How Did that Work Out for You?

From the history of Cleveland Presbyterianism (1896):

OF Cleveland Presbyterianism it may be said that it was from the beginning New Englandized, and then recruited from New York rather than from Pennsylvania. In type of theological belief, then, it has always been liberal, but at the same time evangelical and fairly aggressive, as seen in its missionary spirit. The network of churches now numbers seventeen, counting the East Cleveland, Windermere, and Glenville Churches, which are out of the city only by a narrow bound. The aggregate membership of these churches is about 6,500. All the congregations are housed in admirable buildings, and the value of the property is fully $1,000,000. These churches furnish sittings for about 10,000 worshipers, while in the Sunday-schools there are 6,500 scholars.

The 1801 Plan of Union was a killer. It placed Presbyterians on the front lines of United States religious nationalism. They made America great and Presbyterians have not been able to give up their seat at the table ever since.

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Does Anyone in the United States Care about Presbyterianism?

The oldest presbytery in North or South America is moving. Actually, the offices are relocating since it is hard to move a jurisdiction or the congregations within it. But the Presbytery of Philadelphia (PCUSA), founded in 1706, is moving from its Center City location at 22nd and Locust to the Mt. Airy neighborhood in the northwest section of the city.

One curious aspect of this move – aside from giving up a very handsome building and reasonably good location – is that no one seems to notice or care. A search at Google for news stories reveals that no editors, even religious ones, have the New World’s oldest presbytery on their horizon. But when the Mormons plan to build a Temple in Center City, well, now you’re talking news copy and readers.

Another consideration is what this move may indicate about the declining fortunes of the mainline Protestant churches. Back in 1989 the United Churches of Christ moved from its Manhattan offices to Cleveland. Nothing wrong with the latter city, and maybe the UCC staff were able to enjoy Lebron’s exploits (they sure beat the Knick’s recent performance). But I’m not sure an NBA game makes up in stature for headquarters in the Big Apple. Tim Keller likely agrees.

Presbyterians had actually begun the trend of denominational downsizing by leaving New York City’s high overhead and big britches reputation to bridge the gap between bureaucrats and regular church folk. After the 1983 merger of the UPCUSA (North) and the PCUS (South) into the present iteration of the PCUSA, the mainline denomination in 1988 gave up its New York City address for Louisville, the biggest city in the old border state of Kentucky. (Another consequence of the merger was that the denomination could not maintain both archival centers, the one in Philadelphia at the Presbyterian Historical Society and the one in Montreat, NC, at the Montreat Historical Society. In 2005 the denomination decided to move the southern materials to Philadelphia, where they are in very good hands but farther from the hands most willing to sort through them.)

Now the denomination’s oldest presbytery is moving its offices from the center of Philadelphia to one of its peripheral neighborhoods. The presbytery’s website gives no reason but the “for sale” sign on the old location suggests that cheaper real estate is a factor. Mt. Airy is a fine neighborhood but it is not Center City nor was it part of William Penn’s original boundaries for his “Holy Experiment.” The move is a significant development in the life of New World Presbyterianism. But no one seems to care. They don’t even know.