In 1972 I was on the floor of the General Assembly in Denver Colorado when I was approached by someone who asked me if I was “saved”. I really did not know what that meant. I do not recall exactly what my response was but I do recall this person’s anger and fury directed at me, the redness of his face and the volume of his voice. He told me that I should not be there, that I should leave, immediately, and that only people who were “saved” should be at the General Assembly. It was a confusing and disturbing moment for me.
Today, I am happy report that I have been saved; not exactly in the way that my 1972 antagonist envisioned, but I have been saved, by a Church and its leaders. Who I am today, my values, my priorities, my family, and my life have been shaped by an institution that has both informed and formed me. Even as the institution was reforming itself.
You see I am religious, but not spiritual. I have been saved not by the mystery of faith (at least not directly), but by the practice of faith and by the example of others. I have not had a single identifiable born again moment, but I am transformed; as a servant, and as a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. I serve today because the Church provided experiences, facilities, programs, opportunities, and leaders that formed me and reformed me. Without the Church I would not have known George Barford, or Donald Hostetter, or Joe Gilmore, or Tom Hughart, or Nancy Stone or Paul Alcorn, or Susan Andrews. Without the Church there would be no Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center, no Ghost Ranch, no Stony Point; no Young Adult Volunteers, no Youth Advisory Delegates, and no Presbyterian colleges and seminaries.
Today many identify as spiritual but not religious. But while people are lifting up spirituality, our Church is crumbling. Our Church is splintering and withering seemingly without much more than a whimper of protest. And while no one likes bureaucracy, and it may be hard to accommodate different worship styles, and harder still to tolerate opposing political beliefs; I write here today to tell you that I have been saved. Saved in every way possible by a united Presbyterian church. Saved by the Church as an institution, and by the people who through that institution give life and breath to the words of Jesus. It is of course fine to be spiritual, and many find comfort and inspiration in spirituality. But it takes money and organization to build a college, it takes many hands to feed the hungry, it takes a community to care for those in need and the long march for justice needs trained leaders. Do not underestimate the value of our connected Churches, our Presbyteries, our processes, our historic ministry together. Do not dismiss the Church as an institution that is irrelevant or outdated, for there is more to be done. There are more communities to build, more educational programs to offer, more camps and conferences to run, more people to feed and shelter, more youth to inspire, and more people to share the Good News with.
And all of this is done best together, as a community, and as a Church.
I have been saved, and for that I am filled with gratitude.
Praise be to God.
This post was written by a Ruling elder who is a member of Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford, NY.