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A closed triangle: moving beyond the brand.

Sitting at the table are 10 people, all active members of a Presbyterian Church in Canada congregation. Some are elders, the others participate in worship.

Three are children of Presbyterian ministers. One is a Presbyterian minister. Two are Anglicans, one a Bretheren, one a Baptist. The last two are default Presbyterians through immigration.

This is a snapshot of a typical Protestant congregation today, which is likely to have more people attending on a Sunday who have no strong denominational ties. They are there because they feel embraced by the local congregation. They are not there, necessarily, because they have a strong affiliation to a denomination. They will stay at the congregation because of its community, and also because they feel comforted by, and perhaps even challenged by, worship.

Of the 10 people at that table, easily five are not that engaged in denominational issues. They see their membership as mostly with the congregation. They are not too interested in polity or doctrine. They're also not that interested in denominational structures. Again, the relationship is with the local church.

That is what church means to most people in the pews. That there are institutional structures outside of the local building is not very interesting to most members and attendees.

They are less likely to worry about denominational issues. Less likely to subscribe to the denominational publication; oh, they'll read it if comes to the house, but they're not likely to seek it out. Less likely to know about other branches of the church--a relief agency or colleges or other programs.


They sought a church to further develop their relationship with God. They stayed at the one that developed a relationship with them. Their triangle is closed. No more is necessary. (Of course, the big question is what is at the apex of the triangle: God, Self or Congregation.)

So, yeah, "Presbyterian" is a brand. The title meant something, not just about theology and polity, but also about culture and nationalism. It was tribal. And, so, the death of the brand is a good thing, in a way.

That doesn't mean denominations are generic. Not at all. They still have their identities, of sorts, a sense of uniqueness. It does mean they are, in a way, ahistorical. A denomination can no longer assume its members share a common past, or a common identity.

This also means each appeal from the denomination--whether from the Record or Presbyterian World Service & Development, for example--has to be justified for itself, not as the work of an identified brand, but as yet one more request amongst dozens, if not hundreds, each person is asked to support regularly in their lives, ranging from hospitals to arts to non-denominational relief agencies.

This has precedence, of course. Acts and Paul's letters sorta kinda tell a similar story of an insular group having to shed its tribalism to embrace a more comprehensive message in a bigger world.

They managed about as well then as we're managing today; that is to say, they mostly stumbled forward.

by Andrew faiz

Andrew Faizis the Record's senior editor.

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Author:Faiz, Andrew
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2016
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