When Kymberley Clemons-Jones first became the pastor of the Valley Stream Presbyterian Church more than 10 years ago, the church only had 27 congregants and Long Island Presbytery officials were considering either merging it with another congregation or closing it all together. But with a lot of hard work and dedication, Clemons-Jones was able to change the church’s fate, and it now boasts more than 150 members.
For her efforts, she was named moderator of the Long Island Presbytery at a ceremony on Jan. 26, becoming the first black woman to be named to the highest position in the Presbytery. “We’re extremely proud of her,” said her husband, Phil Jones, adding that her installation was “like being at a football game” because of all the cheering.
During the ceremony, held at the Valley Stream Presbyterian Church, the Valley Stream Inspirational Choir sang hymns and various Long Island Presbytery officials prayed together. The Rev. Peter Sulyok, the outgoing moderator from Bridgehampton, then handed over the gavel and stole to his successor, who thanked the Presbytery for the opportunity. “I’m very honored,” she said.
As the moderator, Clemons-Jones, 50, is the “person with authority” for the year, according to Mark Tammen, the general presbyter and stated clerk. She will moderate the four Presbytery meetings and ordain ministers at the more than 50 Presbyterian churches on Long Island. Between meetings, Clemons-Jones will also work with First Vice Moderator Elder Janet Allen-Spencer and Second Vice Moderator Elder Magalene McClarrin to form the “Mod Squad” and make decisions for the organization.
She could also take on a cause for the Presbytery, according to Tammen. He said that former moderators have helped rebuild the South Shore after Hurricane Sandy and have held discussions about the role of religion following President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“It entails a lot of work,” Clemons-Jones said.
But the Presbytery of Long Island has been preparing her for the new role since a committee of five Presbytery officials nominated her for the second vice moderator position about three years ago. Barbara Messier, the current chair of the nominating committee, said that among the choices, Clemons-Jones “stood out as someone who is very caring.”
“She lives her faith, and she shares it nicely with her community,” Messier said.
After her son was assaulted in 2011, Clemons-Jones decided to create the WANTED Project (an acronym for worthy, accountable, named, thankful, empowered and determined). The project is a free seven-week program, funded by donations and grants, to teach young black men ages 12 to 18 to be responsible citizens. Each year, 18 to 24 students enroll in the program to learn ethics and listen to successful black speakers share their life stories. The students receive a certificate of completion and celebrate the accomplishment with friends and family.
The program has been successful enough that Clemons-Jones expanded it outside Valley Stream. In 2016, the program started in Ghana, where inmates at a detention center must go through the project to be released. Clemons-Jones also has plans to create chapters of the WANTED Project in Brooklyn, Queens, Boston and Connecticut.
Additionally, Clemons-Jones participates in the Presbytery’s Clergy Women’s group, is the founder of Community Healing and Caring Center Inc. and has traveled extensively as a missionary delegate.
She previously served as the second and first vice moderators and attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States over the summer, where she learned parliamentary procedure. “Kym has the skills to do it,” Tammen said.
But for Clemons-Jones, the new role is another way to spread kindness. “I just want to do what God wants me to do,” she said, “and spread love to everyone in the world.”