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Merger of UPCNA and PCUSA - Timeline Event

Time Period

1958

Description

Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) leader Eugene Carson Blake envisioned a single, massive denomination composed of all the mainline Protestant churches. As a first step toward that goal, he wanted to merge his PCUSA with the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), a small denomination of 250,000 members tied to the old Scottish "covenanter" tradition.

In 1958, the denominations merged to form the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), creating the largest Presbyterian denomination in America at the time with more than three million members. The group later dropped the "United" in its name when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1983.

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Narrative

The primary mover of the 1958 merger was Eugene Carson Blake, who led the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) from 1951-1966. Blake envisioned a single, massive denomination composed of all the mainline Protestant churches. The merger with the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) was the first step toward that goal.

The UPCNA was the descendant of the old Scottish "covenanter" tradition. By 1957 the denomination was centered in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania and claimed close to 250,000 members. After the merger the combined membership was more than 3 million. The merger also joined the UPCNA's seminary with the PCUSA school at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The joined denomination also commissioned a committee to revise the Westminster Confession of Faith. (The conjoined denomination was known as the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. until 1983 when it dropped the "United.")

With the 1958 success in hand, Blake attempted to take the next logical ecumenical step by joining Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ into a single mega-denomination, the "Churches of Christ Uniting." It was too much, too soon. The potential member denominations put the matter to a vote only to have it soundly rejected.

Still, the PCUSA had never been larger or more influential and used its heft to support civil rights legislation, nuclear disarmament, and an end to the Vietnam War. But below the surface that strength and unity was under severe stress. After the new confession of faith was released in 1967, theological conservatives accused the new confession of being tinged with neo-orthodox heresy. Three significant splits in less than a decade followed.

Religious Groups

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Religious Family Tree

Biographies

Blake, Eugene Carson

Related Dictionary Terms

Christians, Church, Denomination

Photographs

Stained glass window design for General Assembly of the UPCUSA- Library of Congress, Lamb Studios Archive
Stained glass window design for General Assembly of the UPCUSA- Library of Congress, Lamb Studios Archive

Eugene Blake- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Ben Merk, from the Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie ANEFO (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Eugene Blake- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Ben Merk, from the Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie ANEFO (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary- photo by TiconderogaCCB at English Wikipedia
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary- photo by TiconderogaCCB at English Wikipedia

Book/Journal Source(s)

Hart, D.G. and John R. Muether, 2007. Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ.

Web Page Contributor

Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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