The 1983 merger of the Presbyterian Church U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church formed the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA). One of the first actions taken by the PCUSA was to align its presbyteries and synods for operation throughout the United States. A presbytery is the governing central church body that is responsible to provide oversight to its ministers and its churches in a geographical region. A synod is the regional Presbyterian council that determines issues of doctrine, administration and application of doctrine to local regional Presbyterian churches. It is the administration between the local presbytery and the national Presbyterian general assembly.
The Mid-Atlantic synod was immediately formed from the following presbyteries: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The Mid-Atlantic synod central offices are located in Richmond, Virginia. Then groundwork for a new Presbytery to serve central Virginia was considered, and a new presbytery was organized in 1989 that composed of the Blue Ridge, Hanover and Southern Virginia presbyteries. It was named the Presbytery of the James. Reverend Dr. William S. Morris was appointed the first Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk, and the presbytery’s first meeting was held on July 11, 1989 at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond. The Hanover Presbytery provided land for the Presbytery of the James to build its office building, which is located on U.S. Route 1 in Richmond.
By 1999, the Presbytery of the James had set goals for its region of Presbyterian churches. Some of these goals include:
- Provide regional Presbytery training events in its districts.
- Encourage its nine districts to participate in a local mission project.
- Cultivate close relationships and shared ministry opportunities with the churches in its nine districts based upon the geographic locality.
- Assist congregations in the redevelopment process of the General Assembly, PCUSA.
- Develop an international partnership between the Presbytery of the James and the Ga Presbytery in Ghana, Africa.
The first decade of the Presbytery of the James ministry was spent in transition and reorganization. The Presbytery of the James is now working more toward its future goals. Presently, the Presbytery has 113 churches; these include ten African-American congregations, one Korean congregation and one Arabic-speaking fellowship. There are currently 28,000 members, 240 ministers, and 30 educators in the Presbytery of the James.
According to the Presbytery of the James website, “ Presbytery of the James strives to bring the rich history, tradition, faith and hope of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to Central Virginians through its congregations and ministries.” The Presbytery of the James is committed to the support and oversight of its congregation and ministries. Its goals are to promote church growth through education of its ministers and laypersons, reformed worship, and social outreach programs. To accomplish this goal, it follows the guidelines set out in the PCUSA Book of Order. Currently the Presbytery of the James ministers to Camp Hanover (renewal and growth of Christian hospitality), Evangelism and Mission Outreach programs, Church Growth and Renewal program, Youth Ministries, and Leadership Education and Training program.
Profile prepared by John Lack