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A Letter from the Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Where Have All the Presbyterians Gone?
October 2, 2014

Dear Presbytery:

I’ve been attending Sunday School and church from the time my parents first took me. When I visited the East Liberty Presbyterian Church recently, I recalled that my very first experience of Sunday School at the age of three was in that vast and elegant building.

I remember a dark hallway, a kind teacher, my crinkly petticoat, and a flannel board.  Petticoats and flannel boards are, like the flowers of the folk song, a “long time passing.” I can’t say that I miss them very much! But I am grateful for pleasant memories in a place I felt welcome.

In later years, my family attended the Dormont United Presbyterian Church. But in neither church did I ever achieve the pride and joy of the perfect attendance pin. Other children did, adding attendance bars to their Sunday best like hard-won military ribbons.

For some reason, no matter how faithful my parents were in church going, I was just never perfect enough to get one of those pins! I badly wanted at least one!

At our meeting at Crestfield Camp & Conference Center on September 25, 89 teaching elders and 91 ruling elders attended. Did you know if we had “perfect attendance” at our Presbytery meetings there would be 556 teaching and ruling elders present?

180 pastors and elders attending out of 556 is 32%. Of our 146 churches, only 53 were represented.

This attendance figure means significant decisions are being decided by a minority of those eligible to vote. When we do not exercise our right to vote in representative government, this is not a healthy state for the body, whether our nation, our denomination, or the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

There are many valid reasons for missing meetings. We all have been and will rightly be “excused” at times.  But these consistently lackluster figures tell us something is not right about where we are at the present, or where we are likely to be in the future.

In our ordination vows, we are asked these questions:

Our system of governance cannot work at all if we do not participate. Are we binding the Holy Spirit when we do not participate?

What can we do to improve these attendance numbers? I invite your comments and suggestions.

Where have all the Presbyterians gone?


The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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