What does it mean to be Presbyterian?

“In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth praying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’” —From “A Brief Statement of Faith”

At the core of Presbyterian identity, is a secure hope in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, a hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live lives of gratitude. “In affirming with the earliest Christians that Jesus is Lord, the Church confesses that he is its hope and that the Church, as Christ’s body, is bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God.” (Book of Order F-1.0204). This strong emphasis on the grace of God in Jesus Christ is our heritage from the founder of the Reformed tradition, John Calvin.

Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory, and power to the triune God. In worship, the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship, the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world. 

Presbyterians strongly support mission activities. When a special alert goes out to churches telling of a natural disaster, they contribute to immunizations and relief supplies. Attendance triples at church suppers when a missionary speaks about work in Asia or Africa. When things heat up in Zaire, special prayers are offered. When Bibles are needed in the language of a group of new believers, Presbyterians arrange for translation and printing. When soup kitchens need staffing, prisoners need visiting, refugees need to be resettled, Presbyterians are there.

Every day, in many ways and in more than 80 countries around the world, including the United States, Presbyterians engage in mission. Why? Because we have always been a church in mission, believing that at its core the church exists for the mission that flows from the very heart of God.

Presbyterian churches are governed by what is known as Presbyterian Polity, a unique church governance system that balances authority between the Denomination and the Congregation. This system was developed by John Calvin in Geneva and spread by John Knox to Scotland. Scottish immigrants brought the Presbyterian doctrine and polity to America.

What is so unique about Presbyterian Polity is that authority flows both from the Congregation up and from the Denomination down. To prevent powerful hierarchies governed by a single individual, presbyters are elected by congregation members to serve on assemblies. Once elected assemblies are responsible to exercise authority over congregations. Regional groups of congregations form a Presbytery. Groups of Presbyteries are governed by a Synod. Together, the Synods compose the General Assembly.

Local Congregations govern themselves through an elected board called the Session (from the Latin word meaning “to sit”). Session members serve for three years. Each year, one-third of the Session members retire from Session and are replaced by members elected as elders by those previously retired. This provides stability and continuity in governing the congregation. Senior Ministers moderate the Session which is headed by the Clerk of Session, neither of whom are voting members of the session.

Finally, our theology is rooted in Scripture and lived into through the church's constitution Part 1 and Part 11.