Shenango Presbytery consists of 43 churches and over 5,000 Presbyterians in western Pennsylvania, half-way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Folks here like to say that we in Shenango are more “dense” than anywhere else in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Of course, what they mean is that Presbyterians a various tribes are a higher percent of the population here than in any other presbytery around the denomination — approximately 10%. No matter where you live in Mercer or Lawrence counties, you are within fifteen minutes of at least a half-dozen Presbyterian churches of a variety of Reformed denominations.
This data is important to the cultural identity of Shenango Presbytery. We are a familial group of believers, essentially homogeneous. Our small town and rural contexts make families especially important, including the extended families that overflow into and out of the church. Most folks have lived here a long time and that means that ours is a traditional, highly relational culture. It is not unusual for pastors in our bounds to serve a church for more than ten years, sometimes twenty. On the up side, this traditional setting has fostered a great deal of stability and steady leadership for our presbytery over the decades.
The Presbyterian-related Westminster College (founded in 1854) is located within our bounds. This was also the heartland of the former United Presbyterian Church of North America, a small but highly mission-focused denomination whose New Wilmington Mission Conference still thrives after more than 100 years of annual gatherings on the campus of Westminster College. Vital global partnerships with sibling Presbyterian denominations are maintained in Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. All of this combines to make Shenango a highly mission-oriented presbytery.
Our vision for Shenango Presbytery includes fulfilling our governance function in Presbyterian polity in a pastoral and non-regulatory manner, and serving as a resource to our pastors, sessions, and congregations by nurturing them as missional congregations. We strongly believe, in the words of Emil Brunner, that “the church exists by mission in the same way that a fire exists by burning.” The leadership of our presbytery strives to cultivate authentic missional thinking and action in our congregations. This includes critical thinking about the meaning of mission and its practice. It is thoroughly evangelical and socially incarnate. A vital presbytery is one where churches are becoming authentically missional, staying connecting to the communities in which they find themselves as well as to the world Christian community at large.
Presbyterian churches were emerging among the early European immigrants in western Pennsylvania toward the end of the eighteenth century. A dozen congregations were worshipping before 1800 in the present counties of Lawrence and Mercer between Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. Approximately sixty congregations were formed during the 1800s. Only five began in the 1900s and one in the 21st century. The earliest Presbyterians were related to several denominations of the Ulster-Scott immigrants of the period. The original Presbytery of Shenango (PCUSA) was founded in 1808.
The Presbytery of Shenango as we know it today was formed January 1, 1959, following the merger in 1958 of the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America. It included seventy-seven congregations and 32,000 members essentially in Mercer and Lawrence counties and it continues with those boundaries today.
Entering 2016 there were forty-nine churches in Shenango Presbytery, a dozen churches having been closed or merged during the six decades. Nineteen congregations requested dismissal to the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians – ECO (thirteen) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (six) between 2012 and 2015. This represented a third of the members and a quarter of the churches prior to those dismissals.
The church population of the two counties that identifies as Presbyterian is approximately ten percent of the total – one of the highest domestic percentages. The overall population has declined approximately fifteen percent during the past fifty years.
Strategic planning produced the Millennium Plan with a commitment to “Developing and Training Leaders” along with a focus on “Communicating and Partnering Networks.” These foci have resulted in an annual Leaderfest training event along with pastors’ retreats twice a year. There are also opportunities for congregations to explore developing a missional church posture which involves being sent into the local community and wider world. Congregations are encouraged to participate in international partnerships in the Sudan/South Sudan, Egypt, and the Dominican Republic. All of this is supported by a lean committee structure, a web presence, and regular electronic communication. Shenango Presbytery is known for its relational culture, international commitments, and missional focus.
Full-time executive presbyters began serving when the Presbytery was formed in 1959 and have included Albert Dodds, Ralph Strong, Fred Mallott, David Dawson and Ralph Hawkins (who was also Stated Clerk).
In 2020, the Presbytery voted to establish a new form of leadership, now known as The Executive Team. This team consisting of four part-time staff members (Directors of Congregational Support, Pastoral Support, Operations, and Presbytery Advancement), as well as three elected officers (Stated Clerk, Moderator, and Vice Moderator), which replace the full time executive presbyter. Read more about this new structure here.
The Presbytery of Shenango understands that the church is always called by God to be a mission community in a mission setting, extending God’s loving call to all people to become disciples of Jesus. Therefore, as community of believers, we are called to …
Preserve and Proclaim God’s Grace
Committed to Worship and Prayer as the Center of our Lives
Devoted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
Seeking the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit
Promote Peace, Unity & Purity of the Church
Rooted in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament
Faithful to our Reformed Heritage and Constitution
Serving within the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Grow in Spiritual Vitality
Called to shared Responsibility and transforming Leadership
Focused on the Giftedness of every Christian and Commitment to Life-long Learning
Dedicated to Stewardship of Ourselves and our Resources
Partner in God’s Mission
Calling Congregations to Faithfulness in God’s Mission
Utilizing Partnership networks for Ministry and Mission
Faithful in Covenant with Educational institutions and specialized Ministries