Ten Presbyterian denominations in the United States:
- Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States
- Bible Presbyterian Church
- Evangelical Presbyterian Church
- Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States
- Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church
- Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
- Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church
- Free Presbyterian Church of North America
- Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
- Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Remarkably, this is not the full list of Presbyterian denominations in the United States; there are at least another six that call themselves Presbyterian, including the two largest denominations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church in America. And that doesn’t include the various Reformed denominations that are presbyterian in polity if not in name.*
The essential characteristic of presbyterian churches is that they are ruled by elders (presbuteros in Greek) elected from and by the congregation. Those elected elders form a Session, which is responsible for the operation of the church. (The pastor is also part of the Session, but not the head of it.) The representative style of government is in place all the way up; the session sends a certain number of representatives to the Presbytery, which is the governing body for all the Presbyterian churches in a given geographical area; the Presbtery elects representatives to the Synod, the governing body for all the Presbyterys in a given area, and the General Assembly, the biennial gathering of the entire denomination. (This is how it works in the larger denominations. The smaller ones may not have presbyteries or synods.) Although the corporate bodies make decisions that affect all the churches, the important stuff--the calling of pastors, religious education curriculum, worship style, and so on--are not just up to the individual congregations and is largely out of the control of the presbytery/synod/GA.
And that’s the way I likes it! The episcopal model doesn’t appeal to me, nor do churches that are controlled by the pastors, which is why when I moved to Madison, the churches I decided to visit were all Presbyterian or close enough to. After visiting several churches, I felt called to Christ Presbyterian Church, in no small part (but not exclusively) because of the strength of their music program. I joined the choir in June; as of last Thursday I’m playing in the bell choir; and one of the elders recently asked me if I would sit on the Communications Committee when it forms. And last night I appeared before the Session and was received into membership! Soon I will be officially welcomed into the congregation during a Sunday worship service. I hope it’s not this Sunday, because I’m not going to be there.
ETA: Hey, why didn’t this post? Bitch mutter mumble gripe.
* The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association are essentially presbyterian in nature as well, though there are significant differences that lead me to exclude them from the count. Back