Wednesday morning–at 1am to be more specific–I took an Uber to the Cleveland Amtrak Station and boarded an eastbound train, headed to Philadelphia.
I’m Josh, the Presbytery Office Administrator.
The purpose of my trip to Philly is not in search of the best cheesesteak (although I scratched that itch, too…) but instead to visit the Presbyterian Historical Society.
For those of you who don’t already know (or who don’t have easy access to Wikipedia), the Presbyterian Historical Society is the longest running continuous denominational historical society in the U.S. Many know them because someone from the Presbytery staff brings them up when a church closes. As in, “We’re going to send all the registers and session minutes to the Historical Society.” Once there, they are catalogued in their new home in the Society’s 32,000 cubic feet of archival records in Philadelphia. Their collection includes personal papers, Session minutes, paintings, rare books, and other curios and treasures.
So did I go there? I visited the Society as a continuing education opportunity. I got a tour of the facility, used the archive to do some research for a member of the Presbytery, and perhaps most importantly: it was an opportunity to learn more about the history, structure, and workings of the PCUSA.
Some of you may be snickering a little to hear me wax poetic on the subject of learning more about the history of the denomination. Around the office, I can frequently be heard saying things like “I don’t care what the form looked like last year,” or “‘It’s always been done that way’ is not sufficient reason to continue doing it that way,” or “I know there’s a biblical basis for changing this process–something about wineskins.” Given all the changes I’ve championed over the past two and a half years, it may be hard to believe that I have a strong connection to, or interest in, history.
Change can be a hard pill to swallow–for anyone, although I have found this to be especially true in church work. So when I came parading in with Google, and electronic meeting registration, and digital records storage, I was not surprised to be met with some skepticism. I was the new guy, after all, and not even Presbyterian. How could everyone have been expected to trust me with the information and traditions of a Presbytery that goes back over 200 years? (That’s a long time–my family hadn’t even come to America yet at that point!)
But here we all are. And I think that through our work together over the past two and a half years, most of you already know this, but just in case you don’t: It’s specifically because I value the history and mission of this Presbytery and the PCUSA that I get excited about new and better ways of doing things, of gathering and distributing information, of being church.
I look at the legacy of an organization that knows at its very core that the way to be a community is to embrace our disagreements and find a way forward together. Indeed, one that believes debate between colleagues is the movement of the Holy Spirit. I look at that and think, Now this is a denomination that has something to say to the world we live in.
And I want you to know something else: I think of myself as a steward of this Presbytery’s historical records, and I take that stewardship very seriously.
I didn’t grow up in Presbyterian churches. I haven’t been an office administrator or church employee for my entire career–I’ve mostly worked in service or retail since I was 16. But between my various jobs and academic programs I’ve learned about communication, processes, and information technology. And I try to bring that knowledge to work every day and leverage it for the good of this Presbytery.
The world we live in is changing fast, and while the message of God has never changed, the ways we share that message has. And I’m very excited to be a part of that, to come to work every day and solve problems, in order to help build God’s world.
So I’m grateful for this strange, difficult, wonderful work. And I’m grateful for all of you, for going on this journey with me. And I’m glad we’re all a part of a church that’s committed to reforming, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
I plan to write more about my experience at the Historical Society, once I’ve had some time to process it. Thank you for reading.