Information about Presbyterians

What does the word Presbyterian mean?

Presbyterian comes from the Greek word presbyter which literally translated means elder. It refers to the way we govern ourselves. People like you are elected by the congregation to help the pastors guide and direct the spiritual life of the congregation. They are the presbyters or the elders and deacons of the church.  To find out more click

Are there other Presbyterian Denominations?

Yes. There are several. We are part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). We are the oldest and the largest of the Presbyterian denominations.  The Presbyterian Church in America, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Westminister Presbyterian Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church also are known as Presbyterian churches, but we believe differently about some key issues.  For example, we believe in allowing a wide range of opinions on various issues, and we decide where God is leading us through the study of the Bible and open discussion of these issues.

What makes Presbyterians unique?

Our organization, heritage, and theological convictions. Our Book of Confessions includes eleven different expressions of the Christian faith or Creeds from eleven different periods of history. Our organization is different because we elect our leaders. This organization has been cited as the model for our American system of elected legislators. Our heritage is Scottish and Irish in the Reformed tradition from the Reformation in the 16th century. John Knox (c. 1510 – 24 November 1572) was a Scottish clergyman and leader of the Protestant Reformation who is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in 1560. We hold a wide range of beliefs and opinions. Some have described us as “a thinking person’s church.” We also celebrate with joy the other expressions of the Christian and Jewish faiths and are grateful for our ecumenical partners in this country and around the world. Book of Confessions

Presbyterians – As We Believe, So We Do

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. Brief Statement of Faith


Some of the principles articulated by John Calvin remain at the core of Presbyterian beliefs. Among these are the sovereignty of God, the authority of the scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers. God is the supreme authority throughout the universe. Our knowledge of God and God’s purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ. Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God’s generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments. It is everyone’s job – ministers and lay people alike – to share this Good News with the whole world. That is also why the Presbyterian Church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy, laity, men and women alike.

“In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth praying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.'” —From A Brief Statement of Faith

The Centrality of Jesus Christ

A key insight of the Reformed Tradition is that we are all, at heart, idolaters. The gods we hunger and thirst for include status, money, security, recognition, and power. The remarkably big claim of the Christian Faith is that in Jesus Christ we are sustained – body, mind, and spirit – by the life-giving presence of God. All acts of kindness and care, all efforts toward justice and peace, all words of encouragement and support find their source in the reality of Jesus Christ. These expansive claims are called the centrality of Jesus Christ. The implications ripple out into our worship, our service, our conversations with people of other faiths, our justice efforts, our relationships, our hopes and our dreams. They affect our political systems, our economic assumptions, and our attitudes toward creation. Christians who confess the centrality of Jesus Christ insist that all things have significance that all things are in God’s care and will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

Presbyterians in the 21st Century

Presbyterians in the twenty-first century have a vision of ministry that is vibrant and inviting and reflects the love and justice of Jesus Christ. The denomination has set four mission priorities for the next phase of our life as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

  • Evangelism and Witness – We are called to invite all people of faith, repentance, and the abundant life of God in Jesus Christ, to encourage congregations in joyfully sharing the gospel, and through the power of the Holy Spirit to grow in membership and discipleship.
  • Justice and Compassion – We are called to address wrongs in every aspect of life and the whole of creation, intentionally working with and on behalf of poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged people as did Jesus Christ, even at risk to our corporate and personal lives.
  • Spirituality and Discipleship – We are called to deeper discipleship through Scripture, worship, prayer, study, stewardship, and service, and to rely on the Holy Spirit to mold our lives more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
  • Leadership and Vocation – We are called to lead by Jesus Christ’s example, to identify spiritual gifts, and to equip and support Christians of all ages for faithful and effective servant leadership in all parts of the body of Christ.


Presbuteros, the Greek word meaning elder, is used seventy-two times in the New Testament. It provided the name for the Presbyterian family of churches, which includes the Reformed churches of the world. Both Presbyterian and Reformed are synonymous with churches of the Calvinist tradition.

In America, the first presbytery was organized in 1706, the first synod in 1717; the first General Assembly was held in 1789. Today’s Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was created by the 1983 reunion of the two main branches of Presbyterians in America, 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 America 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. At the end of 2008 (our most recent data), there were 10,751 congregations and 2,140,165 members in all fifty states and Puerto Rico. There were a total of 21,286 ministers in 2008; 13,462 active and 7,824 retired. Of active ministers, approximately 29 percent are female (4,253).

Organization of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has about 10,750 congregations which are organized into 173 presbyteries (district governing bodies) and 16 synods (regional governing bodies).

Saint Mark belongs to the National Capital Presbytery (NCP) that serves Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and part of Maryland. It is made up of 109 Churches with about 30,000 members and also supports 3 new church developments and 6 immigrant fellowships.
The local church is governed through its Session. The denomination is governed through the Office of the General Assembly.


The Session of a local church consists of Elders, who are members elected by the congregation and ordained for service. Elders serve a three year term and may be re-elected for another three year term. The Moderator of Session is the pastor. The Session meets regularly and oversees the spiritual life and business of the church.


A Presbytery is the local governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), consisting of presbyters (that is, elders and ministers) of local congregations.   Saint Mark belongs to the National Capital Presbytery (NCP) which is made up of 109 Churches and about 30,000 members and serves Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and part of Maryland.   The NCP Office staff includes the General Presbyter, the Rev. John Molina-Moore, and the Stated Clerk Sara Coe. Presbytery meetings are held six times a year and Moderator elected yearly presides. The NCP office is located just inside the Beltway at One Central Plaza,
11300 Rockville Pike, Suite 1009,
Rockville MD 20852


A Synod is a regional governing body for coordinating resources. Our synod is the Mid-Atlantic Synod with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

General Assembly

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has its national office, the Office of the General Assembly, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Office of the General Assembly is the ecclesiastical arm of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Under the leadership of Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, the OGA staff carries out the directives assigned to the Clerk by the General Assembly, the denomination’s highest governing body.

The General Assembly consists of ministers and lay people elected every two years to a meeting that reviews the work of synods, resolves controversies in the church, is responsible for matters of common concern for the whole church, and serves as a symbol of unity for the church. A Moderator of the General Assembly is also elected every two years to preside over the plenary sessions. The Moderator can be a minister or lay person and serves a two year term promoting the church’s mission.

The Form Of Government

In seeking to be faithful and open to God’s continued reformation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) implemented a new Form of Government in July 2011. With greater freedom and flexibility, the new Form of Government encourages congregations and councils to focus on God’s mission and how they can faithfully participate in this mission. In offering a structure that is more horizontal than hierarchical, the new Form of Government encourages the church to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it seeks to be Christ’s body and live out its calling as a community of faith, hope, love and witness.

The new Form of Government contains:
Foundations of Presbyterian Polity — lays out the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA).

Form of Government — spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission.

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has two parts. The first volume is the Book of Confessions, the second (consisting of the Form of Government, Directory for Worship, and Rules of Discipline) is called the Book of Order. The Book of Confessions contains historical statements of what we as a church believe. The Book of Order is Part II of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This document contains the Form of Government, Directory for Worship, Rules of Discipline, and the Formula of Agreement.

Saint Mark Presbyterian Church

10701 Old Georgetown Road
North Bethesda, MD 20852
301-530-0600 | Map