The moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Bruce Reyes Chow, asked on his blog, “Why are you Presbyterian?”. It’s a question worth thinking about in these days that some folks call “post denominational”. Why be part of any denomination, particularly a main line, declining in numbers, unable to resolve ordination issues denomination?
I was raised in what you might call a culturally Christian home. If anyone asked, we were Christian, but we did not attend any church regularly, we weren’t even “Christmas and Easter” Christians. But for reasons that belong to a different post, I was always interested in God and the church.
Back in the late middle ages when I went to college, freshmen lived on campus and could not have cars. The only places we could go were places we could walk or ride a bike to. That eliminated most of the churches in Manhattan Kansas. However, the Presbyterian Church sent a bus to the dorms to pick students up for the 11 am service. So I went. It was the only protestant church I could get to. Now before you exclaim what a wonderful outreach. I was usually the only student on the bus and, as I recall, the church didn’t really know what to do with me. There wasn’t a young adult/college student Sunday school, there wasn’t a college age fellowship group. They simply made sure I could get to worship every Sunday.
And that was enough. It was what I needed. And I am very grateful. Being part of that community of faith, week in and week out shaped me in ways I didn’t realize until years later. Part of what made this so valuable for me was that worship at First Presbyterian Church was a healthy balance to the more conservative, evangelical Christian groups that were present in dorms in the mid to late 70s. Bringing me to worship gave me the glimpse I needed into a way of being Christian that was intellectually and emotionally satisfying for me. There is more to the story than this, but suffice it to say, I am Presbyterian by choice.
Why do I stay?
Because the things that attracted me initially, the style of worship, the atmosphere that made questions OK and encouraged thinking seriously about Scripture and what it means to be a Christian are still important to me. Now of course Presbyterians are certainly not the only ones who do this, other churches do also- and they do it well. But years of being shaped by the Reformed tradition through worship and study make this my home. It is a circular process. Something about my personality helped me feel at home in a Presbyterian church. And now years of being Presbyterian have shaped me.
But still, why stay? These days there is a church for every demographic. Its not like I don’t have all sorts of choices that could be characterized as “reformed”. I could find a church (within a denomination or not) that suited my personal needs and beliefs.
Why stay? In some ways it’s pretty simple.
I had the fortunate experience of attending a non Presbyterian seminary. Saint Paul School of Theology is a United Methodist seminary that is intentionally diverse in its faculty and student body. One of the important things I learned there is that everyone has their troubles. No denomination is anywhere near perfect. No one church structure works flawlessly, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. We all struggle with the same basic issues about how to be God’s faithful people in our complex world. Each denomination has its saints and its less than saints. As long as the Church is made up of fallible humans, we’re all in the same boat. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the denominational fence.
The other thing that has become increasingly clear to me is that Christianity is a group project. Each of us as individuals and each of us as denomnations has something important to offer the Kingdom of God. None of us is sufficient by ourselves. We need each other and the varieties of gifts each person and each denomination has to offer.
So I remain Presbyterian because after all these years, in part because I have been shaped and formed by my experiences. Reformed theology makes sense to me. It gives me a workable lens through which to engage God and the world. Being in conversation with folks from various denominations at Saint Paul helped me discover that too.
I also stay because the Presbyterian Church is, I think ,the place where my gifts are best located. What ever abilities and talents I have to offer, they seem to fit best in the Presbyterian Church.
These are fairly pragmatic reasons. Being Presbyterian suites me, it’s where I fit, and I don’t think things would be “better” in a different denomination. Not exactly a ringing call to Presbyterianism.
I feel like this should have a fancier ending, some inspiring statement, a brilliant insight. But then again, I’m not so sure. Perhaps denominational affiliation should be more pragmatic. Perhaps if we held our denomination in a little less esteem, we wouldn’t need to fight so hard to preserve it. What if, when we think of our denomination, we think about it as a sort of tool or method that helps us get organized. Something that helps make some sense of what we believe and most importantly helps us to be about the much more important business of the Kingdom of God?
I’d like to know, what do you think?
2 thoughts on “Why Am I Presbyterian? They sent a bus to get me.”
For what it’s worth, I think you’ve communicated a very sound and commendable approach to your tradition, denomination and reasons for staying in it. What you wrote reminds me of Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity,’ where he speaks of the hallyway of Christianity with many rooms leading off of it, but we simply need to pick one and commit to it and its community. I am still struggling with this commitment, still feeling more generally comfortable in the broader (perhaps at times less tangible) community, but have made a little progress this past year … Ben
Thanks for this!