Beliefs and Practices
UPC is a part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) —or PC(USA) for short. We are followers in the Way of Jesus as shared through Christian and Hebrew scriptures. We believe our holy scriptures are expressions of people’s experiences of God’s presence through the ages and are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. We are but one small part of the global witness of Christians.
We seek to live out our faith in Jesus through a commitment to the spiritual practices of:
● loving God;
● loving neighbor as “self”;
● giving witness to the light of Christ in the world;
● calling others to become followers of Jesus; and
● working for the well-being of the whole creation and all its peoples.
We trace our roots to the Scottish Reformation in the 1500s under the leadership of John Knox, who was a student of John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. Knox, who was a Catholic priest prior to meeting Calvin, moved back to his native Edinburgh, Scotland, and brought Calvin’s teachings and the Reformation spirit. Presbyterianism hit the shores of the Americas as early as 1640. Several Presbyterian clergy were integrally involved in the shaping of what became the United States of America. The Rev. John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University, was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence, and the moderator of the first Presbyterian general assembly on this continent.
We’ve come a long way since the days of Knox and Witherspoon. The shape and function of Presbyterianism has adjusted to meet the ever-changing needs of the generations.
WHAT IS “PRESBYTERIANISM”?
The word “Presbyterian” comes from a Greek word meaning “elder.” We are a group of Christians led by elders, both Teaching Elders (ministers of Word and Sacrament) and Ruling Elders (members of congregations ordained for the purposes of helping lead their congregation in the ways of Christian faith).
Elders are elected to serve at every level of our denomination: the local congregation elects elders to serve on the local council, which we call the session. Sessions elect elders to serve the next level which is the presbytery. Presbyteries elect elders to serve at the next level, which is the synod, and at the General Assembly which is our national council. Each level discerns the leading of God’s Holy Spirit to lead the church.
In our system of governance, no one person ever holds all the power. We have no bishops. We do have moderators whose job is to help guide the conversations of each council, ensuring fairness and to ensure that minority positions are heard and protected, even though the will of the majority stands. There are always checks and balances. In fact, the government of the United States and the relationship between the federal, state, county, and local governments is based on Presbyterian principles.
In common vernacular, we believe we are better when we make decisions together. We believe that God speaks through the tension we hold in groups, especially diverse groups.