If big things come in small packages, it only follows that big gifts are found in small churches.
Perhaps no one believes that more passionately than Rev. Steve Earl, associate presbyter for ministry for the Presbytery of the Peaks.
Of the presbytery’s 125 congregations, approximately 75 percent are under 100 members.
Because finding ways to lift up and encourage the small membership churches within the presbytery—which covers a large and diverse area of central and southwest Virginia—has been something of a calling for Earl, he was thrilled for Peaks to become a part of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Small Church Residency Program.
And not just with one small congregation, but with five.
“The Small Church Residency Program has been a real and tangible gift of ministry to the Presbytery of the Peaks,” says Earl. “It has helped us to bring more recognition of the importance of the gifts that small churches bring to the presbytery.”
Originally established in 2009 as For Such a Time as This, the Small Church Residency Program seeks to pair small, underserved congregations in rural, small-town, and urban settings with recent seminary graduates in a two-year pastoral-residency relationship, during which they are supported and guided by a cluster of pastor-mentors.
“Not only are our pastoral residents mentored by skilled pastors, but they also become part of cohort groups in their regions where they share joys, challenges, strategies, prayer, and worship,” says Earl of the presbytery’s four first-call pastors, who serve a total of five congregations because two of the churches are yoked.
“Their ministry, together with the congregations who have called them, has brought a new awareness of the possibility for transformation and the gifts of ministry of our small congregations,” he says. “The Small Church Residency Program and the presence of our four pastoral residents and their pastor-mentors has been an instrumental part of helping the presbytery to shape and form a broader strategy for mission with our smaller congregations.”
The guidance of a pastor-mentor and the broader support of a cohort group through the nationally administered program greatly eased Rev. Christy Mitchell’s apprehension upon starting a new call in a new state, away from her “personal network of support.” Mitchell, who was ordained in November 2015, serves as pastor of Diamond Hill Presbyterian Church in Gladys, Virginia.
“What excites me most about my new call is the camaraderie and sense of family at Diamond Hill Presbyterian Church, along with their willingness to try new things,” says Mitchell. “The congregation is just as excited as I am for this opportunity to learn from each other and to grow into ministry together.”
From February 1–5, Mitchell will join together with the three other pastoral residents from Peaks, three new pastoral residents from the presbyteries of Charlotte, Heartland, and Giddings-Lovejoy, and six pastors in the program at the midpoint of their two-year residency—along with their respective pastor-mentors and presbytery representatives—for a comprehensive orientation in Louisville. On Wednesday, February 3, at 9:00 a.m., the new pastoral residents will be commissioned during worship in the chapel of the Presbyterian Center. Rev. Marci Auld Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho, and a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, will preach the sermon.
Rev. Bob McLavey, who had “a long and diverse career prior to receiving God’s call to ministry,” was ordained and installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Floyd, Virginia, in September 2015.
“Needless to say, I feel that I am now on a new journey, one that is sacred and exciting,” McLavey says. “I see God's hand in guiding me to my first call at the Presbyterian Church of Floyd, Virginia, where the people have welcomed me with open arms.”
Like Mitchell, McLavey also values the support offered by the Small Church Residency Program.
“Not only do I receive additional training, but I am also a part of a network of fellow pastors who share in our unique experiences of the first call as a solo pastor in a small church,” he says. “It is a comfort to know I have others nearby who are going through similar times.”