We asked our bloggers to share why they are Presbyterian. These are their responses.
I rarely get asked what denomination I am. When I do get asked about it, it’s usually because as I’m giving the name of my employer; I’m asked about it because “Presbyterian” is hard to spell.
This is just one sign of the increasingly post-denominational world in which we live. Even as a pastor, the question of my denominational affiliation rarely ever comes up. What comes up much more often is how young I look and statements about how I’m surely not old enough to be a pastor – followed by either awkward silence or a complaint about how no one goes to church anymore. Even armed with the knowledge that I’m a Presbyterian pastor, most people don’t know what to do with it.
So what does it matter whether I’m Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, United Church of Christ or nondenominational? It certainly matters to me: Not only was I raised in a Presbyterian Church, I also explicitly chose to be a Presbyterian pastor because of how much sense it made to me. We are a church of welcome, a church governed by the people, a church where everyone can participate. We are a church that strives to trust in God’s control, a church that works together to discern God’s will, a church that dialogues, a church that believes in taking action to translate God’s reign into real-world justice.
Also: If Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor, they couldn’t be all that bad.
Not everybody spends a lot of time thinking about Christian denominations, though. For many of us, we just trust our families and stay with the denominations we’re born into. According to the Pew Forum, 80 percent of U.S. adults raised by two Protestants and 75 percent raised by a single Protestant are still Protestants today. Our religious affiliation is highly linked to our parents’ affiliation. Although I may believe that I chose Presbyterianism, the statistics say that it was predestined. (There’s the requisite Calvinist joke.) Nevertheless, I’m planning on staying: Prearranged or not, I’ve learned to love this church.
I can understand, though, why some people would think that joining a church isn’t worthwhile. Churches hurt people. Churches get things wrong. Churches require time and energy. Churches are so often boring. Some of these things are true any time you get together with other people: Any time we spend time with other people, we have to set aside some of our own interests to have conversations about common interests. We find that we have different opinions because no two people think exactly alike. We have to put time and energy into maintaining relationships, otherwise they tend to slowly fade. One thing that (perhaps rightly) keeps people away from church, though, is that no one can hurt you like the church can. It’s a special kind of hurt that lingers in your soul. I can completely understand why people who have been hurt by the church stay away – or why people stay away for fear of being hurt.
Even so, I believe it’s still worth it to be part of this church. I can confidently invite people to become Presbyterian because I believe in this particular way of following Jesus – because this way of following Jesus allows people to think for themselves and find healthy ways of being in relationship with God. Being Presbyterian connects me to rich traditions of faith and to an individual congregation that challenges me and holds me accountable.
In the small church I serve now, I get a chance to get to know everyone else really well: We build strong relationships that allow us to call each other out and know when others need comfort. And because we’re small, our church reflects the people who are in it very closely. The major events in the lives of others affect me: We grieve together, worry together, hope together and celebrate together. And when one person sees God moving, it can change the course of the whole church. For us, that’s happened over a dozen times in the past few years. What an amazing thing it is to be able to see the effects of God changing lives and transforming communities!
I say all this, of course, as someone who is contractually obligated to show up to worship every Sunday morning. So it’s easy for me to talk about how wonderful it is to be part of the life of a Presbyterian church – I don’t have a choice! I know it’s more difficult to show up to church when it is a genuine choice – but I believe the reward is, in general, worth the effort.
Presbyterianism may not be right for everybody, but for hundreds of years, this way of following Jesus has made sense and deepened faith for many people of faith. At its best, Presbyterianism is Christianity by the people, for the people and of the people. This is as true today as it was when John Knox roamed the earth. The members of the church govern and guide the church through their actions and the actions of the elders, ministers and commissioners. This means that when anyone becomes a member of a Presbyterian church, they have an impact on the body – not only locally, but sometimes regionally or nationally. My faith, spiritual health and willingness to love my neighbor all have an impact on the church (and this is true of all in the church body, not just pastors). Presbyterianism is a system of balance where local churches respond to local needs, but local churches also exist in a community of churches that stretches across the nation. And while many may disagree, I still believe that there are times that the Holy Spirit uses this exact system to get God’s work done.
The Presbyterian Church is a beautiful mess: sometimes convoluted, sometimes soul-lifting, sometimes inane, and always hard to spell. But it’s a beautiful mess that God is making use of, and I’m happy that God has called me to be a part of it.
ALEX BECKER serves as the pastor of Langcliffe Presbyterian Church just outside of Scranton in the wonderful town of Avoca, Pennsylvania, where you might catch him out for a run, or more likely a walk.