Like many other Presbyterians, I did not grow up in the Presbyterian Church, or even in the Reformed Tradition. I have shared with many people that I did not find the Presbyterian Church – the Presbyterian Church found me. Not that I believe I was lost before I became a Presbyterian – although some might argue that I was. I grew up in the church. My grandfather was a Primitive Methodist minister, and the way my family chose to raise me instilled in me the value of practicing the Christian faith. I knew that it was important to attend worship and Sunday school weekly, to be a part of children’s choir and youth group, and to make choices informed by what I understood about God and how God wanted me to live, because those were the behaviors modeled for me.
After I graduated from high school, I continued to abide in the routine, maintaining the custom of regular worship, although the context changed. I experienced the vastness of the Church of Jesus Christ, worshiping with friends who stood at various places on the theological spectrum. From fundamental charismatics to quiet Quakers with a penchant for a social gospel, I enjoyed the opportunity to experience God from a number of different perspectives. Throughout college, and for several years afterwards, I dipped my toes in the pools of many different faith expressions, but I never decided to dive into one. The water just never felt quite right.
Then I got pushed. Into the deep end. And I had to learn to swim.
My first time worshiping with a Presbyterian congregation was also my first day of work in a Presbyterian church. Having been hired as the Director of Youth and Family Ministries, I needed to learn what it meant to be a Presbyterian, and quick. God blessed me with a patient and gracious congregation to serve, and a pastor who would sit with me for hours, engaging me as I debated with him about Reformed theology, despite my uninformed ignorance. The years I spent at that church were formative, and that congregation was the first of several who felt and affirmed God’s call in my life. I felt as if I found my spiritual home. I began to swim.
Reflecting on my life’s journey to this time and place, I believe more strongly than ever that it is vital for everyone to know and understand their identity, in all its rich facets. We are first and foremost children of God, and Jesus is our brother. Yet we are also Christian, Protestant, Reformed, and Presbyterian. Do these labels matter, especially in a world that strives so hard to preserve the illusion of individuality? Absolutely! There is something distinctive about wearing these labels. Having a better understanding of what these labels mean and how they make us different will benefit us all.
As we begin a new program year, I encourage everyone to join a class or a small group. The time you spend in these groups will help you think more deeply and critically about the labels you wear. The community you form in these groups will allow you to experience the richness and diversity of understandings that people have about who God is, how Jesus impacts their life, and where the Holy Spirit is leading. In a sense, we will be taking swimming lessons together, as we splash around in the waters of our baptism. Come on in, the water’s fine.