The church has moved from “service” to “serve us”

Interview with Palisades Presbyterian Pastor Harvey Throop

Harvey Throop
  • Harvey Throop

Membership: 430

Pastor: Harvey Throop

Age: 69

Born: St. Louis, Mo.

Formation: Missouri Valley College, Marshall, Mo.; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Years Ordained: 44

Palisades Presbyterian Church

6301 Birchwood Street, Allied Gardens

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Pastor Harvey Throop: I usually work about two months ahead of time with outlines of sermons, so I have several sermons in process at any given time. I try to pay attention to the church year as well as to the civil year. I don’t follow the lectionary that closely. During Lent, leading up to Easter, and Advent, leading up to Christmas, I will use the lectionary, but otherwise I try to catch the mood of worshippers with the themes and issues that are consuming their time and interest. So my sermons are always a work-in-progress.

SDR: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?

PH: I would preach on the inclusivity of God’s love for all people. We tend to draw lines of division, racially, politically, picking between conservative and liberal, and between fundamentalists and liberals in theology. In John 3:16, it says that “God so loved the world…” God’s love for human kind is universal. We would like to think God parcels out his love for certain segments of the population, but that’s not how the Bible tells us it works.

SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?

PH: The direction of the church. I think it’s trying to find itself today. When I went into the ministry, the mainline denominations were the rule and not the exception. We’re living in what is called the post-denominational age. There are a lot of churches which have sprung up, mega-churches that have no traditional denominational ties. The ministries are much more varied, I guess. There was an interesting quote and I can’t remember to whom I would attribute it. “The church has moved from ‘service’ to ‘serve us.’” We are becoming more consumer churches than missionary in our orientation. In other words, one of the tensions I see is between achieving what I would call institutional success and carrying out a meaningful ministry to individuals. You can read the statistics of a church and not catch the effect of its ministry.

SDR: Why the Presbyterian Church?

PH: It was a denomination in which I grew up and my father was a Presbyterian pastor, as was his father. So my spiritual roots go into that tradition.

SDR: What appeals to you in Presbyterianism’s doctrines or understanding of God?

PH: That’s a tough question to answer. I think when we recognize the origin of denominations — Lutherans were German and Scandinavian; Episcopalians and Presbyterians were English and Scots; that sort of identity has given way. We no longer exist to preserve ethnic identity. So I think people, instead of because of its label or denomination, choose a church based on the people who are a part of it and the particular ministry they carry out.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PH: I think we return to God. Heaven is being with God. I’m not God, thank God, so I don’t have to be specific, but I think there is a sense in which the Bible speaks of universalism, that all are ultimately saved. That’s what I hold.

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