We asked our bloggers to share why they are Presbyterian. These are their responses.
I was predestined to be Presbyterian.
I’m not a cradle PC(USA) member; I wasn’t raised in the church, period. I didn’t start attending anywhere until I was 14, and I knew nothing about denominations. But there was a congregation down the street from my house, so I could walk to service anytime I wanted, which was most Sundays. Not long after my first visit, one of the co-pastors said that confirmation class was starting soon. Did I want to become a member? I said yes.
Maybe this was my rebellion against parents that were uninterested in religion. Maybe I wanted to belong somewhere. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit. (OK, it was probably the Holy Spirit). Whatever the reason, I sat with the other confirmand as we learned about being Christian adults.
I remember three things about that class. First, I learned that my church was awesome. Through my mentor, I experienced God’s radical love. She didn’t bat an eye at the skeletons in my closet. She just accepted me. Second, I learned that ours was a Presbyterian church. I didn’t understand what that meant and I couldn’t spell it, but I was proud that I could state my denominational allegiance. Finally, I learned that dissent and discussion are vital parts of our polity. I vividly remember watching a clip about General Assembly: A woman in a classic 1990s suit stood at a microphone gesticulating passionately, while the narrator explained the importance of debate in Presbyterianism in an aggressively bland voice. This was a place where people could disagree and still be family. It was a place where people stayed together even if they disagreed. It was a denomination that valued differing opinions. I was in love.
The democratic process of dissent held me in the arms of Presbyterianism through college. Then I went to seminary and found even more to love.
In systematic theology I discovered that I was predestined to be Presbyterian. The theology made so much sense. It resonated. It so aligned with my experience of life and faith that I couldn’t imagine belonging anywhere else (definitely the Holy Spirit). I valued that our faith was rooted in love (God loved us first so we respond with love) instead of fear. I appreciated the emphasis on God’s sovereignty. I loved Calvin’s views on prayer. But nothing made my heart sing more than total depravity.
Yup. Total depravity.
That’s the doctrine that says, “We can will no good apart from God.” We’re created good, but we live in a broken world. We get caught in brokenness. Institutional injustices (like racism, sexism, homophobia; poverty, violence, hunger) affect us from birth. Family wounds are handed down from parent to child. We are imperfect. Like a web, these fractures bind us such that it sometimes seems impossible to do anything good. The promise of this doctrine is that Christ breaks through that web and gives us the capacity to work for God’s Kingdom in this world.
It’s an awesome doctrine. And for me, it’s essential because I’ve struggled with depression since childhood. If you’ve ever lived with mental illness or loved someone who has, this might make sense to you. In the darkest recesses of my depressive world, it felt like things would never improve, like there was no hope of having a normal life, like it was lunacy to think that I would ever feel alive. The doctrine of total depravity was like soft moonlight illuminating the landscape. It was freedom.
I was predestined to be Presbyterian. That’s what I say, jokingly, though I really believe it. But it is just as true that I’m Presbyterian because in our theology and our polity I have found hope. I have found challenge. I have found love. It is just as true that in our theology and our polity I have encountered God.
Jennifer Barchi is serving as the solo pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.