We’re getting to know presbytery leaders from around the synod.  This month, meet Rev. Ann Schwartz! She is the Lead Presbyter of the Presbytery of Great Rivers in Illinois.

Welcome to the Synod of Lincoln Trails! Tell us about your call to the Presbytery of Great Rivers.

I started serving as Lead Presbyter in mid-June. Prior to that I was Pastor/Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Danville, Illinois. All of my 24-year ministry has been spent within the bounds of the Synod of Lincoln Trails, mostly in the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois — at the Danville church, as a chaplain at Carle Hospital in Urbana, and as co-pastor, with my spouse, at FPC in Hoopeston.

We moved to the neighboring Presbytery of Great Rivers in the spring, after my husband accepted a position in Bloomington. What an unexpected joy it was, in the process of discerning where God was calling me, to enter into conversation with the folks here and find so much common ground — in shared vision; a deep desire for connectional, collaborative partnership; and a willingness to practice resurrection together and live into the new life God wants for us here and now. Even with the uncertainty, challenges, and change the church faces, I am so grateful to be in this community of faith.

What has been most life-giving about your role as Lead Presbyter?

My official position description says that I am to “provide visionary leadership, practical support, and connectional, team-building assistance to the Presbytery and its members.” What that looks like is building relationships, which is always the life-giving part of ministry for me. I am getting to know church leaders — one lunch and committee meeting at a time. It is a privilege to worship in a different Great Rivers church each Sunday — sometimes preaching, other times hearing the Word of God proclaimed by one of our pastors, and always learning about the congregation’s faithful witness in their particular community.

How are you seeing the Spirit at work in the Presbytery of Great Rivers?

The Spirit is at work among congregations throughout the presbytery, moving them to respond to the needs in their neighborhoods and the wider world. Presbyterians here are feeding the hungry with community gardens, casseroles, and backpacks full of food; helping area residents with housing and home repairs; creating safe spaces for children and youth through art and tutoring programs; working for environmental, racial, gender, and sexuality justice; and partnering with local organizations to provide money, volunteer hours, and considerable energy to address the demands that no single agency or church can alone. Folks here are passionate about serving God and others and finding creative ways to live out the gospel. Inspiration for that comes only from the Holy Spirit!

What’s a resource you’ve discovered that you’d like to recommend to other ministry leaders?

For years, I have subscribed to a literary magazine titled “The Sun.” Every monthly issue contains an in-depth interview with an activist, scientist, or writer on a serious and timely topic (climate change, homelessness and housing insecurity in America, the science of awe), as well as poetry, essays, short stories, and readers’ reflections. When the new one hits my mailbox, I want to drop everything and read it from cover to cover. No matter the theme of the issue, it is always about the joy and pain of being human. Content like that never fails to crack open my heart and get in my head — informing my faith, expanding my imagination, provoking my curiosity, and deepening my sense of connection and compassion. I trust that, over time, that has made me a better human and ministry leader.

What do you like to do outside of work and church?

I love to read — nonfiction, fiction, essays, memoirs, and poetry. While I cannot often spend hours at a time reading for pleasure, I do take a book with me everywhere, in case I have a few free minutes before a meeting or appointment. Audiobooks have become my friend in the past few years, and I often read with my ears when I’m traveling throughout the presbytery. This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley, was so gorgeous to listen to that I bought the book and read it with my eyes too. This summer I devoured several other titles that I highly recommend: You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith (the poet, not the actor) and two novels, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.

Cooking and baking have always been a kind of creative expression for me, and I really like to feed people. I find peace in walking the well-worn path around the lake in our neighborhood, listening to the silence. And I recently joined a local gym, because (as I keep telling myself) exercise feels good and is a great stress reliever.

My husband, Wade Meranda, is a PC(USA) pastor who is currently serving a United Methodist church as their business administrator. We have two grown daughters. Samantha lives in Bloomington with our three Corgi grand dogs, and Laura lives in Chicago. We enjoy spending time with them whenever and wherever we can.