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Presbyterian Investment & Loan President & CEO Jim Rissler reflects on a calling marked by innovation and friendships

Rissler, who’s announced he’s retiring on Dec. 31, is feted Wednesday for his dedicated service

by Mark Koenig, Administrative Services Group | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Jim Rissler and his wife, Nancy, admire his “jersey” that was retired during his celebration. (Photo by Mark Koenig)

LOUISVILLE — Almost 25 years ago, James “Jim” Rissler had a plan for his future. A ruling elder involved in the youth ministry at Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Rissler envisioned he would continue to work in commercial banking until his early 50s. Then he would find a way to work for an organization that more directly gave back to the community and the world.

The Holy Spirit had another idea.

Friends and colleagues asked Rissler if he might know anyone who would be interested in working for the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program. After reflection and prayer, Rissler realized he knew someone, and that someone was him. He applied and was hired, although “called” would be a better word.

After serving as Chief Operations Officer for more than 15 years, Rissler was called as PILP’s President and Chief Executive Officer in January 2015. This month, he retires.

“The work in PILP was the opportunity I was seeking,” Rissler says. “It allowed me to shift my work in the way I wanted, and to do so sooner than I had planned. It was a call I was blessed to receive.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, sees the Holy Spirt at work in Rissler’s life. “I have found Jim to be one who embodies the fruit of the Spirit as outline in Galatians 5,” Moffett said.

The Rev. Dr. Tom Taylor, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Presbyterian Foundation, affirms Rissler’s sense of call: “I’m personally grateful for Jim’s friendship and willingness to hear God’s call to lead the PILP.”

An integral part of Rissler’s leadership has been collaboration. When asked to reflect on PILP’s accomplishments during his tenure, Rissler said, “I want to talk about our accomplishments. The staff, the board, the people in other agencies, the people in the mid councils, the people in the congregations — we all made this ministry possible together.”

Reflecting on PILP’s shared accomplishments during Rissler’s tenure, Ruling Elder Nathan Anderson of Greensboro, North Carolina, a member of PILP’s Board of Directors, notes, “Jim led PILP through tremendous growth during his tenure as president and built deep relationships with other agencies and mid councils and congregations throughout the denomination.”

Rissler affirms that this time of growth resulted in “lower loan rates and higher investment rates that have benefited borrowers and investors alike. We have continued PILP’s trajectory of being an ever stronger and stable organization.”

“Under Jim’s steady hand, the Investment and Loan Program has prospered,” attests Ruling Elder Kathy Lueckert, President of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

The Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program staff gathers one last time with PILP’s departing president and CEO, Jim Rissler. (Photo by Mark Koenig)

“PILP has become recognized as one of the national agencies of the PC(USA) and as the denominational lender,” observes Rissler.

Taylor agrees. “Under Jim’s leadership, congregations and parishioners across the PC(USA) have recognized and received new and truly helpful tools and opportunities to advance their mission for Christ.”

Rissler appreciates the opportunity PILP has had to expand the scope of lending as PILP has walked alongside congregations as mission and ministry take new forms in the PC(USA). Moffett notes, “I have found Jim to be creative in his work at PILP, looking for ways to expand the ministry to meet the changing needs of the church.”

“Meeting and working with amazing people dedicated to improving the world and spreading the mission of Jesus” is among what Rissler most appreciates about his ministry, he said. “Working with PILP brought the blessed opportunity to walk with congregations as they discern how to respond to what God is calling them to do using the resources they have at hand and the support PILP could provide.”

Those who worked closely with Rissler consider him among the amazing people they have been blessed to meet. “Jim and I have been colleagues and friends for many years,” Lueckert said. “Back in the day, we were both part of ‘The League of Junior Superheroes,’ the number two people in each GA agency. I will miss Jim’s white shirts, his good humor and his positive spirit.”

Moffett refers to Rissler as “a true gem to work with. He is both professional and compassionate. He is firm in his beliefs and yet open to the views of others.”

“I have found him to be a supportive colleague and committed board member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency,” Moffett said. “With Jim’s leadership, PILP was one of the first to become a Matthew 25 agency, translating the foci into the operations and offerings of PILP.”

“Jim has been a fantastic colleague and leader,” states Taylor. “His intelligence, analytical abilities, deep care for the church, and his kind and always helpful manner — all these qualities have advanced PILP and the other national agencies of the church.”

When he’s asked what he will miss about leaving PILP, it comes as no surprise that Rissler immediately responds, “the people. The staff colleagues with whom I interacted daily. The board members. The agency partners. The customers. Mid council leaders. All the wonderful people.”

Anderson views that understanding as shared. “Jim’s concern for the people that surround him on his team almost seems old-fashioned in today’s business world,” Anderson said. “Jim’s belief in PILP’s mission is contagious.”

While he understands that it is time to retire, Rissler did not find that decision an easy one to make. “It is easier to leave a job than it is to leave a calling. It was easier to leave the bank years ago than it is to leave the church today,” he said. “I thank God for the blessing of being able to say, ‘It will be difficult leaving.’”

Those who have worked closely with Rissler will have a difficult time with him leaving as well. “Other members of the PILP Board of Directors and I will miss Jim’s gracious presence,” says Ruling Elder Jesse Hite of Charlotte, North Carolina. “He has been a joy to work with and we are grateful for his leadership and commitment to PILP.  We wish him well and want him to know that he will be missed.”

Anderson puts it this way: “Jim leaves behind big shoes to fill but is doing so with us well-prepared for a bright and prosperous future. For all of this, we are truly grateful.”

Earlier this month, Clare Lewis was announced as PILP’s new president and CEO.

His colleagues from PILP and other General Assembly agencies and entities gathered at the Presbyterian Center on December 13 to celebrate Rissler’s retirement. As part of the celebration “his jersey” was retired.

 In retirement, Rissler plans to catch up with family and friends. “I look forward to traveling and seeing some places together with Nancy, my wife,” he said. Volunteer work lies ahead — probably short-term work at first, although longer-term commitments may be down the road.

Of course, years ago the Holy Spirit had different plans for Rissler, and the Spirit may well have some unexpected plans for his future. Whatever that future may be, Rissler will enter it faithfully and live it well.

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