Though less than 10 miles down the road from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS), the Presbyterian Center — home of the national offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — was for Ted Sharp, a world away.
All of that changed in January when Sharp a first year Master of Divinity student at LPTS, enrolled in Leaders for a Connectional Church, a weeklong, for-credit course designed to give students an intensive introduction to the PC(USA)'s mission and ministry and to bring to life the reality of the connectional church.
"Before taking this course, I had only perceived the church at-large from the perspective of a member of a congregation," said Sharp. "Although I knew there was more to the PC(USA) beyond my parish, I did not know how it was organized. By taking this course I gained an appreciation for the Presbyterian system and what the PC(USA) does in terms of adapting to an ever-changing culture."
Held January 11-15, the annual program — a cooperative effort of the Committee on Theological Education, the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and LPTS — attracted 27 students from five PC(USA)-related seminaries.
"Prior to my experience in this program, I was ignorant of just how forward-thinking the PC(USA) actually is," Sharp said. "I was delightedly surprised to see that steps are being taken and plans are being implemented to help the national church adapt to a culture that does not reflect the culture of even 20 years ago. There is an interest, for example, in reaching out to youth and college students."
That particular outreach is of special interest to Sharp, as he plans to seek a call to campus ministry upon graduating from LPTS in 2012. A native of Wooster, Ohio, Sharp is a member of First Presbyterian Church there and a 2009 graduate of the PC(USA)-related Muskingum College in nearby New Concord.
"As far as college ministry, I feel that the church should play a larger role in terms of the religious life on college campuses, especially at our Presbyterian-related colleges," said Sharp. "I really believe that if the church wants to reach out to college students, we need to meet them on their terms, because college is the time when people decide for or against involvement in the church. If these students are to have any sort of interest in being involved with a church, we need to be the ones to reach out to them, not the other way around."
No longer a stranger but now friend and neighbor to the people and the organization housed at 100 Witherspoon Street in Louisville, Sharp said that a highlight of his experience was talking with members of the GAMC staff about the various ministries in which they are involved and learning how those ministries are positively impacting the lives of Presbyterians.
"Year after year, students like Ted tell us how this course makes the Presbyterian Center ‘come alive,'" said the Rev. Lee Hinson-Hasty, coordinator for Theological Education and Seminary Relations, who is charged with programming and supervising the course. "No longer are the GAMC and the OGA mere entities, they are 'people with passion called for a purpose.'"