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One American Story

Perhaps it’s fitting that, as a Presbyterian, my first post on this blog happens to fall on Independence Day. Presbyterianism is, by definition, a system of church governance by representative assemblies, so Presbyterians love to claim an influence on the United States system of government! King George III apparently referred to the War for Independence as “that Presbyterian revolt.” Twelve signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians, including the only clergyman, John Witherspoon. According to the Presbyterian Historical Society:
"Presbyterians were only one of the reformed denominations that dominated American colonial life at the time of the Revolutionary War. Presbyterians participated in the writing of state and national constitutions. Reformed views of God's sovereignty and of human sinfulness moved the new nation toward checks and balances and separation of powers." 
And Long Island boasts seven of the eight oldest Presbyterian congregations in the country, with the Southampton and Southold churches as the earliest (both established in 1640 by Calvinist Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony). The Setauket church was among those early eight, founded in 1660.[1]
            Like all faiths and denominations, Presbyterians wrestle with the kind of nostalgia and challenges that emerge from its history, especially as history pulls us forward and gives us perspective on where we’ve been. From our roots in John Calvin’s theology, through the rebelliousness of the American colonies, division over slavery in the 19th century, controversies over civil and women’s rights in the 20th century, and declining membership today, Presbyterians have always debated about how to live out our faith in a changing world. I am ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a denomination that is proud of its early, spunky history arising out of the Protestant Reformation and Calvinism in Scotland, and we understand ourselves as a “church Reformed, always reforming.” But that “always reforming” part is never easy. For example, we have much to confront in our American story about privilege and participation in systems of division and oppression.
            So we meet and worship and talk and study and learn and argue together (endlessly—we are notorious for our committees!). We seek wisdom from scripture and from the example of Jesus, first and foremost; but we also understand God to self-reveal in a myriad of ways that requires our openness to the Spirit of God working in the world.
            I continue to learn a great deal about God from other faith traditions; God is so much bigger than Presbyterians can understand on their own. Interfaith relationships and conversations are essential to my own faith journey, and I believe strongly that there is nothing more American than the diversity of experience, tradition, and belief represented on this page. This Fourth of July, I celebrate each of our unique American stories and the common story we are building together. It is our history and our hope.
- Rev. Kate Jones Calone



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