5 Signs of the Resurrection of the Mainline Church

Over many years, I have been in an on-again, off-again conversation online with a conservative Presbyterian named Joe. As long as I have known him, Joe has been lobbying for his congregation to leave my church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—to forsake the mainline for a more clearly conservative Presbyterian denomination.

Joe insists that the days of our denomination are numbered. The last time Joe and I connected, he gave the PCUSA 10 years, maximum, until its death. You hear that comment about a lot of denominations, not just the PCUSA.

I don’t think so.

So begins a new piece for my blog on the Huffington Post, where I reflect on five ways mainline American churches are in the midst of a time of resurrection. One sign of this rise is the fundamental confession of God’s love for all God’s children:

A hallmark of the rising mainline church is a clear “Welcome to All” sign front and center above the door. If there is a fundamental confession shared by these churches, it is that God loves all God’s children. This is a seismic shift from millennia of instilling fear of a judging God to a vision for the church of inspiring relationship with a loving One. Both are in the Bible. Now the second is being lifted up.

Fathoming what God loving all means for us is the wonderful work of the emerging mainline church.

I invite you to read the full text of my piece on The Huffington Post and look forward, as always, to you thoughts. Does your church display any of these signs of resurrection? What other signs of mainline church resurrection do you see?

9 Responses
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  • Joe Duffus on September 25, 2015

    Hi, Janet!

    Just saw this and read your full post. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thinks about our exchanges periodically! As newspaper editors say, we’re pretty good copy! 🙂

    I hope you’re right about a ‘resurrection’ within the church. PC(USA) could stand some good news.

    I must admit, though, that I find the term “Mainline” becoming both annoying and meaningless. Maybe we should agree to retire it?

    We know what it means, historically and socially, but I submit that your Millennial audience has no idea what it means and they don’t care, either. Their Worshipping Communities, coffeehouse Emergent gatherings and the “spiritual-but-not-religious” seekers they are trying to reach are not history buffs and I think their instinct is to distrust anything that sounds traditional or just… old.

    Even I, in my early 50s, have to use “finger-quotes” around that term when I talk to younger people about denominations, dismissal and all that other stuff.

    For me and I think many people who are still members of one of these denominations, the term is a grim reminder of their former social glory. Driving past a few brand new, Costco-sized non-denoms on my way to my church, the term seems quaint, nostalgic.

    Theologically, too, I believe the implied claim to be the “trunk” on the family tree of Reform Christianity is unwarranted and confusing. Maybe for the Episcopalians it makes sense, but you and I know that the Presbyterian tree is more of a bamboo forest!

  • Janet Edwards on October 11, 2015

    Dear Joe,

    Greetings in Christ! Good to hear from you and great to hear that we share hopes for resurrection of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)!

    I, of course, am not so swift to ditch the mainline as a term for the church. For me, it captures way more than you describe and offers a way of being the Body of Christ that holds together differences of all sorts in a way many yearn for in order to serve Christ in a meaningful way in this world.

    If the bad rap from so many that the church rightly suffers from–regardless of left, right or center–brings us all down, what those seeking Jesus will develop will be what the the mainline was at its best. I want it known that there is a time, place and community to look to for inspiration and help.

    I’ve never heard that trunk analogy, Joe, so it’s lost on me. Stay well.

    Peace, Janet

  • Joe Duffus on October 12, 2015

    Dear Janet,

    maybe the “trunk” image was my own, but “mainline” has clearly been the term for the biggest train on the track. In presbyterian circles, though, it’s meant a train whose route has changed several times in its history, tumbling off onto diverging branch lines rather than staying on a straight course.

    What I’m really interested in, though, is your sense of whether PCUSA is becoming a new thing, and not simply adapting? This point is interesting for me.

    The quick answer might be to say, “No, we’re simply extending the blessings of ordination and marriage.” or “No, we’re simply restructuring our polity to better reflect our smaller membership.” or “No, we’re simply allowing for a wider range of understandings of God within the ranks of our teaching elders.”

    Since our last epic, I’ve started a blog at Christian Post where I try to view presbyterianism broadly, comparing the different denominations and talking about our same subjects. You inspired me to do so. I hope you’ll take a look at some of my posts there.

    In essence, though, I believe that PCUSA is indeed “becoming a new thing.” Smaller, more decidedly liberal and top-down in its structure than before. Proudly heterodox in its beliefs and comfortable with elevating group discernment to a place above the Confesssions as a source of its theology.

  • Bill on October 27, 2015

    Well that is one thing you and I agree on Janet. Your church and others like it will continue to grow. The Bible says so….

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