As executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, Elona Street-Stewart is increasingly aware of the changes swirling through the sixteen presbyteries within her synod’s bounds.
One presbytery is looking for an interim to succeed an executive who retired after decades of leadership. Two presbyteries are sharing a single stated clerk. Other presbyteries are banding together to share administrative staff and explore cooperative models of mission.
Everyone is asking, “How do we deal with the transitions that are coming at us?” Street-Stewart says.
That is why she was excited when staff from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of the General Assembly (OGA) approached her about helping make arrangements for a new kind of training event. The training would be designed to equip teams of people to meet the diverse leadership needs of their presbyteries, especially presbyteries in the midst of change.
The first such event, called “Practical Presbytery Leadership Training: Teamwork for Changing Times,” is scheduled for August 26–27 at Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa.
“We chose the Presbytery of Des Moines because they are in a time of transition,” says Sue Krummel, director for mid council relations for OGA and the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “And within driving distance of Des Moines are several other presbyteries in transition.”
Presbyteries are encouraged to send teams of as many as five or six so that “a broader group of people” are trained to lead, Krummel explains. The training will benefit those serving as presbytery executives, stated clerks, and moderators, or in other leadership roles such as members of visioning or transition teams.
Too often, people trained for particular roles take all the knowledge with them when they leave. “We ought to be training a system rather than training a person,” Krummel says.
“We’ve tried to keep the cost reasonable,” she adds. There will be no charge for meals or registration. Presbyteries will only need to pay for transportation and one night in a hotel.
The event is timely because “the climate of leadership of presbyteries has changed dramatically,” Krummel says.
She notes that in the past three years, new people have stepped into the role of stated clerk in 87 presbyteries—more than half the presbyteries in the PC(USA). New leaders have assumed the role of executive in 67 presbyteries. Another 25 presbyteries are without an executive and are using unpaid leaders to fill that role.
Until now, the only training available for presbytery executives has consisted of annual sessions to be completed over a three-year period. But the current model is not working for many presbyteries, Krummel says. Not all presbyteries are hiring “executives,” and many who do are giving them broader job descriptions and new titles, such as “pastor to the presbytery.”
Turnover of presbytery staff makes the three-year training model less practical. Also, says Krummel, “it can be a financial burden for some presbyteries.”
The training model premiering in August will include speakers and videos, with time between segments for participants to discuss and digest what they have heard. The videos will be available for participants to use after they return home.
“We want to provide both information and inspiration,” Krummel says, adding that the Des Moines event is a trial run. “We want to test it out and see if it works.” If the event is successful, she envisions similar events being offered three to four times a year in various parts of the country.
“Positive and practical” are the words Street-Stewart uses to describe the new training. She hopes it will enable presbytery leaders to look beyond the pressing need “to fill a hole in their staff.” She would like for them to “see transition as a dynamic of moving on to a future together.”
She also hopes that people from her Upper Midwest synod—a place of small churches and long driving distances—will come away from the training “still hopeful for the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in this region.”
To register for the training, please email Cheri.Harper@pcusa.org.
Click here to download the Practical Presbytery Leadership Training brochure.