There’s this strange phenomenon in our denomination. (Is it in all mainlines?) I often–very often–hear people say, “These people just don’t know what it means to be Presbyterian.”
To which, the first few times I heard it, I wanted to lift up both my hands above my head and shout, “Great!”
Until I figured out that they were actually complaining about this fact. Um. And, now that I look back, they might have even been complaining about me. But, I don’t really want to entertain that notion….
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the Mainline Denominational Church (MDC). I grew up steeped in a conservative faith in Florida, felt a bubbling call to the ministry, and even wrote out sermons as a small child. When I was seventeen, I went to Bible College and took as many theology classes as I could cram into my schedule. But, as a woman, I was told that there was no possible way I could actually have a job in the church, unless it was a volunteer job, teaching children under the age of twelve. I couldn’t really envision a career as a Sunday school volunteer.
It was in the MDC where my pastor, Tom Schmid, said, “I think you ought to go to seminary.” I was stunned. Absolutely. I had been swimming upstream for seventeen years, trying to find a way to live out my calling, and then someone had the grace to say, “You’d be a great pastor.” And he even went so far as to kick me out of the door of his church, with the wise words, “If you put this off, you’ll never go.”
It was the MDC who saw my gifts, and helped me unwrap them. The MDC paid for my tuition. They helped me to discern and verbalize my call. They even let me take a job as a solo pastor when I was twenty-six.
But I’ve always done it, while hearing that strange voice echoing down the hall, “We need to educate people about what it really means to be Presbyterian.” Or, the voice lowers dramatically as the eyebrows arch, “Well, you know, he’s not really Presbyterian.”
Even when I was interviewing someone for a job several years ago, I asked, “What is your greatest passion, your burning desire, your call in life?”
And the person answered, “You know, these people don’t really know what it means to be Presbyterian….”
I sat there, totally confused.
I’m here to say, you are right. People have no idea what the P-word means. They couldn’t spell the word if their whole lives depended upon it. In fact, a full 18 percent of the college students who live in your town have never ever stepped into a church before. And even if they did, it probably wasn’t a mainline congregation. People don’t know any more about what to expect in an MDC than they would know about stepping on the surface of Mars.
If people come into our buildings not knowing what it means to be part of an MDC, that means we’re doing a good job, we’re reaching out in an effective manner. Friends are talking about our church at parties and at the office. We’re becoming attractive to people outside of our teeny, tiny little club.
So, (you can’t see me, but I’m on my on my knees, my hands are clasped, and I’m begging) if they actually do venture into our churches after our building has been scaring the heck out of them for years, could we greet them with something other than, “Hmph. Well, you don’t even know what it means to be Presbyterian”?