A restructuring Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) just marked its tercentennial on Sunday. The 300th year opened in Philadelphia at a time when the downsized body is under major reconstruction for mission and staff.
Congregants from the 2.3 million-member body – the largest Presbyterian group in the U.S. – celebrated the historic year in a city where Presbyterians had its beginnings in the states. The anniversary service was held days after the denomination renewed commitments to mission for a revitalized PC(USA).
"We are Presbyterians sent by God as apostles to make disciples and transform the world," said David Wasserman, executive of Grace Presbytery, according to the Presbyterian News Service. "If we claim that purpose, the rest of it – funding, structure – will fall into place."
The national church body hit a record low in membership this year with a drop of more than two percent since 2004. Membership losses, baptism decreases, and congregations leaving the group over homosexual issues have brought down the membership to a little more than 2.3 million. And denominational officials projected a continuing decline.
The General Assembly Council approved a reduced budget plan for the 2005-2006 fiscal year with a $9.15 million cut last April. Decreased funding has affected staff and mission work and prompting the council to reorganize its structure and its mission plans.
A new Mission Work Plan is being implemented with new staff structures and renewed mission efforts underway.
Responding to the restructuring in the PC(USA), Moderator Joan Gray said the denomination is "passing away" with all the changes being implemented.
"The ways of being a denomination that have served us so well for so many years, in which I was raised and trained and done my ministry for the past 30 years, are passing away, some so slowly that we barely recognize it, some very fast," she told the General Assembly, according to PNS.
Historically, the Presbyterian Church had grown exponentially in the U.S. since the organization of the first American Presbytery in 1706. Splits and reunions in the church led to several Presbyterian groups including the PC(USA), which is reported to be the largest among the other U.S. groups. A steady decline in membership of one to two percent began in 1975.
Amid the reductions and restructuring, the group held its first-ever joint meeting of the General Assembly Council last week to find "A New Way for a New Day." The PC(USA) has largely centered its restructuring around mission.
Participants renewed commitments to communication and collaboration for a church more focused on mission.
"Everything we do must support the mission activities of the church," said new GAC Executive Director Linda Valentine, "not just here but in presbyteries and congregations."