When Cheryl Galan began her call as the interim executive presbyter with the Presbytery of Carlisle in 2019, she made a two-year commitment to lead the region. Four and a half years later, Cheryl is now saying her final goodbyes to the people and congregations that she will forever remember and cherish as she heads into retirement.
“I am so deeply grateful and humbled that I got to do this ministry with all these wonderful people, both here and in the other places I’ve served,” Cheryl said, reflecting on her time at both the presbytery and congregational levels in Carlisle. “Ministry has its challenges, and it is so meaningful when those challenges are worked through in relationships that go deep with God and with each other. That has been my experience all the way through. The network of relationships in which I remain connected is God’s gift to me.”
Cheryl was originally a Christian Educator in three congregations in the Presbytery of Carlisle from 1979-94, having served Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey as well as two congregations in Harrisburg (Faith and Market Square Churches). After stops in New York, Kansas, New Jersey and Wisconsin, she returned to southcentral Pennsylvania for one final call.
She’ll admit this “last stop” didn’t go exactly as planned, thanks in no small part to the coronavirus pandemic. It caused her to extend her interim stay in Carlisle by 29 months. However, leaving Carlisle when her two-year commitment expired at the end of 2020 was simply not something she was going to do. In a time when a presbytery leader was needed most, forcing Carlisle to make such an important transition during this unknown time was not a position Cheryl wanted to put the presbytery in, so she agreed to extend her agreement for another two years.
“Some of the interim work that was described as I began this job literally became impossible when the pandemic hit,” Cheryl said. “The energy and focus of congregations necessarily shifted to navigating the adaptive challenges brought by the pandemic. This impact rippled through the work of the presbytery, changing what we do and how we do it.
“We’re shifting from a regulatory mentality to a relational mentality,” she continued. “I emphasized this in my own leadership style as I sought to bring a spiritual grounding to relationships and flexibility to the work of the presbytery. I hope this will serve the presbytery well as it continues to move through this uncertain, unknown future.
“It (the pandemic) accentuated our need to continue conversations about the realities of ministry in a world that’s changed. People recognized more clearly that the world they have known and loved has changed radically. This has been an invitation to the church to imagine new ways of doing and being as congregations. The presbytery can play an important role in helping congregations engage in learning, experimentation and practicing with new models until we have a sense of clarity of where God may be leading.”
To foster support for pastors in this time of learning and experimentation, Cheryl began hosting weekly, then monthly, check-ins by Zoom during the pandemic, offering pastors a place to both share best practices and a chance to share their concerns and struggles. As the relationships between the pastors grew over time, it created a bond that Cheryl will never forget.
“Those became really significant for all of us,” she said. “It kept us connected to each other and to God as a source of encouragement and support. When I think of something to look back on and smile that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
In 2020, the Presbytery of Carlisle had to move out of the building space it had been renting from the Synod of the Trinity in Camp Hill. This became an opportunity for the presbytery to evaluate the need for a physical office space. Virtual committee meetings held on Zoom had become the norm; staff worked effectively from home, with digital communication tools. A resource center, though valued by many, had dwindled in use. The presbytery opted for a much smaller office footprint that supports on-going flexibility and agility.
Everybody’s still discovering what ministry looks like, since the pandemic upended our lives.
Despite the immense changes, which are certainly still being felt everywhere, Cheryl feels the Presbytery of Carlisle is in a good place as it looks toward the future.
“Presbytery meeting attendance has stayed strong, all of our committees are fully staffed, and the giving of our congregations remains strong and generous,” she said. “Congregations are doing valuable work in their communities. I think that Carlisle Presbytery is in as good a position as any presbytery can be in a time when so much is changing.”
The Presbytery of Carlisle’s new staffing model features two full-time presbytery leaders, along with a part-time director of communications and part-time treasurer. Kristal Smith serves in the role of Presbytery Leader for Governance and Congregational Leadership, handling the functions of the stated clerk along with cultivating leadership for congregations. The role that had formerly been called “executive presbyter” is being re-defined for the call to the next presbytery co-leader. With a focus on generative leadership, the position is envisioned to foster collaboration that serves the on-going transformation of congregations, engagement with the needs of their communities, and the emergence of new expressions of the gospel in our region. With Cheryl’s last day being May 31, a search team has been elected and they have begun laying the important groundwork in the search for her successor.
Regardless of who is chosen to fill out the remainder of the co-leadership model, Cheryl has one bit of advice for them: “Love the people.”
“Showing up with love and care is so, so critical at this time,” she added.
Like there are still plenty of unknowns to sort out for the Presbytery of Carlisle, Cheryl doesn’t know what’s next for her either. She and her husband, Jack, plan to stay living in the area.
“I don’t know what’s going to be emerging that I may attach my energy and gifts to,” she said. “I want to take some time, especially over the summer and into the fall, for resting, enjoying time with my family and friends, being outdoors in nature. I love to practice yoga. I hope to deepen my practice without the pressures of work. I might even teach yoga someday. That’s always been in the back of my head that that might be something I might do in retirement.”
Regardless of where Cheryl ends up, a ministry that both started and concluded in the Presbytery of Carlisle will forever be special to her.
“I felt deeply called by God to be here and that sense of call has sustained me through a longer period of time than I expected,” she said. “I have experienced God’s guidance through scripture, prayer, congregational worship and times spent walking. Practices such as these helped me stay connected to God through much that felt murky, uncertain and messy.
“I am profoundly grateful for my years in Carlisle Presbytery. It is really delightful to come full circle and to end my ministry in the same presbytery where I began after being in lots of different places in between. That’s a really special piece.”