Legend has it that when the Scottish reformer John Knox traveled to Geneva to meet his mentor, John Calvin, he was appalled to find the Presbyterian patriarch bowling on the Sabbath.
So offensive a Sabbath activity was (lawn) bowling among many Puritan reformers that the Church of Scotland — which Knox founded — has at times banned the practice.
But John Calvin was an avid bowler ... and any day of the week was good for him.
And so it is for the Presbytery of Miami Valley. So much so, that the presbytery is hosting a bowling-and-birthday-cake party on Reformation Sunday (Oct. 25) to mark the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.
“We tend to ‘over-churchify’ things,” Miami Valley Executive Presbyter Dennis Piermont told the Presbyterian News Service in an Oct. 20 interview. “We know there’s lots of good scholarship and theological events going on around the ‘Calvin 500,’ so we started thinking, ‘What else can we do?’”
The Rev. Julia Wharff, pastor of Dayton’s Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church, had known of the Calvin-Knox bowling-on-Sunday conflict since hearing about it in seminary. Then last winter she went bowling with friends for the first time in many years and the idea stuck like a thumb in a too-tight Ebonite.
“I had been looking around and everything about the Calvin 500th looked so serious, and some of the opportunities, like going to Geneva, were way too expensive,” Wharff said, “so I thought, ‘Why not just celebrate his birthday the way we usually celebrate birthdays — with a party.’”
“We know Calvin was a lawn bowler but we’re in Ohio so that’s a little impractical at this time of year,” Pierpont said of the decision to stage the event at a conventional indoor alley.
“It’s perfect for us Presbyterians,” says presbytery moderator the Rev. Bill Reisenweaver. “We’re used to splits!”
Miami Valleyites apparently like the idea, too. Piermont said upward of 100 bowlers are expected to attend. “This is a whole new way of walking in Calvin’s shoes,” he said, “in this case for only a small rental fee.”
The wording on the Calvin birthday cake is even going to have a bowling-related theme, but Piermont assured, it won’t be a foul line.