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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Executive presbyter seeks to develop ways
to energize and empower congregations

By Mary Stamp

Now installed as executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest (PIN), the Rev. Sheryl Kinder-Pyle expects to lead the presbytery through “pioneering times” as members rediscover their role as a district governing body during the restructuring of the presbytery.

Sheryl Kinder-Pyle
The Rev. Sheryl Kinder-Pyle, Executive Presbyter, of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest

Her role is “to energize and empower local congregations to live their faith,” she said.

The presbytery is one of 173 presbyteries that work within the 16 U.S. synods, regional governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church USA.  They connect the work of 10,466 congregations.

Sheryl said the denomination is shifting from a top-down polity—church structure—model to one of being more responsive to resources and resource needs of congregations.

Because many Presbyterian congregations are small, pastors need “to be plumbers to preachers,” she said.

Administration, care of churches, education and training will be her priorities, along with being a pastor to pastors.

Sheryl has served since 2010 as the transitional executive presbyter.  Because the presbytery will continue to be in transition and she has been developing their three-year strategic plan, leaders decided to call her to the full role.

During Sheryl’s installation service, Corey Schlosser-Hall, North Puget Sound presbytery executive, said she brings “organizational smarts” and human touch to the role.

Of her role, Sheryl believes, “God gives us a wonderful journey, and we are not on this journey alone.”

Growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., she studied psychology and religion at Miami of Ohio, graduating in 1985.  At Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, she married Scott Pyle in 1987 and graduated in 1988.

Their first call was to First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, where Scott was minister to junior high and college students, and she was senior high minister and started small group and singles ministries, including a divorce recovery group.

From 1991 to 1996, she reared their sons Ian and Philip, while Scott served a church in Ada, Ohio.  Next they shared a call doing a new church plant for 11 years in Limerick, Pa., outside Philadelphia.

In 2006, Sheryl had no call when they returned to Spokane for Scott to start the Latah Valley Church.  She said she “waited on the Lord, not knowing what God had for me.”

She became associate interim at Hamblen Park Presbyterian for a year, and then began serving part time at the Latah Valley New Church Development before becoming transitional executive presbyter in 2010.

The transitional work continues, she said, because the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the overall landscape for churches in America are changing.

In 2010, she began guiding the development of a three-year plan for a new way to be a presbytery with a focus on the presbytery supporting and encouraging congregations in their ministries.

 “The national offices will shrink and will connect more intentionally with congregations,” she said, noting that is more in line with the dynamics of Presbyterian churches in the West.

“It’s in line with where the church in much of the United States is going as denominational lines are more blurred and identity with a denomination is less strong,” Sheryl said.  “People go to a church because they like it, not because it’s Presbyterian and they grew up Presbyterian.

“More people shuffle around,” she said, “but still desire to be in relationship with others in Presbyterian circles.  They see a need for connection, encouragement, fellowship and accountability.”

Dealing with structures, it’s easy for the church’s vision and mission to become lost in fiduciary responsibilities and strategic decisions, she said, differentiating governance and leadership.

“When we think of a board, we think it is to deal with numbers, personnel and property, but it’s about accountability,” Sheryl said.  “Often boards zero in on fiduciary responsibility, talk about strategy once a year and leave the vision up to the leader.

“A leadership team needs to look at all three,” she said of the evolving presbytery structure. 

A strategy team of six meets four times a year to deal with ministry partnerships and ministry grants.    A vision team of six looks at the big picture and considers in what direction the presbytery should move to live out its new mission statement:

“God’s mission in the world calls the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest to unleash, empower and equip local congregations as living witnesses to the Spirit’s work in Jesus Christ.”

Until last year, the quarterly presbytery meetings used a one-day business meeting format with information sharing and formal reports before the whole group. 

Now they meet an hour on business, worship and then have “open space” for discussion on topics that foster associating with others in shared ministry interests.

“Not structuring every moment of meetings is creative and energizing,” Sheryl said.  “People are drawn to other people based on their gifts and interests, strengthening partnerships of congregations. In sharing ideas, pastors and elders can find partnerships.”

“That reflects the shift in purpose of the presbytery from congregations supporting the presbytery’s mission to the presbytery offering grants to support the ministries of congregations, to create space for conversations to happen at presbytery meetings so there is space for the Spirit to be at work,” Sheryl said.

She recalls a pastor in Philadelphia saying that what happens in conversations in the church parking lot is important for a church.  It’s where there’s planning for the mission trip or men’s retreat.  So the presbytery is now making space for those conversations to happen within the presbytery meetings four times a year.

There are 47 churches in the presbytery.  One congregation recently left and another is considering its relationship with the presbytery because in July 2011 the presbyteries confirmed the General Assembly’s decision to adopt amendment 10A to the Book of Order to change ordination standards to allow a presbytery to ordain a homosexual pastor or a congregation to ordain a homosexual elder.

“We don’t have a denominational mandate,” she said, “because a pastor’s call comes from a congregation with presbytery approval.  Each church searching for a new pastor goes through a process of redefining its identity.”

In that process, some churches have become “More Light” congregations, which seek the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life, ministry and witness of the church.

While some congregations in this presbytery are declining in numbers, 18 churches have increased membership, Sheryl reported.

“We tend to zero in on the decline, but many churches are growing,” she said.

Sheryl sees some movement from churches being served by full-time ordained ministers to part time ordained or lay (Commissioned Ruling Elders) leaders, especially in rural settings.  CRE leaders study pastoral ministry at Whitworth University, rather than going to seminary.

Overall, she finds churches are reconnecting with other churches in their neighborhoods and communities.  In two rural towns, Fairfield and Potlatch, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian churches work in partnership, sharing a pastor and moving toward more unity.  A third community is considering such an ecumenical partnership.

While most of Sheryl’s time is spent in administration, she also calls on pastors in crisis and walks with them through difficulties, also connecting them with colleagues for support.

Sheryl sees signs of hope in that people have a sense that being witnesses to Christ comes out in different ways—not just in the church.  For example, the ministry of Big Table, started by the Rev. Kevin Finch, connects with people in the restaurant business.

“Rather than inviting people to come to us, we are going out into the community,” she said.

Millwood Community Presbyterian Church, as another example, connects with the community through its community garden and farmers’ market.

“Churches need to be present in the community so the community would miss them if they were not there,” Sheryl said.  “Our missional call is to be in the community, to shift from the passive evangelism of ‘come worship with us, be a part of us, be like us’ to going out and serving the community.

“I hope I will be able to listen intently to the Spirit’s leading during this uncertain time and walk with the presbytery to the next chapter,” she said.

For information, call 924-4148 or email Sheryl@presbyinw.org.