Confirmation of our current situation

October 8, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

I’ve been in conversation with pastors during the past few weeks, continuing to talk about the need in Christ’s Church for more ministers.

The more I talk to pastors, presbytery leaders and those who care deeply about the future of the PC(USA), the more confirmation I receive that 75 percent of pastors will be eligible to retire in the coming decade. The 2011 Presbyterian Board of Pensions and PC(USA) Research Services report clearly point to this number, and I believe it to be entirely accurate. In fact, I think that could even be low, based on the conversations I’m seeing between pastors, Presbytery executives, lay leaders and others.

The evidence is all around, in Presbyteries and Synods, in congregations, in pews and pulpits. I’ll share with you here a few examples that I’ve seen in my travels and work.

At Stewardship Kaleidoscope, I called together a breakfast gathering to discuss theological education. Those who chimed into the discussion were from all over – Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and more. Cynthia Rigby, who was a keynote speaker at Stewardship Kaleidoscope and is a professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, also spoke briefly.

At the end of our time together, I asked those in the room who had a significant number of retirements in their Presbyteries on the horizon to raise their hands.  I got a big lump in my throat when nearly every hand in the room went up.

Also at the conference, I had an opportunity to visit with Rev. Emily Zeig Lindsey. Emily is a Columbia Theological Seminary grad who is serving in her first pastorate in Waterford, Pennsylvania. When she came to her Presbytery nine years ago, she was the youngest pastor in Lake Erie Presbytery. Nine years later, she still is, and she’s watching as pastors in her Presbytery prepare for retirement and wondering who will be coming to take their place.

Steve Shive, General Presbyter for the Presbytery of Wyoming, shared with me that he has six or seven openings in his Presbytery now, many open for some time.  He also estimated that well over 70 percent of the currently active pastors will be eligible to retire in the next five to ten years. He wonders, too, if there will be enough pastors.

As the breakfast concluded, I ask Sydne Allen to close the gathering in prayer. Sydne serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Canadian, Texas, with her husband, Travis Allen. Her prayer has stuck with me, and I paraphrase:

Holy Three, Holy One, please be with your baptized ones, as they consider how to follow you. Especially be with those dipping their toes into the water as they discern a call into pastoral ministry. Be with those from ankle deep to neck-high in pastoral ministry today. And be with those looking for a place to exit the waters of ministry into other ways of serving and being served by You. In Christ’s name. May it be. Amen.

A note about the photo: During Stewardship Kaleidoscope, we had a wonderful worship service on the beach, including communion, at TradeWinds Resort. Photo provided by photographer Erin Dunigan.

About the editor: Lee Hinson-Hasty is Senior Director for Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation. Through his work Lee hopes to capture and share a more expansive view of theological education, of church leadership and of vocational discernment as he sees through the eyes of some exciting Presbyterians in and related to PC(U.S.A.) seminaries.

Follow the Theological Education Fund on Twitter @PresTheoEd.