Vital Congregations initiative gives Newark Presbytery a renewed sense of value


Church leaders rejoice that ‘God is doing a new thing’

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Newark Presbytery’s stated clerk Warren McNeill and Barbara Smith (far left) and Kathryn Threadgill (third from right) with Newark’s congregational vitality and leadership team. Newark Presbytery

LOUISVILLE ­– By the time Newark (N.J.) Presbytery was invited to participate in a two-year Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative pilot program, it had already been placed under an administrative commission in the Synod of the Northeast.

“The presbytery was broken,” says its transitional director of ministries, the Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Smith. “There was little trust. There weren’t good policies or procedures in place — checks and balances, things like that.”

When Smith arrived in Newark in 2016, she was tasked with helping the presbytery live into a new structure that had been implemented by the administrative commission to prevent past problems from happening again. Fortuitously, the invitation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Vital Congregations associate Kathryn Threadgill to be part of a pilot program appeared to be a lifeline.

Smith, and Newark’s stated clerk, Warren McNeill, reached out to the presbytery’s pastors with an invitation saying, “if the initiative didn’t work in Newark, it wouldn’t work anywhere.” 

Tired of their presbytery getting a bad rap, nearly every pastor and church leader joined the program’s pastoral cohort groups. They meet monthly to study together the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality. The initiative helps them discern the Holy Spirit’s movement in the life of their congregations and live out more fully what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Each cohort group is also learning firsthand the strength and sense of worth that comes from being in relationship with one another.

Together, pastoral leaders are seeing that to become vital again, the church cannot work like it did 50 years ago. Revitalization calls for a new approach.

So far, 14 of the 34 congregations in Newark have come aboard and are at various stages of involvement in the revitalization initiative.

For Smith, it’s been very rewarding to see the presbytery churches —no longer under the administrative commission — working so hard and with great dedication at their renewal.

At the same time, she cautions that that the vital congregations revitalization initiative “is no magic bullet. But, God is doing a new thing among us. We just have to be willing to be a part of it — I firmly believe that.”

The Office of Vital Congregations is part of the PC(USA)’s Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministry. To download a basic information packet for presbyteries interested in going through the revitalization process, click here.

November 1, 2018, is the deadline for “letters of interest” from presbyteries interested in being considered for the initial launch of the Vital Congregations initiative in 2020. There is room for 20 presbyteries in this first phase rollout.


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