Why I’m Presbyterian: It’s the questions

Rev. Rebecca Gresham-Kesner’s questions brought her to the PC(USA), and the space allowed for her continued questions is why she stays.

First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I grew up without church. I was baptized, taught minimally the stories of Christmas and Easter, and that was it. But I always had a longing for God, and as a child, I thought that was synonymous with church. My first introduction to Christianity was a prayer group that met after school. It was led by well-meaning folks whose worldview was incredibly different from my own. I was young and impressionable. I tried hard to do and be all the right things, but I drifted away.

Eventually, I found my way to the local PC(USA) church. I attended one Sunday and was confused by how people just knew what to do, so I decided I would keep attending until I understood. I was surprised to learn the Presbyterian church offered confirmation — I thought that was just for Catholics. I was invited to join the confirmation class, but I wasn’t sure. I had questions and doubts and a ravenous curiosity. I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. Being concerned about finding a church home was low on my list of worries. But I did end up joining the confirmation class. And, for a while, I was sold. I began helping in Sunday school, served as a youth elder, and started to put down some church roots.

A few years later, my father died after a long illness and his last days were full of suffering. I was full of questions; I was full of anger; I was full of doubt; I was confused. How could God be so loving and allow for such suffering? I spoke with one of my pastors, he didn’t have answers, I looked in online groups, and no answer was sufficient. I drifted away from God and the church. But my questions persisted.

When I slowly returned to God and to church life, my questions grew and shifted. I wanted to know if I had to believe certain things that seemed to be Christian beliefs but didn’t seem to align with what I was reading in Scripture. When I returned to my home church, my questions were welcomed by the pastoral leadership. I had great conversations and engaged in faith formation through this process.

Over time, I learned to appreciate a lot about the PC(USA). I couldn’t serve in a church where there are no systems of accountability for clergy. While our systems are far from perfect, we have ways to hold each other responsible. I have an interesting relationship with our polity. I love how we have processes to follow, and how we have leaders elected from the congregation. I do not love the way our process can slow us down at times or lead us to speak an insider language. While it gets harder and harder to do, I have always had a place in my heart for the way we Presbyterians can have differing opinions, ideas, and ways of doing things. I love that I am welcome to use my head as much as my heart because I need both in all aspects of my life.

The PC(USA) is my denominational home because I am welcome to ask questions; I am allowed to doubt; I do not have to have all the answers. It is my home because it allows me space to embrace all of who I am while I embrace others for who they are. (This is entirely frustrating work, but incredibly valuable.) There is space here for scholarship and deep heart work. We are far from perfect, but I see in us a willingness to engage in conversation, work toward wholeness, and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.