. Sulzmann and I had the pleasure of attending the annual stated meeting and family conference of the presbytery of the Presbyterian Reformed Church. The event was held from Tuesday June 5 through Sunday June 10.
Our congregation hosted Presbytery this year at Ridgecrest, NC near Asheville. Every congregation was represented, and we were able to reconnect with brothers and sisters from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, Ontario and England.
It was good to see everyone who came. New people showed up every day. Most of the "locals" (our congregation) turned out for the weekend to take in some of the activities plus the nightly family-worship, Psalm singing and the Friday night talent show.
On our way up Tuesday we stopped at Chimney Rock and enjoyed the breathtaking view from 2240 ft. I hiked as far as "Exclamation Point" and decided against going to the falls when I found out how long the hike would take. I had had to leave Mrs. Sulzmann to rest back at the rock area due to her condition.
A hammer-dulcimer player from Shelby, NC stationed near the gift shop entertained passers-by. We loved his music so much we bought one of his CD's. We'd love to have spent more time at Chimney Rock but we wanted to arrive at the conference center in plenty of time to unpack, settle, eat, and attend the evening corporate worship.
Rev. Mohon, the outgoing moderator, preached the sermon Tuesday night. We sang Psalm 2 and Psalm 45:1-7. That service, and most of the week it was a very humbling experience to be the host precentor for the praise with all these brothers and sisters from our various congregations singing Psalms. The singing was awesome and I felt very encouraged because everyone was so supportive.
Mrs. Sulzmann and I attended those deliberations of the presbytery that are open to the public. For the opening on the morning of the 6th, the praise was to be from Psalm 84. The resident precentor for these presbytery meetings is an elder from our Des Moines, IA congregation who was unable to attend. After I few seconds pause I started humming the tune University because that is the tune to which our congregation sings Psalm 84. This was agreeable to the presbyters and we sang the praise. I got to do the precenting again on Thursday from Psalm 48 for the session that would wrap up the business of presbytery. These two incidents of leading praise were a very, very special privilege to me because I am not even an elder.
The fellowship at these events is very unique because we reunite with friends from the other congregations and there are always new people to meet and get to know.
The nightly family-worship was always a special time. We heard from the ministers of the various congregations. The presbyters decided on a series from Paul's epistle to the Colossians 3 and part of 4. This culminated in the Sabbath Christian education hour, the morning service and the afternoon service.
In the family-worship we heard from Rev. Douglas Gebbie of the Chesley, ON congregation, Rev. Steven Dilday from Northern VA, and Rev. Mohon from England. We sang and opening Psalm and a closing Psalm, then it was opened up for people to request 2-3 favorites. I found myself with a couple of challenges with tunes that I hadn't practiced in a long time. I also had to make some adjustments here and there because the Psalm book has certain beloved tunes that have to be transposed down a half step or even a full step to avoid hitting E or E-flat which challenges some people.
There were some planned side trips, and others happened. We went with the group to the state Arboretum near Asheville and enjoyed a hike to view the flora that are native to the area. After the hike we ate our box lunches under some shade trees. It got very hot that afternoon so we pretty much bagged it after lunch and returned to the conference center.
Friday's planned trip was really awesome: whitewater rafting. We had to sign up for that way ahead of time like when we were sending in our registrations to attend the conference. This included a carefully-worded release form! It took Yours Truly like three days to decide whether to do it or not. My wife had an easy decision because she cannot do those things any more. I finally figured, hey, who knows, this might be the only time I ever get to go whitewater rafting. Well, I ended up with the honor of being the oldest person on the trip. And I had a ball!
One thing that was kind of frustrating was the meals. The food itself was great, and there was plenty of it. Except for one meal when they had 500 people they weren't expecting and they ran out of food. I think Mrs. Sulzmann and I got maybe like five meals in all the whole time where we got to sit with people from our group. I mean, our timing seemed to be off. Plus there were so many others in the dining hall at the same time from all the other conferences that it was hard to spot our people among them.
Friday night we learned many of our people had natural talents we never knew they had. There were some good songs, instrumental pieces and a skit. Most memorable to this writer was Miss Sarah Marshall's recital of the Mozart K 265, 12 Variations in C major on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman", played from memory.
We did some hiking on our own Saturday morning and then chilled that afternoon. I think that helped us with the Sabbath preparation.
We had some other special times like one night we went out with another couple from our congregation to a restaurant instead of eating in the mess hall and then some other special extended times with people we wanted to get to know better.
It was neat to see our children, teenagers and college age people spending a lot of time with one another and enjoying it. And our resident "presbytery historian" always brings the scrapbooks of the photos from past Presbyteries with the artwork and captions so beautfully done. It's nice to be able to review these and see what people did and how everybody's changed from year to year.
I mentioned the Lord's Day services above. They were wonderful. One thing that is always a challenge to me as a precentor is to be able to lead the praise and worship at the same time. In general the singing at those services was so exceptional that I felt like I didn't have to do anything. I will never forget the last Psalm on Sunday morning, 112:1-6 to the tune GrÃ¤fenberg. I had a special sense of being free. I was worshipping and the only difference was that I was up in front of the congregation facing the rest of them, Rev. Ericson from Des Moines behind me in the pulpit. We were in union with Christ, in communion with one another, and we worshipped. To me that is the ultimate fellowship, short of heaven.
Our own minister Rev. Worrell of the Charlotte, NC congregation preached in the afternoon. He is the moderator of the Presbytery for this year now. It was a grand service ending appropriately with our missionary Psalm 67 to the tune Zenka.
Sunday evening we had the ultimate Psalm sing. All of us who are precentors in the various congregations had to select Psalms that we know to be special in our respective local bodies and then take turns up front precenting. In many cases we found ourselves learning new tunes or singing familiar tunes to a different musical arrangement due to variances among Psalm books that are currently in use. I ended up "pinch hitting" for Northern VA as well as doing Charlotte. I am grateful especially for those who worked hard to learn to sing Psalm 145:1-7 to the tune Doversdale. That tune is in The Scottish Psalmody but not in The Psalms in Metre. It is a lovely tune, but I think I underestimated the inherent challenges a bit!
The Stockton-on-Tees (England) congregation sent goodies over with the Mohon's to treat us Sunday night for our last fellowship gathering. There's something special about those English candies, like the Cadbury chocolate for example. We all made short work of what was provided. As is typical we are always wanting to prolong these visits, so reluctant to break fellowship as we know that many of use will not see one another in person for at least a year.
I hung out but I finally had to crash. Mrs. Sulzmann was already in bed by the time I got up to the room. We left around 5:45 in the morning, stopped for breakfast on the way, stopped at my office in uptown Charlotte to grab the work laptop because my first day back is an offsite training meeting and then finally picked up the dog at the kennel.
We got home and of course it hadn't rained all week. My favorite pineapple sage was in shock for lack of water. Mrs. Sulzmann did the unloading while I started hauling buckets to the garden and hand-watering the thirsty plants. That being done we ended up recuperating for the rest of the day.
And that was a presbytery.