I’d love to see this category added to Letterman’s “Know Your Current Events.”
For those who find it difficult to keep the Presbyterian alphabet soup straight in your mind, the old PCUSA was known in the South as the “Northern” Presbyterian Church. It was the main Presbyterian body in the nation, having held its first General Assembly in 1789.
In 1861, the PCUSA churches in the Southern States seceded from the national church (even as the States themselves seceded from the Union) to form what was then called the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, which denomination changed its name after the Civil War to the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), popularly known as the “Southern” Presbyterian Church.
Thanks to the fact that most of the Cumberland Presbyterians re-joined the PCUSA in 1906 (they had left in the early 1800’s), by the early part of the 20th Century the PCUSA (the “Northern” Church) had congregations in all 50 States. So since that time it was no longer accurate at all to refer to the PCUSA as the “Northern” Presbyterian Church. Nevertheless, many Southern Presbyterians persisted in doing so. Not all the Cumberland Presbyterians re-joined the PCUSA in 1906, so there is a continuing Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) as well.
In 1936, a few churches on the “Fundamentalist” side of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy within the PCUSA left the denomination to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).
In 1958, the PCUSA merged with the quite conservative United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) to form the United Prebyterian Church in the United States in America (UPCUSA). Many Southerners continued to refer to the UPCUSA as the “Northern” Church, but it became more widely known, popularly, as the United Presbyterian Church. Many churches even added the word “united” to their church name. For example, Five Mile Presbyterian Church in the Huffman neighborhood in Birmingham (mentioned in the previous post) became “Five Mile United Presbyterian Church.”
Beginning in 1973, some conservative Presbyterians, chiefly in the South, left both PCUS (“Southern” Presbyterian) and UPCUSA (United Presbyterian or “Northern” Presbyterian) churches to form the National Presbyterian Church, which soon changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
In 1983, the United or “Northern” Presbyterians (UPCUSA) merged with the “Southern” Presbyterians (PCUS) to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(USA). So there’s actually a difference between writing “PCUSA” and “PC(USA).” Nowadays most people simply write “PCUSA” to refer to the current, merged denomination because it’s quicker, but there is a difference.
We’re almost done, but not quite. A couple of years before the UPCUSA/PCUS merger (isn’t this getting fun?), some of the more conservative UPCUSA congregations (many of which had originally been a part of the UPCNA–I’m really enjoying this) left the UPCUSA to form the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or EPC.
Got it? We’re not quite finished.
In 1982, a small denomination called the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, or RPCES, was received into the PCA. The RPCES had its own college and seminary, Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, so these became the college and seminary of the PCA. If you run across a PCA church with the word “Reformed” in its name, chances are very good that it had been a part of the RPCES. Examples include Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in St. Louis and Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church in Memphis.
All right, so we’ve covered the PCUSA, the PCUS, the CPC, the OPC, the UPCNA, the UPCUSA, the PCA, the EPC, the PC(USA), the RPCES, the ARP, and the RPCNA. Everyone with me? 🙂
What’s really scary is, I rattled all that off by heart.