Why does the past matter?

During the celebration of the 100th anniversary of a congregational women’s guild, the pastor called the children up during worship and began describing a time when women could only serve churches in guilds or were resigned to the traditional female roles of hospitality, running socials, and cooking.

But a young boy sitting in front of the pastor interrupted and shouted out, “WHAT?! Why did they stay? Why didn’t they just go down the street to another church?”

It sounded ridiculous to him that women would remain with a church that did not allow them to fully serve in the ways that he was so familiar. He never knew a world where women couldn’t be elders, deacons, or pastors. He couldn’t fathom a space where women would resign themselves to stay and fight for equality because, in his eyes, they could do anything their male counterparts could.

Photo of an open windowThis story is a reminder of the significance of knowing and sharing history from one’s congregation, the denomination, and the Christian traditions from which Presbyterians draw their roots. The blessings of the church are to be celebrated alongside the challenges and hard-won victories of life together. The confessions represent pieces of the church’s history and responses to the contextual needs of people of faith at that time. When we claim these documents as an important part of the story of our faith, it doesn’t mean we affirm or condone the social circumstances in which they were written. Instead, we are to be guided by the confessions as a means through which we can understand where we came from and where we strive to go.

The word order of this ordination question is just as important as what it requires of its respondents. The ordained are to be obedient to Christ, standing under Scripture’s authority, and then guided by the confessions. Jesus was continually criticized for not following the mandates of his faith found in the Hebrew Scriptures and yet he continued to act in seemingly contradictory ways to show a life lived with compassion and love. In this way, we should be familiar with the Old and New Testaments, but not let a strict interpretation result in actions that exclude, ignore, or hurt others. Finally, the confessions act as windows into our faith: reflections of who the church believes itself to be and the injustices it has overcome to seek the kingdom of God in its life together.

For Reflection and Discussion:

Keeping in mind that “the confessions represent pieces of the church’s history and responses to the contextual needs of people of faith at that time,” what confession are you interested in learning more about?

What Scripture passages have been foundational in your faith journey?

* The Presbyterian Historical Society, the National Archives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), provides access to the widest historical collection of the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations.