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[PCUSANEWS] Panning for pastors
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
Mon, 15 Mar 2004 15:47:26 -0600
Note #8167 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Panning for pastors
March 15, 2004
Panning for pastors
System will identify, cultivate young people who are 'ministerial material'
by Evan Silverstein
LOUISVILLE - The Presbyterian Church (USA) is trying to identify and nurture
young ministerial candidates to replenish an aging pool of church officers
and fill some of the denomination's 4,000 empty pulpits.
The Pastoral Leadership Search Effort, or PLSE (http://www.theplse.org/)
(pronounced pulse), was launched last year by a cadre of church lay leaders
determined to reverse an upward trend in the number of PC(USA) congregations
operating without permanent pastors.
Nearly one-third of the PC(USA)'s more than 11,000 congregations are without
pastors. The problem is especially severe among small and rural churches.
The PLSE, in collaboration with the Fund For Theological Education Inc.
(http://www.thefund.org/), will try to learn of potential church leaders as
early as their high school years and to build a vast churchwide database of
young people identified by their congregations as prime candidates for church
Attorney John Aldridge Sr., an elder at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in
Atlanta, came up with the idea and has campaigned for it.
Aldridge said the PLSE and the Presbyterian Leadership Database will
establish a "virtual community" in which gifted, young leaders of tomorrow
will be cultivated, in an environment that will help make them "better able
to hear and respond" to a call to ministry.
"The concept of PLSE is not a program in and of itself," Aldridge told the
Presbyterian News Service. "It is the infrastructure, the pipes and wires
that give us the capability to proactively identify and engage gifted young
leaders in the PC(USA)."
With their consent, young people's names are added to the database. PLSE
helps the nominees with mentors, resources, parish internship opportunities
and access to ministry programs in their areas. The names are also made
available to PC(USA) seminaries and other entities to help nominees in
exploring their calls.
So far, several dozen people have been enrolled, and the pace of nominations
is picking up.
"Congregations are excited about the program," said the Rev. Gini
Norris-Lane, the Presbyterian PLSE coordinator. "They're excited about that
fact that there is a way for them to suggest ministry as a possibility for
some of their talented young people in an intentional way that is easy for
In September, PLSE officials sent information kits to all PC(USA) churches
describing the idea and encouraging congregations to identify high school and
college-age students who might have gifts for ministry, and to urge them to
consider the pulpit as a possible career choice.
The program is expected to hit full stride by this summer.
"We think the first six months of 2004 is really when we will know and see
how much traction PLSE gets at the church level," Aldridge said. "All the
information is now in the hands of the churches. Without active, aggressive
participation by our congregations, we won't be successful."
Aldridge said it's anybody's guess how many churches will participate during
what he calls the "initial thrust."
"I think the higher estimates were maybe up to 50 percent," he said. "The
lower estimates were down around 20 to 25 percent, somewhere in that range."
PLSE was unveiled during last year's 215th General Assembly in Denver, CO. It
was developed in consultation with a wide variety of Presbyterians, including
seminary and denominational staff, pastors and elders.
"It's like we've planted the seeds," Aldridge said, "and the question is how
many are going to sprout."
Three other protestant denominations are watching the program closely and
plan to use it as a model in establishing their own PLSE programs: the
Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, and United Church of Christ.
PLSE is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment and contributions from
Presbyterians and other sources. The Fund for Theological Education houses
the database and staff at its Atlanta offices.
Aldridge got the idea for PLSE after seeing some startling statistics about
the PC(USA) while serving as a trustee of Columbia Theological Seminary in
He learned that nearly 4,000 of the PC(USA)'s 11,150 churches are without
pastors, and that almost two-thirds of the vacancies are in churches with
fewer than 100 members. More than 40 percent of active PC(USA) pastors are 50
years old or older, and only 7 percent are under 35.
More than two-thirds of PC(USA) seminarians are second-career students, with
a median age of more than 35 years. That means they'll have less time in
ministry than those who start studying for ordination in their 20s.
The PC(USA)'s office of Churchwide Personnel Services
(http://www.pcusa.org/cps/staff.htm) is the denomination's primary point of
coordination for the PLSE project.
"It's really reactivating feeder systems for the development of leadership
that ... used to work to send people off to seminary," said the Rev. Marcia
Clark Myers, the PC(USA)'s associate director for Churchwide Personnel
Services. "The whole system is designed around (the idea that) every church
has somebody to promote."
For additional information about PLSE, log on to http://www.theplse.org, or
contact the Rev. Norris-Lane by phone at (404) 727-1547, or by email at
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