Sitting at the supper table in the Jerry O’Neill home, I was asked if there were any other pastors in the church, coming from other denominations, with greater longevity than myself. There are one or two. I’ve served the Sterling congregation for eight years. The question was sparked by a concern. Ordained ministers coming into the RPCNA from other denominations do not stay. Pray for me! At least this is what the statistics show. Why? What is my answer?
Of late I tell people I’m a Reformed Presbyterian not a Covenanter. By this I mean, I’m a Reformed Presbyterian by doctrinal persuasion but not a Covenanter by lineage. Let me try to explain my narrow, rather than popular, uses of these terms. First, I am not Scotch/Irish. My last name is not one of the old familiar Covenanter names. I’m definitely not a blue-blood. For some, I’ve definitely got the wrong heritage. My pedigree is not quite right. It’s that old genealogy thing. When I considered ministry in the Christian Reformed Church, some suggested I change my name to Prutowsma. In the RPCNA, I’m definitely not a McPrutow. From this genealogical perspective, I’m not a Covenanter.
Second, I do subscribe heartily to the standards of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. I hold the Wesminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as a true summary of biblical teaching. I entered the Reformed Presbyterian Church because of the call of God and my agreement with the standards and teachings of the church. From this doctrinal perspective, I really am a Reformed Presbyterian.
Once in the church I found two additional things in particular. First, for some, I remain that fellow who came in from the outside. Hence the question regarding my longevity in the RPCNA. I’ve become an oddity of sorts. This is an important issue as we look to the future. I see and hear some folks sneak in more about their Covenanter roots than their heritage in Christ when speaking with newcomers and inquirers. Families are good. Roots are important. However, when folks come to our churches, what are they seeking? They are seeking Christ. They are seeking friends. We hang out the genealogy shingle when we should speak of Christ. This makes folks feel like outsiders. Oddly enough, many of these people, by the grace of God, might become Reformed Presbyterians despite their lack of Covenanter lineage. And that’s all right.
Second, this interplay between the Reformed Presbyterian Church and Covenanter families places folks in an odd position. My eldest daughter summed it up. When she first attended presbytery youth functions she felt the stigma of not being a Covie. Then she said, under here breath, “By gum, I’m gonna be a part of this group whether you like it or not, period!” She literally fought her way into the youth fellowship. Not many people will do this. I don’t blame them. No one should have to fight there way into the fellowship of the church. Most people won’t. Confronted with the dilemma, most individuals and families, including pastors and their families, simply and graciously walk away.
Let me offer a word of encouragement to our Covenanter forebears. Without you, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America would not exist. I’m thankful for your faithfulness over the decades and centuries. Without you, I would not be here. It is the same with a lot of us. I do thank God for you. However, change is inevitable. I think if we all consider ourselves Reformed Presbyterians first and Covenanters last, we will look in and back less and look out and forward more. We will enhance our growth as a church and as a denomination.