Rose Niles joins Presbyterian Foundation as field staff
July 29, 2021 by Erin Dunigan
The journey that led the Rev. Dr. Rose Niles to become the Presbyterian Foundation’s newest Ministry Relations Officer began when she was asked to become a ruling elder at the age of 14.
As a continuation of her lifelong commitment to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Niles joined the staff of the Presbyterian Foundation on July 6 as a Ministry Relations Officer, a field staff position serving in the Northeast, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Presbyteries of Philadelphia and Donegal.
“I feel as though the work of the Foundation has turned toward leading with a real passion for helping churches to thrive, asking, ‘How can we help the church?’” she said.
From childhood to Harvard
A lifelong Presbyterian, Niles grew up in the Bronx as the bi-racial daughter of immigrant parents. Her father, a seaman from the West Indies, met her mother in her native Australia before the couple moved to the Bronx where Niles was born.
Niles was a bright young person who enjoyed her studies. As the only youth on the session, the other members quickly decided that being the church’s representative to the presbytery would be a great experience for her.
“I began to serve on presbytery committees, was asked to be a Young Advisory Delegate to the Synod and got to know other young leaders of the church,” Niles said.
At 17, she was on her way to Harvard University with a scholarship and was also appointed to be the vice moderator of the Synod. “My first year at Harvard on scholarship I was flying around the Synod of the Northeast chairing meetings and preaching,” Niles said.
Church ministry calls
After majoring in Comparative Religion at Harvard and then completing a divinity degree there as well, Niles married, had a child, and took her first call to Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, a congregation on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Emmanuel had been started as a mission congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Manhattan in the 1800’s. “By the time I was called to be pastor they couldn’t have afforded a full-time minister without the money that had been invested for the upkeep of the church,” Niles said.
After serving in the New York City Presbytery, Niles served 12 years in the Hudson River Presbytery as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., was president of the local school board, and active in the community working with her congregation’s homeless shelter for women, a music academy for kids and a jazz society.
During this time, she also completed her doctorate with an emphasis in immigration ministries. Mt. Vernon had over 97 different cultural groups. That cultural mix, the need of her congregants, in addition to her own background growing up as the bi-racial daughter of immigrants made the emphasis in immigration the right focus for her doctorate. Along the way Rose discerned a passion for equipping leaders from all backgrounds to serve the church.
“I came to realize that this was my core focus: I have always been passionate about developing church leaders – about wanting the church to thrive and be healthy,” Niles said.
That passion led her from New York to Louisville, Ky., to work with the PC(USA) Committee on Theological Education, which was a position with the Theological Education Fund where she met many of her now colleagues with the Foundation. During her time with the TEF, she worked extensively with the development staff of the denomination’s seminaries. She then relocated to Texas deepening her development work with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
“At Austin Seminary I began to live into the call to have significant conversations with Presbyterians around generosity and meaning,” Niles said.
That call, combined with a pandemic inspired tug to be closer to home in the Northeast, were breadcrumbs that began leading Niles toward her new position as a Ministry Relations Officer.
“My heart kept wanting to be on the soil of my home territory, the place where I have a significant background and a heart for,” Niles said. Though she was deeply grateful for her colleagues and work in Texas, she began to consider returning home.
As she began conversations around the possibility of the position of MRO she felt ‘a little gong go off in her spirit’ and realized that this was what she wanted to spend her life energy doing – having conversations, and finding resources to help churches through their challenges in order to equip healthy, growing, and joyful congregations for generations to come.
“I think the biggest challenge is listening deeply to where people are right now,” Niles said. “We are living through tremendous upheaval as a society, culture and church. We do have tremendous tools and wonderful resources to draw from but we also need to understand the individual challenges that churches are facing,” Niles said.
There is no “one size fits all solution,” Niles said, but she’s hopeful. “It is a joyful opportunity, once we make the paradigm shift from fear of what we do not have into the joy of what we have to share.”
Erin Dunigan is an ordained evangelist and teaching elder in the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. She serves as a photographer, writer and communications consultant and lives near the border in Baja California, Mexico.