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Pastoral epistles (North Park Presbyterian).

My dear editor:

In the two decades following WWII, the halcyon days of church growth and rapid extension of the city, North Park Presbyterian, under the then-youthful and slimmer Rev. J. Paddyngton Bayer, sought larger facilities in which to worship. St. George Anglican filled both needs. When its members began to flee to more pastoral, suburban surroundings, the diocese decided to follow, discretely putting St. George up for sale, preferably to another church. Knowing a bargain when they saw one, North Park snapped it up.

There never was much parking, even in its Church of England days. It was the kind of congregation where people strolled leisurely to church or had their chauffeurs drop them off and pick them up.

J.P. rather hoped it would remain that way; and, for a while, it seemed likely. (Hence the "other" name for his congregation -- GNP.) But, alas, it was not to be.

The congregation remains wealthy, but the neighbourhood is no longer one of shaded mansions glimpsed over manicured lawns and through privacy hedges from tree-lined streets. GNP is surrounded by office towers and several high-rise condos offering "gracious living" that does not seem to include going to church.

Parking is scarce, and GNP's 20 spaces are coveted. Twelve are rented by the month, and the waiting list for a spot is said to be longer than Methuselah's family tree. Two are left for handicapped parking, one for "members on church business" and the other five for staff.

The whole business is a perpetual worry. At one point, the board of managers, tired of coping with 20 flavours of outrage and with an eye to a hefty increase in revenue, proposed that the lawn and flowerbeds on one side of the church be paved over. That idea was put to rest when two members of the Lawns and Flowers Guild chained themselves, one to a large maple and the other to the Monument to the Unknown Presbyterian. (Actually, "tied" is more appropriate than "chained." They used the ornamental ropes that were tied across the stairways leading to the galleries.) The unknown Presbyterian is really Robbie Burns; but, shortly after the monument was commissioned, several of the more sensitive members actually read something written by and about the poet. In any case, the gesture made quite a splash in the local news.

The problem of parking poachers has been addressed in several unsuccessful ways. A retired member of the congregation was given the task of policing the lot. He took the term "policing" literally. He would hide in a convenient spot and, when he spotted an unfamiliar car pulling in, he would leap out, stand with his legs braced apart, clutching his ticket book in both hands straight out in front of him. Sighting along it, he shouted "Freeze!" and "Spread 'em!" Not only were his orders contradictory, they scared the living daylights out of more than one poor soul; for example, the mother of the assistant minister who was visiting from out of town.

One ingenious scheme involved punching a code on a machine that, if incorrect or unpunched, would activate a plate of iron spikes behind the wheels of the trespassing auto. It was dismissed as too expensive to install and, perhaps, lethal to more than the church's image.

But the real problem involved J.P. himself and the owner of an always new, always silver Porsche -- a decidedly more expensive and more expensive looking car than his own. In the winter, this man's parking spot was under a junction in the eves over the back wall. Under the right conditions, a huge and menacing icicle would form. When that happened, he would take J.P.'s spot.

They had him ticketed once, but he paid with a money order in Lithuanian currency drawn on the Bank of Hong Kong. It cost them much more than the ticket was worth and a near-resignation from the church treasurer.

Despite the "Park Here and You Preach" sign, the Porsche man refused to risk an icicle dent. J.P. wanted to change the sign to "Park Here and Burn in Hell!" but the board thought the suggestion unsuitable in tone and theologically.

Growing desperate at this affront to his dignity, J.P. borrowed a trick from an old Eddie Murphy movie he had seen in a "Film and Faith" course. One dark, late afternoon, he stuffed a banana up the exhaust pipe. When the garage found the problem, the Porsche man had a piece of steel mesh secured to prevent a recurrence. He had his suspicions; but, by the time the banana was found, fingerprints were out of the question.

J.P. took to coming in early, at about 6 a.m. This meant all evening meetings were an ordeal and no fun for him. But even that didn't work. The Porsche man must have had some flunky watching from the tower. As soon as J.P. backed out in his Buick, he would slip the silver intruder into the vacated spot.

The board of managers was frantically trying to draw up a new parking contract with provisions for icicles and other acts of God when the matter came to a sunny conclusion. The weather turned warm, and the icicle was reduced to harmless proportions. However, as both men, meeting by chance, were glaring over their respective hoods and getting out their car keys, about 30 centimetres of wet, slushy snow slid off the length of the steep roof at some volume. No damage was done to the cars, but a couple of rather expensive hats needed attention.

Yours for seeing justice done,
COPYRIGHT 1999 Presbyterian Record
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Plymley, II Peter
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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