Ministers and commissioners at the 107th stated meeting approved a strategic plan that will guide Presbytery of the James into the future. The plan includes a new mission and a staffing structure to fulfill the mission.
The mission addresses challenging times facing the presbytery and its churches.
Over the last decade, Presbytery of the James has experienced a downward trajectory of membership. The number of churches dropped from 112 to 99, although four new worshiping communities have arisen during this time. In addition, many churches are considered “small membership,” with 99 people or fewer on the rolls.
As the team considered the realities of churches reducing in membership numbers, they chose to focus the mission on spiritual growth. This growth will be measured in two directions: internal, by increases in church membership and member opportunities, as well as external, by growing connections among our churches and ministries and creating vital partnerships.
To achieve this mission, the team realized changes were needed to the makeup of presbytery staff. Most notably, the plan separates the duties of stated clerk from the presbyter position.
A stated clerk is the constitutional officer required by our denomination’s Constitution (G-3.0104). This officer bears responsibility for interpreting the law and assuring its careful application. In disciplinary cases, a presbyter who is also stated clerk must shift immediately from the more pastoral-focused role to being an officer of the law. By separating the two functions, the presbytery can expect both roles to be fulfilled faithfully, compassionately, and efficiently. The stated clerk position will be part-time, at 15 hours per week with per diem remuneration when required.
In addition to the clerk/presbyter separation, the plan establishes three presbyters. A full-time lead presbyter will guide the presbytery and serve as head of staff. Two additional presbyters, at 30 hours per week with benefits, will support congregational life and relational care.
During discussion of the plan at the stated meeting, Ruling Elder Alisha Gallini of Bon Air Church lauded the flexibility of 30-hour schedules and believes they will be attractive to potential candidates for the presbyter positions.
“[This type of schedule] is becoming more popular among working parents because it is a way to balance work and family life,” she said. “It’s a great move to expand our reach and expand our knowledge base.”
Through the three-presbyter model, a more diverse leadership team will be available to support POJ congregations and ministries. The individuals who eventually fill these positions will be proactive in reaching out to ministers, educators, and ministries, assisting with challenges, and offering opportunities for connection and collaboration throughout POJ.
Interim presbyter Fred Holbrook was an ex-officio member of the team, providing important context about the roles of presbyter and stated clerk. He also brought experience from serving in other presbyteries and in validated ministries.
“Times are changing and ways of doing ministry must adapt,” he reflected. “The pandemic has accelerated the changes that are vital for congregations and ministries to meet the adaptive challenge. This plan calls for the POJ to uphold and support those who are meeting the challenges with joy and faith.”
Presbyters moving about the presbytery is key to the success of the plan, which decentralizes staff from Richmond through the creation of satellite offices at churches. Presbyters will use the church locations to meet more conveniently with members and ministries in their areas.
Beyond the presbyters and stated clerk, under the new plan staff will include an associate for administration and one for communications and technology. The plan increases staff and independent contractors by one person (seven currently to eight) and staff hours by 21 per week.
Following approval at the meeting, the mission and vision went into immediate effect. The Committee on Nominations will form a search committee for the three presbyters. Strategic Plan Team moderator Jen Rowe anticipates a lead presbyter could be in place by early 2022.
View the strategic plan, including position descriptions for the staff, and budget impact as compared to the 2021 budget.