The Christian year begins with Advent, we know; but there seems to be some phenomenon of the “church calendar” which has taken a life of its own. So as every year in December we hear the prophetic announcement that God in Jesus is coming, we build up to it throughout the fall through some rather mundane activities—new Christian Education programming in August, stewardship in November, and, of course, elder nominating in September and October. Christmas Carols, candlelight, and a pageant may seem the most memorable things we do in a given season of the year; yet these other practices of our life together are equally constitutive of who we are as the people of God. They may seem mundane, but they are important and theologically profound. We are people who call our leaders—elders—in a particular way, realizing that the Holy Spirit is bringing us and them together. That way is through our elder nominating process.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t always fit into our timetable, but we try as best we can. It looks like this:
- In late August the congregation nominates and then elects two members (one woman and one man) to serve on our nominating committee. The session elects its own representative who will chair the committee. This year our nominating committee consists of Jodi Johnson, Jim Burran, and Jeane Jones (chair). Aside from the alliterative possibilities of such a group, you can see that the Spirit is already at work bringing such gifted people together. In my role as Pastor I serve as a non-voting member and advisor to the committee.
- The nominating committee will spend the next six weeks soliciting nominations for elders of the class of 2022, who will begin three-year terms of service in January of 2020.
- In October, the session will call a congregational meeting to vote on a slate of candidates to serve as elders of the class of 2022 and the congregation will vote on this slate with a called meeting in October. In accordance with our polity, this meeting will allow the opportunity for nominations from the floor to be considered, too (although it’s the sporting thing to do to ask someone ahead of time if you might nominate them).
- During November and December our elder nominees will receive training that will help them in their terms of service. Training includes Bible study; exploration of the Book of Confessions of the PC(USA); an orientation to our polity through the Book of Order; and a review of our session policy manual, The Trellis. As elders are typically elected in a dual role as committee chairs, they also receive training and instruction relevant to whatever team they may shepherd going forward (for instance, worship, congregational life, missions, finance, etc.).
- Following this training, the session will review the elder nominees as to their preparation and readiness to undertake this important work. And, pending approval, we will ordain and/or install these elders in worship in early January. (Quick note: once you are an elder, you are always an elder. Active elders are those currently serving on session. Ordination makes you an elder. Installation makes you currently serving.)
If you have made it this far then good for you! You may have what it takes to be a Presbyterian elder. Or, alternatively, you may wonder what makes a good Presbyterian elder. This is where you come in. Your job as a member of the congregation is to nominate someone you think God may be calling to leadership in our congregation. Functionally, nominees must be people of good standing who have been members part of the congregation for at least one year and not in an immediate family relationship with a currently serving elder. Theologically, there is much more to consider. Our Trellis provides a kind of job description for them:
Elders are expected to:
- Seek to deepen their own spiritual life through prayer, Bible study, worship, and acts of kindness and commitment;
- Seek ways to encourage our members to deepen their spiritual lives and promote the work and worship of the church;
- Participate in officer training sessions, concluding with an examination before the current Session and ordination/installation at a regular worship service;
- Be a faithful member of the Session, attending and participating in both stated and called meetings as well as activities of the congregation and Cherokee Presbytery wherever possible;
- Seek to find his or her special niche of service within the church to best utilize the gifts that each has been given;
- Make a regular financial commitment to the work of the church.
While elder responsibilities are considerable, we believe that those called for service are given suitable gifts and abilities by God to fulfill these responsibilities. In addition to having the necessary talents, natural and acquired, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
This is a heady description. It also reflects what makes First Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the universal Church of Jesus Christ special—and that is, there are people here who meet this description, people who God calls for nothing less than the task of service and leadership in this new creation God is forming before our eyes. People wonder, what makes all those meetings and minutes and administrative minutiae worth it? The answer is just this: that you see God at work. Isn’t that enough?
Do you know someone called to be an elder in the church? Please submit your nominations to the church office or a member of the nominating committee by the end of the day on Friday, September 20. The nominating committee will consider each submission.
And if you don’t have a nomination, prayers are welcome too.