Backgrounder
Presbyterian Church (USA)

•    The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the third largest “Mainline Protestant” denomination in the United States. Based in Louisville, KY, it was formed by the 1983 mergers of northern and southern Presbyterian churches that had split prior to the civil war. The PCUSA, as the church is known, has over 10,000 congregations and between 2 and 3 million members. Membership has been declining at about 2% annually.

•    The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the third largest “Mainline Protestant” denomination in the United States. Based in Louisville, KY, it was formed by the 1983 mergers of northern and southern Presbyterian churches that had split prior to the civil war. The PCUSA, as the church is known, has over 10,000 congregations and between 2 and 3 million members. Membership has been declining at about 2% annually.

•    The Presbyterian polity occupies a middle ground between Episcopal polity which features bishops in a centralized religious hierarchy and Congregational in which each church is independent or loosely organized in regional structures. In Presbyterian polity, there is no religious or ecclesiastical hierarchy. Churches are organized into Presbyteries, judicatories consisting of the ministers within a certain district and an equal number of elders. This body has a general jurisdiction over the churches under its care, and is next below the provincial Synod in authority. This form of self-government stresses active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.

•    The Presbyterian church traces its history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation and its ancestry primarily to Scotland and England. Much of their heritage and belief structure  is rooted in the writings of the French lawyer John Calvin (1509-1564), who crystallized much of  the Reformed thinking that came before him – and to John Knox, a Scotsman who studied with Calvin and took Calvin's teachings back to Scotland.

•    The Presbyterian Church (USA) holds a conference every two years called a General Assembly. Resolutions offered at the GA come from the local churches, presbyteries or synods. These resolutions are called ‘Overtures.’ The organization of the denomination, including the process by which overtures are introduced and debated is considered among the most democratic of the Protestant denominations.

•    There are several smaller Presbyterian churches, generally more fundamentalist in their theological orientation. They remain separate from Presbyterian Church USA and are entirely uninvolved in the current controversy. The largest of these is the Presbyterian Church in America, based in Atlanta, which has 1,200 churches and 312,000 members from throughout the country. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church is based in the Memphis area and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is only in North Carolina and South Carolina. Most churches today have websites that will indicate with which body they are affiliated. 

For more information on Presbyterian Church USA, see: www.pcusa.org/101/index.htm.