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Rebuilding the Walls

08. March 2017

Features, Theme Articles,

  —Daniel and Esther Howe

In the dramatic opening of his book, Nehemiah, a trusted official in the Persian Empire, receives news of Jerusalem from Jewish travelers: “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh. 1:3). Nehemiah’s response is powerful. After seeking the Lord in weeping, fasting, and repentance, he travels to the holy city, reconnoiters, and leads in rebuilding the walls.

Atlantic Presbytery was once the center of our denomination’s life, but it is now on the periphery. Our antislavery stance was forged in Coldenham, N.Y. Our seminary started in Philadelphia. In 1890, there were three RP churches in urban Philadelphia, five in New York City, and two in Boston. Of these 10, three remain, but they are now located outside the cities. What is now Atlantic Presbytery declined 86 percent in communicant membership from 1896 to 2015 and dropped from 27 congregations to 9. (Thanks to Elder Emeritus Chris Wright for gathering statistics.)

As Protestant Christianity dwindled in secular eastern cities, so did the RP presence. The reasons for this decline are many and complex. One major factor was westward migration. As Scots-Irish enclaves relocated, so did churches. Suburbanization also took its toll. Members moved outward, but not to the same neighborhoods, weakening city churches. Vermont Presbytery and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Presbytery ...

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