Martha H. Reisner, a Church Consultant for the Board of Pensions, used to pick her churches based on how good the musical program was. Then, when she married a Presbyterian minister, Martha gained a denominational home — and the Reverend Jim Reisner gained an accomplished soloist for his church choir.
Along with a master’s in biology from the University of Michigan and an Illinois secondary school teaching certification from DePaul University, Martha holds a bachelor’s in biology and music from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, home to a nationally ranked conservatory. Her mother was a music professor; her father sang with the Robert Shaw Chorale, a renowned professional choir. They met while working at a department store, where her mother directed the store choir.
Since COVID-19 has moved worship online, Martha is often the solo singer during the broadcast of her husband’s sermon from the sanctuary of Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, in Takoma Park, Maryland. Jim has served the church as interim pastor since October 2017.
“I think it’s really significant to be the spouse of a pastor,” said Martha, who serves the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic (except North Carolina) and presbyteries of Donegal and Philadelphia as a Church Consultant. “It is a real privilege to be part of people’s lives, through that connection, when your husband is pastor.”
The connection was especially enriching during Jim’s previous call, with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York. During their 15 years at Westminster, growing numbers of West African immigrants joined the congregation. Martha traveled to Liberia and her husband made two trips to Ghana as the congregation supported the Hope Mission School in Bernard Farm, Liberia, and partnered with congregations in Tema, Ghana.
“That’s a significant part of my life,” said Martha, an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who has served as a deacon, trustee, and director of Christian education and on a presbytery disaster response team as well as in local and African mission work. Still, when she had the opportunity to serve with the Board of Pensions, Jim said that after 15 years’ pastoring at Westminster, it was time to follow Martha, who had followed him for more than two decades. So, they packed up their two boys, Joseph and Charlie, and moved to suburban Baltimore.
“We knew of the Board,” Martha said. Jim’s late sister, Carol, was the wife of the Reverend Peter C.S. Sime, who retired in 2016 as the agency’s Vice President, Assistance and Funds Development. “The Board is seen as professional and caring,” Martha said. “It’s so rewarding to work with good people who are trying to do the right things for the right reasons to serve God and the Church.”
In addition to her denominational ties, Martha has a professional background that makes her a good fit for the Church Consultant role. Church Consultants, each assigned a specific geographic area, provide personal assistance to employers and mid councils, consulting with them on benefits and Board programs.
Before joining the Board in 2017, Martha was Executive Director at the Capital Region Theological Center, a not-for-profit ecumenical agency providing education and consulting to pastors and churches in upstate New York and western New England. Earlier in her career, she traveled extensively with the international management consulting firm Accenture, helping project teams develop and implement professional development programs. And she has taught high school biology and worked in computer sales and marketing.
“I’m always using the communication, educational, and relationship skills from my prior work experience,” Martha said.
Until the COVID-19 crisis, when her work became all email- and phone-driven, Martha was traveling 50 to 70 percent of the time. Her region stretches from Virginia to Philadelphia. One example of a trip: She flew to northeast Tennessee, rented a car, and drove up Route 81, along the western edge of Virginia, for presbytery meetings.
“It’s amazing how often just showing up to meetings makes a difference. Knowing there’s a face and name connected to the Board of Pensions is huge for church leaders,” said Martha, who will attend presbytery meetings even if she’s not on the agenda. “I’ve had the privilege of developing good relationships throughout the Church. This is a fantastic job.”