I’ve been a part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for nearly 25 years – over half of my life. My relationship with the PC(USA) has evolved over time, just like most of the relationships in my life. But the overwhelming feeling I get when I think about my particular tribe within the Christian tradition is hope.
Let me explain.
There was a time when I thought I knew exactly what the PC(USA) needed to do in order to thrive and grow – to reverse the sobering trends of decline that pundits and vocal mainline critics seemed to delight in reporting. I believed I had all the answers – or at least I knew where to find them.
I sought guidance from the teachings and writings of the pastors and leaders of the largest churches in America. I went to church leadership conferences, listened to megachurch pastors on podcasts and, honestly, learned a lot of wonderful things that I have been able to successfully implement in my own ministry context.
But I also found a subtle and troubling undertone to a lot of the guidance that I received – a message of exclusivity, an emphasis on drawing lines in the sand and what I found to be a dangerous focus on individualism and self-help techniques masked as “biblical” truth.
This month, for the first time in the nearly 25 years that I have been a part of the PC(USA), I will be serving as a commissioner at the 222nd General Assembly. It is an honor to be asked by my presbytery to serve. I hadn’t fully realized how much I wanted to belong, to be a part of something greater than myself until I was elected.
My prayer for the upcoming General Assembly, and for all of my fellow commissioners, is that we would be willing to be honest about the reality of our situation. I read last year that over half of the ten thousand-plus churches in our denomination have less than 100 members. Our congregations are aging. Very few of us are drawing in younger worshippers. We have some serious problems to address.
So, I also pray that we wouldn’t address those problems by constricting who we are, by becoming more exclusive, more dogmatic, more divided over debatable issues. I pray that we would embrace the diversity of our “big tent” and celebrate all of the ways that we are seeking to reach those who have yet to discover Jesus. I pray that we would find strength in our community – in unity in diversity. I pray that love would prevail.
I will continue these prayers in my work as a commissioner this month. I look forward to seeing how the Spirit will move among us in Portland. I am hopeful. I will live into that hope.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor and a failed artist. He serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida.