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May 03, 2006

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Dana Ames

My, the things I am learning about Presbyterian history, past and current...

I wonder how much loyalist strength is in the denomination today, given the fact of the drain on membership and funds you two talked about earlier. Quite a number of us in my congregation did not grow up Presb. I feel a sense of loyalty after my six years here, but it's not to "presbyterianism"- it's to the people as the quality folks most of them are, to the kind of institution that (mostly) respects and listens to scripture, and has room for me as someone who no longer wants to be identified as "evangelical" but wants to not throw the baby out with that bath water.

In other words, there's room for me and all I bring to the mix. I'm not a consumerist Christian looking for a "feel-good" church. I'm 50 years old, and except for leaving Roman Catholicism and leaving "evangelicalism", the only time I've changed churches has been when I've moved to a different town.

I think I understand the intent of the question about what Presbyterians have to offer that the world can't do without- and it still grates on me... And I'm glad to be associated with Presbyterians like Phil Johnson in Australia, Ken Bailey, Jane Holslag in Europe, Harold Kurtz, a host of others I find as I read and talk to people.

Ok, enough for today. Ambivalence abounds...
Dana

Michael Kruse

Interesting, Dana. Thanks for sharing your experience.

I did not grow up Presbyterian either. I joined while in graduate school two months after reunion in 1983. I think about 60% or more of Presbyterians were not raised that way. However, I discovered recently that this makes me a small minority at the GAC level. Most are lifelong Presbyterians. I think many of these folks are the loyalists that Beau writes about. I simply don't have the emotional attachment to things Presbyterian that so many others seem to. While I am probably right of center on many of the controversial issues, I wouldn’t say that I am welcomed with unquestioning arms in either of the extreme camps Beau rights about.

What you are expressing about your attachment to your congregation is right on point. The denominational research office shows that very few people leave their congregations because of events at the denominational level. While people may have made church affiliation decisions based partly on denominational labels years ago, very few do any more. The reason people join and leave congregations is because of relationships in the congregation itself.

I do think it is possible for people to stay in their congregations and leave (at least emotionally) their denomination. I think that is part of what we are dealing with in the hostility and indifference that is expressed from congregations. They see higher governing bodies at best as ineffectual and at worst as a menace. This has the effect of producing fewer and fewer loyalists, leaving more decisions to activists of left and right.

I don’t want to jump to far ahead but you can see where my head is at. Even though I have been in the denomination longer than you I still frequently have sense of being an outsider on the inside.

Dana Ames

Thanks Michael.
Dana

gruntled

People who are attached to their congregations are, I think, the heart of the loyalist majority. They try to ignore denominational-level silliness, until they can't. What makes denominational stuff impossible to ignore is when they threatend to dissolve the denomination. I think this was the problem with Re-Imagining and with Dirk Ficca? This is also why COCU (or whatever it is called now) will never get anywhere.

Pastor Lance

The majority of new folks at our church have no connection with the PCUSA. They stay for a number of reasons. Most have no desire at all to learn more about the PCUSA. The majority f the "loyalist" at our church are not "loyal" to the denomination. They are loyal to the "local church" (the people they worship with, cry with, laugh with, study the Bible with, etc. They are also loyal to the church building that they helped build. There are a few who are die-hard Presbyterian. They are few and far between.

FullCourtPresby.blogspot.com

Michael Kruse

I wonder if some of this has to do with motivations for being Presbyterian? I can see several groups of people having a different take on what is “silly” based on what drew them into a PCUSA congregation in the first place. I can think of at least six groups off the top of my head.

Lifelong Presbyterian – They were born into a Presbyterian family, went to Presbyterian camps, maybe went to a Presbyterian affiliated college/seminary, etc. The PCUSA fits like a well worn shoe and thoughts of its demise are tragic. Many have roots in one stream or another of Presbyterian predecessor denominations and their factions, using this as template though which they see events. Some are activists but most are content to go on with church life without getting too caught up in denominational controversy as long as they are left alone.

Mainline Transfer – Grew up in a mainline denomination other than Presbyterian but for whatever reason have ended up in a Presbyterian congregation (married a loyal Presbyterian, no congregation of their denomination nearby, local Presby congregation had more to offer, etc.)

Ex-Catholic – Became dissatisfied with Catholic Church and a Presbyterian congregation offered enough liturgy and ritual for them to feel familiar. (One ex-catholic friend I know describes his Presby church as “all the liturgy with 50% less guilt.”)

Ex-Evangelical/Southern Baptist Refugee – Disaffected evangelicals who like the broadness of what they see in a Presbyterian congregation and their general impression of “Presbyterian” as open-minded, thinking, and/or sophisticated. The Presbyterian label is important to them because it establishes them as “non-evangelical.”

Programmatic Pragmatist – Has little or no interest in denominational labels but a Presbyterian congregation offered programming they desired, so they joined. To the degree they ever think about denominations they think of their congregation as the prototype. The programming that drew them may be decidedly political (ex. Pro-gay rights or anti-abortion leaders in the community.) More likely they had a good youth program or a vibrant young adult group.

Ex-Unchurched – joined because of a personal relationship with someone else in the congregation and feels at home with congregants. They are at best marginally aware of what the denominational issues are.

My guess is that you will find an inordinately high number of denominational loyalists in the first group. I suspect that a very high percentage of those who fill Louisville offices, serve on higher governing bodies, run the Layman, and run the Covenant Network are from this 40% of the denomination.

Beau, it seems to me that what you have described is indicative of Life-Long Presbyterians, and rightly so. They are most of the ones making the decisions at denominational levels. Meanwhile, it seems to me that most of the other 60% are the people Lance is describing.

It makes perfect sense to be me that denominational loyalists are also congregational loyalist. But I suspect that there is an even larger number of congregational loyalists who are not denominational loyalist. I suspect that the former go into motion when they sense the denomination is threatened but the later only when their congregation is threatened.

Don’t know if any of this makes sense. Just processing out loud.

Denis Hancock

I did not grow up Presbyterian either. I joined while in graduate school two months after reunion in 1983.

I did grow up Presbyterian, and I have NEVER been able to understand why things are done the way they are. Or why there is such a gulf between what we say (BOO and BOC) and what we do.

But yes, I am loyal to the Prebyterian system because that system nurtured me. But most of what makes a church a true part of The Church happens at the congregational level -- where Beau holds that the loyalty lies.

There are few options outside the PC(USA) for those who hold a more evangelical view of things, but who are totally in favor of the ordination of women. I am very UNlikely to consider a denomination that tells my wife, who is also an elder, that her services are not needed -- so I have an interest in remaining loyal to the PC(USA).

Oh, I'll gripe about the shenanigans in Louisville and Washington DC, but thus far, I have been able to remind myself that the work, worship, and fellowship of the Church is mainly local.

Michael Kruse

"I did grow up Presbyterian, and I have NEVER been able to understand why things are done the way they are. Or why there is such a gulf between what we say (BOO and BOC) and what we do."

You are hitting at the core of what drives most of passion for work within the denomination. I am clearly not a liberal. Too many conservatives strike me as anti-institutional and monumental whiners. I often find the intuitionalist exasperatingly resistant to change. So where does that leave me?

I think it means that I am a near textbook case of the Meyer-Briggs inventory INTJ which are about 1% of the population. I live to bring coherence between vision and structure. It is what I do without even trying. I am not wedded to any particular structure but I am wedded to the necessity of effective structure (i.e. structure that empowers mission.)

As to ordination of women, I have never been a part of congregation/denomination in my life that does not include women in leadership nor will I ever be.

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