A love letter from the moderator to all ruling elders in the Presbytery of St. Augustine
“Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?” from the Book of Order, one question asked during ordination.
If you are a ruling elder, you are ordained. Deacons are ordained as well. We sometimes forget that and assume that only ministers of the Word and Sacrament (teaching elders) are “ordained.” Do you remember your ordination? I remember mine well: kneeling in front of the congregation during the laying on of hands and wishing my dad who had died the year prior could have been present. He was a deacon in the Baptist church where I grew up – the only other person in my immediate family who was ordained. Now we shared something special in common.
When ruling elders answer the constitutional questions during ordination (which are almost identical to the questions teaching elders and deacons answer), we make promises. One promise is to be active in governing the church, but not only on the session of our particular church. We promise to share in the governing of all councils – the presbytery and even the synod or General Assembly.
At the presbytery level, elders serve as “commissioners” to presbytery meetings, where their voice and vote are just as important and necessary as the voice and votes of minister members. Our system requires “parity” between ruling elders and teaching elders. No one group can have more say in the mission and ministry of the presbytery than the other.
More than once, I’ve encountered elders at presbytery meetings who are not quite sure why they are there! When asked “Are you a commissioner?” at the registration table, I’ve heard folks answer: “I don’t know. My church just needed someone to come to the meeting.” Make no mistake: you are a commissioner! You are empowered to voice your opinion and cast your vote.
I remember the first presbytery meeting I attended in 2005. I didn’t know a soul, other than the people from my church. I had no idea what to do. No one had told me to read the meeting materials in advance. I was unprepared to engage in the discussions or vote on the motions presented. I had been trained to serve on session as a ruling elder, but not equipped to serve as a ruling elder commissioner. (If you are a pastor of a church reading this: add this to your Officer Training materials.)
Like session meetings, some presbytery meetings are more enjoyable than others. But one thing I know for sure: if you commit to being a commissioner more than once in a “blue moon,” you will become acquainted with people from the other 54 churches in our presbytery. These are people who share your interests – your passion for mission, your love of worship planning, or your joy in teaching Sunday School. Gathering new ideas and resources from other ruling elders will strengthen and enliven your particular area of responsibility. Serving on a presbytery team or committee will also expand your network of friendships. The more people you get to know, the more meaningful our connectional church will be for you. (And the more you will enjoy going to presbytery meetings!)
I love the church, even in its imperfection. I love being Presbyterian, despite our challenges. I love the people I’ve grown to know and love throughout this presbytery. I love that God called me to serve as a ruling elder 17 years ago. Serving the church – both my home church and the presbytery – has enabled me to grow in my faith, to forge many dear friendships, and to explore what God is calling all of us to do together to help further God’s kingdom. No presbyterian church is alone in ministry.
Thank you for saying “yes” when God called you to serve the church as a ruling elder. Thank you for being an important part of the leadership of this presbytery.
Drop me an email or give me a call. Let’s connect.
Jerie Lukefahr, Moderator, 2022
Ruling Elder, First in Fernandina Beach