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Reasons to celebrate the PC(USA) this Advent season (Moderator’s column)

Heath Rada 02LOUISVILLE (PNS)

  1. I celebrate the PC(USA) as a denomination that unequivocally affirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ as our Savior. Each new member, when joining the church, confesses that she or he accepts Jesus as their personal Savior. In fact, they could not be members if they do not confess that as their position. Do we state that everyone has to be a Christian to be saved? I thank God that I am not called upon to provide God’s answer to that question, for only God can give the answer. God is the judge; that is God’s job. But I do know that all members of the PC(USA) say they believe Jesus is the mandated key to salvation, and for that I celebrate our denomination.
  2. I am grateful that the PC(USA) believes in the authority of the Scriptures as being God’s word. Anyone who is ordained a teaching or ruling elder in our denomination affirms that this is his or her belief. Does that mean we all agree on every interpretation of God’s word? No. Does anyone? But it does mean that we see the Holy Bible as the authority, and understand as much as we possibly can, though we are also told in the Scriptures that today “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12, NRSV). I cannot attest to my interpretation of the Word as being the only one. Being a member of the PC(USA) allows us the latitude to keep on searching for the ultimate truth. Whether I am liberal or conservative, from one social class or race or another, does not matter. The PC(USA) invites us all to become a family of Jesus Christ bound together.
  3. The PC(USA) believes in taking the Good News to all the world. Ninety-four million Christians around the world attribute the PC(USA) with being the source of their knowing Jesus Christ! Though we may have fewer full-time missionaries throughout the world today than we did 50 years ago, we now send thousands of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members (more than ever in our history) to serve in international missions—work missions, teaching missions, medical missions, etc. We all share in this role in ways and numbers that we never have before, and we model the Good News as we deliver needed services with our talents and gifts.
  4. In spite of our denomination losing members, we are dynamic and alive. Whereas we lost 152,000 members last year—a majority of whom died or were taken off the roles as inactive rather than leaving unhappily—we also had 72,000 new members join the PC(USA). And that is at a time when being part of the institutional church is no longer the “thing to do” as it once was in our society. These 72,000 people joined us because they wanted to be part of our community of witness and faith. That is not a dying church. That is a church that is becoming revitalized. Fortunately God has never said that our heavenly rewards will be based on the numbers we have on our roles.
  5. I am grateful that so many younger adults are returning to our churches and stating that it is a “safe place” for them to learn and grow in a faith that is not judgmental nor self-centered. Many of these young adults are participating regularly but not choosing to join. I hope they will choose to do so one day. But they are with us in worship and service, in education, and in fellowship. And for that I am grateful that our denomination tells them they are welcome in Jesus’ Church—members or not. Likewise, most of our new 1001 Worshipping Communities do not include numbers as “members” at this time. That will come. Likewise, I celebrate that more than 50 percent of these new communities are comprised of diverse congregations—much more reflective of our nation than we have seen in the past. That is great news for a church that had, in many ways, become a “segmented” part of our society where people who looked different from us felt unwelcome.
  6. We have an extraordinary outreach in both New York City at the United Nations and in Washington, D.C. In both places our denominational offices are viewed with great respect, and in both cases serve as models for other Christian communities of faith to follow when it comes to spreading the mission of Christ throughout the world—and specifically as it relates to the United States government and the nations that comprise the United Nations General Assembly. As PC(USA) members, we have a collective voice that makes a difference in carrying out Jesus’ directives to us as his followers and we take seriously our belief that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers.
  7. Our 10 theological seminaries, as well as Auburn Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, continue to be some of the most outstanding training grounds for ministry and theological scholarship in the world. Each of them is continuing to define a niche that reflects its critical role in service to the church. And the faculties and administrators serve as both interpreters and prophets for our denomination’s work.
  8. I am grateful for the staff who serve in our national offices. Whereas our church and culture often view central governments with skepticism as to their relevancy, there is an openness on the part of so many members of our staff to find new and more effective ways to serve Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The culture of a “top down” way of behaving is being challenged by staff and the local church alike. More of a “bottoms up” approach is being embraced (meaning that the real work of the denomination is effectively conducted at the congregational level), which is causing a transformation to occur, even if it is not easy to change. There is concern both across the church and within our staffs that we need to explore additional ways to enhance our organizational structure. I am grateful that the church at large sees that as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, and that many of our staff members also embrace the idea of change enabling our resources to be used to broaden our mission. I also am grateful that we have “systems” in place that help to assure us of accurate understandings of the ways we carry out our ministries and expend our funds. I also am thankful for the large number of faithful and committed servants who serve on our denomination’s boards and committees—seeking to find ways that will enable our church to be even more effective and responsive to God’s call and representing all factions, theologies, and ideologies in the denomination.
  9. I am glad we are a church that allows us to disagree, and am grateful that many who may feel that things could work better realize we are a denomination that prides itself on the fact that we aren’t just reformed, but are reformING! Let us join together as one family and, even in our disagreements, find our common bonds. Let us celebrate our “oneness” while affirming our differences, and realize that each of us is created in God’s image. Offering solutions along with criticisms is another gift of Presbyterians.
  10. Finally, I cannot close this without saying how much I appreciate the ways our membership celebrates and affirms the role of the Moderator. Serving in this role is humbling, overwhelming, remarkable, and renewing. Being the beneficiary of the respect and love that so many feel for the church is an amazing privilege. Thank you. May your Advent season provide you in this time of waiting a time when “we open our hearts to the reality of our privilege—that we may realize the power of caring enough to make a difference.” (Iona Community).

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