The church is celebrating its 75th birthday, and I was writing an article on the festivities for their local newspaper.
“Wow!” she said. “That’s a great question.”
Yes, it was a great question. I have, over the past decade, published interviews with more than 300 active clergy who live and minister around Tampa. I have my finger on the spiritual pulse of the region. There is much to be excited about, in literally dozens of denominations, but there is a numbing sameness to the vast majority of the work, and a huge percentage of the population has yet to find a spiritual home.
Consequently, and while I have a deep appreciation for the commitment of almost every pastor I’ve met, it’s profoundly evident that there remains a crying need for a dynamic, passionate, creative Reformed witness — and it’s only being addressed by a handful of churches.
The majority of Presbyterian congregations in this region are losing ground. Why? It’s not because people already go to church somewhere else; and it’s not because (and I’ve heard this) “Presbyterians only appeal to a select group of people.”
First, less than 40% of the population attends church anywhere. Second, when “select” become mostly interchangeable with “dead,” we’re looking at the wrong demographic.
My pastor interviewee, Loli Ros Reiter (Seffner Church, Seffner, Fla.), offered an answer to my question that rang true; she’s irrepressibly enthusiastic about the value of a Presbyterian presence in any community.
“Presbyterians take God’s word very seriously,” she said. “We study it, and our history has been to look at the world around, and to see how we can fit God’s Word to the needs of the world today. That is an important witness, and we’re faithful.”
There’s a story about a well-known 19th-century atheist seen hurrying along a London street on his way to church.
Along the way, someone challenged him: “I did not know you believed this message.”
“I don’t,” he replied. “But the man who is talking believes with such passion that I am compelled to listen.”
Presbyterians have a message worth both the passion and the presence.