Transition Updates – May 2023

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, May 18, 2023

Transition Updates – May 2023

Dear Friends-

As we enter May, we, as a Presbytery, are into the fifth month of our leadership transition following Sheldon’s retirement as our General Minister.  Since my last update, we’ve made some significant steps that I want to update you.

In my last update, I shared with you that coming out of our Executive Committee (EC) retreat, EC members, along with members of the General Minister Special Nominating Committee (GMSNC), had been meeting together in smaller groups to continue discussing where the Presbytery’s ministry and mission focus is called to be and what type of leadership that call will require.  Since then, a group with both EC and GMSNC members has been meeting to plot the next steps in our leadership transition.  The members of this group are as follows:

  • Trent Hancock (EC Co-Chair)
  • Heather Schoenwolf (EC)
  • Elder Rob Carr (EC)
  • Cathie Smith (EC, Co-Chair of Personnel)
  • Scott Hill (EC, Co-Chair of Personnel)
  • Laura Strauss (GMSNC Co-Chair)
  • Elder Mark Roth (GMSNC)
  • Sarah Robbins (Senior Vice-Moderator of Presbytery)

At this point, the group has sketched out a three-step process for moving forward in the transition.

The first step is evaluating the Presbytery’s staffing structure and leadership model.  This work will happen initially in three different ways.

  1. The question of “leadership model” can be boiled down to this: Is the position of General Minister, as it has been in recent history, the position we are looking to fill? The group has observed that Presbyteries are utilizing a host of different staffing models.  Following a conversation with the whole executive committee at its May meeting, the group will be in conversation with several other Presbyteries to see what wisdom and insight can be gained as we look towards the next season of ministry for Pittsburgh Presbytery.
  2. The second part of this evaluation will be done through meetings with the current staff and representatives from the Personnel Committee and GMSNC. While the remaining staff in no way determine the next steps in the transition, the team feels that it is important for the insights of the current staff to be factored into decisions about the leadership model.
  3. The third part will be an evaluation of the Presbyteries’ financial position moving into the next three to five years to ensure that our basic budget structure will be sustainable through this next season. We have been prudent in making staff adjustments through attrition in the last few years, and we believe we are in a strong financial situation moving into the future but want to be doubly sure before beginning a search for a new Presbytery leader.

Once the Executive Committee, in consultation with the Special Nominating Committee, has decided the nature and responsibilities of the position, the SNC will begin the process of writing the position posting to be posted on the PC(USA)’s Church Leadership Connection as part of a nation-wide search process.  Once the SNC completes the job posting, the Executive Committee will review and approve it.   The Next Steps team has identified a targeted date of November 2023 for the position to be posted.

At that point, the two groups (EC and SNC) will work largely independently.  With the position finalized and posted, the SNC will receive candidates and conduct interviews.  Meanwhile, the EC will turn its attention to reviewing the results of the Landscape Study and determining what steps will be taken in response to what we learned.

Speaking of the Landscape Study, we will receive the results at our Presbytery meeting today (May 18th).  If you cannot attend or tune in live, we will post a copy of the Landscape report on our YouTube channel and provide a link to it from our website.  Due to time constraints, we will not have an opportunity for people to ask questions during the presentation at the Presbytery Meeting.  However, we have scheduled an extended follow-up discussion and question and answer session on June 7th at 10 am at the Presbytery Office.  If this time is not conducive for you (as we know it won’t be for many), we’ll schedule at least one additional follow-up meeting on Zoom and more if necessary.  Please use this link to RSVP for the June 7th gathering or get your name on the list to be included in a future gathering at another time.

People often ask me why leadership transition processes take so long in the Presbyterian church.  While there are many answers to the question, the one that stands out is our commitment to corporate discernment, which takes time.  To uphold that value, we need to take the time to welcome a variety of voices to the table and give time for the Spirit to work amid a group of people.  Would it be faster if we entrusted our decision-making authority to a single individual?  Certainly, and one could even argue that it would be more efficient.  But that’s not who we are as Presbyterians.  I have seen firsthand the benefits that come when the leadership of an organization takes their time in the beginning stages of a transition.  Namely, it makes the rest of the process run much smoother.  In this season of transition, I see our people from the EC and SNC hard at work, faithful work at that, ensuring that the foundation for this leadership transition is not only solid – but is, in fact, the right foundation.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

In Christ,




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