Guide to Facts about the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

A general guide to facts about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation.  Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with the French lawyer John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings crystallized much of the Reformed thinking that came before him.

Calvin did much of his writing from Geneva, Switzerland.  From there, the Reformed movement spread to other parts of Europe and the British Isles.  Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  The first American Presbytery was organized in Philadelphia in 1706 and the first Synod in 1717. The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789.  The first Assembly was convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Today's Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was created by the 1903 reunion of the two main branches of the Presbyterians in America.  They had been separated since the Civil War--the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  The latter had been created by the union of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North American in 1958.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is distinctly a confessional and a connectional church, distinguished by the representation of elders--laymen and laywomen--in its government.

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways.  They adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.