The Presbyterian Church is a "connectional" Church. Individual congregations are connected to other congregations through three "governing bodies" known as a presbytery, synod, and the general assembly.
The Presbytery of Arkansas resources and serves as the governing body for the churches in the northern two-thirds of the State of Arkansas. We have over 14,000 members in 87 churches, one fellowship, one Hispanic New Church Development, one NCD in Rogers, and one ministry scattered from the Mississippi River to Oklahoma and from Missouri to McGehee. We are people of the Mississippi Delta and the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Our members are native Arkansans and people who have moved to our area from all over the world. We have congregations that speak English, Spanish, Korean, and Laotian.
We are the fourth largest Presbytery in the Synod of the Sun and consistently support the work of the Synod and the General Assembly through our money and the work of people from our Presbytery. An elder from our Presbytery has served a term on the Assembly’s Council and one of our pastors was the moderator of the Synod. The Presbytery is divided into nine clusters that bring people together for education, fellowship, and service. Each cluster has a representative on the Committee on Clusters and on the General Council.
We have three Presbytery meetings a year. One of those (the one held in February) is held at one of the two Presbyterian colleges/universities located within the bounds of the Presbytery. The churches are invited to send a Youth Delegate to that meeting to advise the Presbytery on some of its votes and to learn about the working of the Presbyterian system. Our Presbytery has close relationships with the institutions of higher learning and with Vera Lloyd Children’s Home and Family Services.
We have a General Council that is the visioning arm of the Presbytery. The Council also is charged with doing the "necessary and urgent" work of Presbytery in between the regular meetings. Carrying out the policies and will of the Presbytery is a staff of seven people: a part-time Stated Clerk, a part-time Resource Center Director, a volunteer Treasurer, and a full-time General Presbyter, Associate General Presbyter, Presbytery and Financial Administrator, and Program Administrator. Hired by the Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center Board is the Director of the nationally recognized Presbytery of Arkansas Camp and Conference Center, Ferncliff.
Every month church professionals, committee members, and active elders are kept in touch with the activities of the Presbytery by publication of The Banner, the Presbytery of Arkansas newsletter. There people can read about significant events in the Presbytery, the Clusters, the Committees, and in the lives of the presbytery leaders, and learn of helpful publications and audio-visual offerings of the Resource Center.
The Presbytery of Arkansas is one of the few presbyteries in the General Assembly that supports the Presbyterian Women with a line-item in the annual budget. The Presbytery is also very supportive of ministers and educators within our bounds. Ordinarily a retreat for ministers and lay pastors each year brings outstanding theologians and biblical scholars to Ferncliff for three days of refreshment and growth. The General Presbyter is called to serve as a pastor to pastors and educators. One of our committees is the Committee on Care and Nurture of Church Professionals, and this dedicated group keeps in close contact with professionals across the Presbytery. Each year the ministers and educators of the Presbytery are given two free nights for rest and relaxation at Ferncliff.
Annually a representative of the Presbytery of Arkansas visits some of the Presbyterian seminaries to recruit graduates for service in our churches. We also provide a special financial incentive for those graduates who are willing to serve in our small churches. A special fund is available for loans to ministers who need money on a down payment on a home.
One support of our small churches comes in the form of a strong Commissioned Lay Pastor (CLP) program. CLPs are trained (two-year program) and encouraged to serve in our smaller churches. We are also advocating the use of larger parishes so that a team of minister-CLP-seminarian can serve a group of small churches. Our Committee on Congregational Care and Development is working hard to celebrate and to support our small congregations.
The outreach ministry of the Presbytery of Arkansas has earned national recognition. One project was sending five truck-loads of rice (an Arkansas crop) to Liberia to help with the problems of hunger and malnutrition. Ferncliff hosted a camp for the children of mothers who are in prison. In recent years we have held camps for young people who have experienced violence in schools or war. Our close relationship with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) program has given us the opportunity to be a regional storage center for Church World Services and PDA. We have joined with other denominations in the state to build a chapel at the Tucker Unit Prison . At every meeting of Presbytery we do hands-on work with an ingathering of items to support a local mission project of the church in which our meeting is held. Another exciting ministry is our outreach to Hispanic persons in the northwest corner of the state. We have formed a Hispanic New Church Development in Springdale.
We have a relationship with a Presbytery in Mexico, the Presbytery of Lacandon. Mission trips to Mexico and Honduras are held annually.
Our youth program is one of the strongest programs of the Presbytery. The Youth Council sponsors junior high and senior high gatherings throughout the year. Special trips are taken to Montreat, Mo-Ranch, and other events. The Presbytery also is involved in campus ministry in different locations across the state and helps support the college chaplains at Lyon College and the University of the Ozarks.
The Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center is an outstanding asset to the Presbytery. There are motel-like facilities for adult retreats and meetings. The dining room has had a $150,000 face-lift. There are new adventure-camping areas (tree houses and log cabins plus a barn bath-house). The Ferncreek House is available for retreats of 25 or 30 adults/youth, and the first phase of a new camping area for children and youth is complete, including the Christian Activities Building. The new lake is already filled and the welcome center/office is completed.
It is exciting to be a part of the Presbytery of Arkansas and to be about the work that God is calling us to do. We are a healthy and forward-looking Presbytery that is connected to our churches and to the other governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).