Steve Cureton was living near the large metropolitan city of Columbus, Ohio, in 2002 when he and his wife, Dawn, relocated to the much more rural town of Bloomsburg, PA, where he accepted a call at First Presbyterian Church. This shift east was closer to his wife’s family, and it also ended up being a great move for Steve, too, because of the new surroundings he quickly fell in love with.
“It’s just a gorgeous area,” he said. “It’s a little farther away for people who like cities would prefer – Williamsport is our biggest city, which is about 40-some thousand, but then our next biggest city is 12,000 to 15,000. A lot of small towns but we love the mountains, love the nature and it’s just a beautiful place to be.”
Fast forward 21 years and Steve has made a career in scenic Northumberland Presbytery as both a pastor and mid council leader. His time as the presbytery’s executive presbyter will conclude on Aug. 31 after 6 ½ years in that role, but he plans to stay rooted in north-central Pennsylvania. That’s because of both his surroundings and the relationships he has formed in his two-plus decades of service.
“I have worked with some phenomenal people in this presbytery,” he said. “Dedicated, faithful pastors, elders and church leaders who are really committed to their congregations and want them to do well. We’ve just got some great folk here.”
Steve, who also served Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville and dabbled in video work in the presbytery before becoming its executive presbyter in 2017, relishes the connections he’s made during the years, something that actually became stronger during the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the things that has come out of the pandemic is our weekly check-ins,” he said. “We started doing them back in 2020, and we’re still doing this. Every Thursday we have an hour where all of the ministers who wish to can join in. We just have a marvelous time of talking together and being connected. This presbytery has always felt really connected to each other even though we’re dealing with a lot of the stuff all of the other presbyteries are dealing with.”
Among those issues is a lack of ministers and the closing of churches, something Steve admits is more prevalent in a place like Northumberland because of its territory.
“We have a real hard time getting ministers to come into our area because they don’t want to come to some place that’s so remote,” he said. “Also, our churches can’t pay the high salaries that other bigger churches can do in urban areas.
“But even with those limitations as a presbytery we get together in a meeting and have a marvelous time together. We really enjoy being together. They’re really special people who have become good and deep friends of mine.”
In the six-plus years Steve has been the executive presbyter at Northumberland he has had to help close five churches, meaning that throughout most of his entire time at the presbytery he has been assisting in this task.
“Every time we close a church it is an end of an era for that community,” he said. “Just seeing the connection people have with their congregations when they close is a painful experience.
“My biggest disappointment as an executive is that I cannot find ministers for congregations. The size of our congregations and the region that we’re in, it’s really difficult to do. That’s been really hard not being able to do that for the churches.”
Like in most areas, the pandemic was a challenge in Northumberland, but many positives have sprung out of it, like the regular pastor check-ins and seeing churches upgrade their online presence to include hybrid worship opportunities.
“We were able to provide tech grants for our churches,” Steve said. “A lot of our churches have taken advantage of that and have really been able to up their tech and allow them to do remote services, streaming, Facebook or YouTube. It has certainly made a difference in a lot of our congregations. It’s been great to be able to supply churches with the funds needed to be able to take care of that.
“I’ve been going around and seeing what churches are doing. They’re doing some good stuff. I’m not sure any of that – some of it probably would have – but I have no idea if any of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the pandemic to push us forward into the 21st century technology.”
Northumberland Presbytery is moving into a new form of leadership as Steve heads into retirement. The plan is to call two part-time transitional executives for the next two years as the presbytery looks to find Steve’s replacement. One of those people is the Rev. Dot Densmore, who is the current chair of the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and has served on various committees within the presbytery in recent years. As of late July, the second person has not yet been named.
Whoever takes over will have some work ahead of them, but Steve believes because of the leadership in the churches that the transition will be seamless.
“It’s a challenging time to be in this position but the churches are dedicated, and the people are fantastic,” Steve said when asked about advice he’d give to his replacement. “Work with them and don’t forget that we’re all part of a big team. We’re all doing this together. That’s the way I have always approached it. We have a great staff at the presbytery, we have great ministers, we have good churches. If we all pull together, together we can forge what the direction needs to be.”
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2023 that Steve came to the realization that it was time to retire from Northumberland. He has a lot of things he’d like to accomplish in the next few years while he’s still young enough to do it, making now the ideal time to begin the next chapter in his life.
“This job can be stressful,” he said. “It has a lot of highs, but it has some lows. It just felt like it was time to move on and pursue things when we’re (he and Dawn) healthy enough to pursue them. We want a good number of years where we can travel and do things before health keeps us locked down.”
Steve and Dawn, who is not yet retiring from her data management position in the Geisinger Health system, plan to explore state and national parks and possibly even take in some spring training baseball games in either Florida or Arizona. Steve also dabbles in cooking and playing musical instruments and hopes to improve upon both of those skills in retirement.
“I’m interested in exploring other things,” he said. “I want to spend time figuring out who I am when I’m not being a minister. I have a lot of interests, and I want to explore those interests.”
Wherever the spirit takes him, Steve is sure to find success and possibly even a new calling. Relying on God to show him the way is certainly something Steve has counted on in the past and will again in the future.
“Ever since I started in the ministry, I have had a constant feeling that God has been guiding me through everything we’ve done simply because of the way things have come about,” he said. “Most of the time it has not been what I’ve been expecting. I have never made a pastoral change or decision that hasn’t been based on a true feeling that God was calling me to this place at this time.”
And this is likely to continue for the Curetons.