PCUSA still debating and shrinking

It’s hard to put a positive spin on some things.

For instance: Presbyterian Church (USA) has now seen its national membership fall by half since the mainline Protestant heyday of 1965. We’re talking from 4 million people to 2 million.

Peter Smith, the terrific religion writer at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, recently broke down PCUSA’s fall.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, a top official with the denomination, said in a statement: “What continues to sadden me is that the overwhelming majority of the loss in membership is in the category of ‘other,’ which means these are brothers and sisters in Christ who did not die or transfer to another congregation, but probably quietly slipped out the back door.”

PCUSA is best known these days for its knock-down, drag-out internal debates over gay clergy and the Middle East.

These issues, as usual, dominated the denomination’s recent General Assembly.

In a wrap-up of the General Assembly on the website of the Hudson River Presbytery — the regional PCUSA body that includes the Lower Hudson Valley — someone wrote this (it’s not signed):

*****

There will be much discomfort in the Church because of this Assembly. More politicking. More crying. More nail-biting moments as we await the results of all the votes to come.

There will also be many opportunities to remember who we are as Presbyterians: people of forbearance, lovers of Scripture, students of Jesus and seekers of God’s will.

It isn’t our Church after all. I know I wasn’t going to mention that, but it’s true. The more tightly we grip the reins of the Church the more we struggle.

I am convinced that the Spirit is at work in the Church – and that none of the Assembly’s actions is outside of God’s ongoing work. I got a few too many goosebumps this week, and not just from the incessant air-conditioning.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.