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The PC(USA)’s Acting Stated Clerk shares her thinking on helping congregations and mid councils navigate change


The Rev. Bronwen Boswell is a guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

March 15, 2024

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell

Historically, Presbyterians “are used to being on a bigger stage and having what we say mean something,” the Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, said during a recent episode of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast.” “We get caught up in that decline thinking rather than saying, ‘What is it we still have? What are the resources we have plenty of, and how do we need to look at the way ministry is going into the future?’”

Boswell was a guest of hosts Simon Doong and the Rev. Lee Catoe. Listen to their 45-minute conversation here. Boswell is introduced at the 18:07 mark.

While many congregations and mid councils are working to adapt to changing realities including the growing body of people who worship remotely, our thinking “isn’t quite there yet. It’s going to take a while longer because of generational change that’s happening.” Some presbyteries, including Shenandoah Presbytery, which Boswell served before her one-year commitment as Acting Stated Clerk, include rural congregations with little or no internet access. Other faith communities “do nothing but being on the internet,” Boswell said. “We are straddling a wide swath of what it means to be Presbyterian.”

Boswell characterized the many accomplishments made by faith communities during the years following World War II as the work of “the voluntary society. People joined in to do things, and churches were at that time social centers in many ways.” Many included bowling and basketball venues open to the public, and community dances were often held there.

But for children raised during the late 1960s and in the decades that followed, “faith development didn’t seem to be as organized or as emphasized,” she said. “You had youth groups and Sunday school, and yet we started adapting those things to make it easier for people to be there, and it didn’t change” the longstanding membership decline, especially among mainline churches. “We still don’t have a number of young people in church anymore.”

“A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” with the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong drops each Thursday.

One development Boswell laments is churches offering Sunday school and worship during the same hour. “We lost a couple of generations of people who knew how to be part of a worshiping community because they were in Sunday school,” she said. Then, “when we expected them to come into worship, they didn’t feel they had a place there at all.”

As members of the voluntary society depart this world or diminish their church involvement, many congregations “have not yet found their legs on how they go about deepening their own faith and what it really means to follow Jesus in the midst of what’s going on in the world today,” she said. “One thing I’ve been thinking about is this idea of how is it we are making space? How are we training and bringing up leadership of all ages?” Church nominating committees owe it to the congregation “to look at the broad breadth of the folks who are in the congregation. How do we bring along that leadership and transfer leadership? We haven’t done that in some places as well as we could have.”

Boswell said she was raised in a small church where she was asked to serve as a ruling elder while still in high school. “When I came back from college, I went back on the session to do the work that needed to be done. How do we open those opportunities for that to happen? Folks need to be able to say, ‘I am willing to hand it over to other folks and have them do it their way.’”

Boswell told Catoe and Doong she encourages Presbyterians “to be open to questions and exploring, and to the reality that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Beyond that, everyone is made in God’s image. If we embrace that, we’ll help grow folks of a deeper faith and we’ll go out there and do what Christ is calling us to do.”

New editions of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drop every Thursday. Go here to listen to previous broadcasts.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Bronwen Boswell is a guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Amanda Craft, Manager, Immigration Advocacy, Office of the General Assembly 
Octavia Craig, Treasury Assistant, Purchasing, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 

Let us pray

Compassionate God, thank you for strong witnesses. Unify your body through genuine affection and mutual support so that all may know that we are Jesus’ disciples. Amen.

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