by Rev. Dr. Erwin Goedicke, Presbytery Stated Clerk
Okay, I’ll admit right up front that I’m using this Beloved Community Blog as a way of sharing some general information. But I hope this little post also reflects a way that the Presbytery, as a structure, can be, and is, beloved community.
One perception of the Presbytery – maybe a dominant perception – is that the primary way the presbytery relates to congregations is by telling them what they can’t do or what they should do. I.e., through rules. And yes, it is true that the Presbytery, like most any institution, including each of our congregations, has a regulatory function. This is, in fact, a good and necessary part of being any organization. (And even any organism; like the Body of Christ.)
But part of being a beloved community is knowing when and how to apply our rules and regulations in a way that is helpful, so that the “whole body … as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16). Which sometimes means adjusting our rules. And our Book of Order, our main set of rules, recognizes this.
Case in point – and this is the point of this article: A growing number of our congregations are struggling to find enough members who are able to serve on the session as ruling elders, or to serve as Deacons. This is exacerbated by the term limit rule in the Book of Order that “no ruling elder or deacon shall be eligible to serve more than six consecutive years, and a ruling elder or deacon who has served six consecutive years shall be ineligible for election to the same board for at least one year.” (G-2.0404). But if your congregation is facing this challenge, here’s one thing you can do, which is also provided for in that same section of the Book of Order: ask for a waiver from that rule! All that is required is a written request from your clerk of session, sent to me as Stated Clerk, explaining the circumstances, and presbytery can grant that waiver at its next meeting; because we care more about what is best for your congregation than making sure that no elder or deacon serves more than 6 years in a row. This is a request of the congregation (not the session) and must come from a duly called meeting of the congregation.
And here’s another thing you can do in those circumstances: consider reducing the size of your session or number of elected deacons. As many of our congregations have become smaller in membership, we have not adjusted the size of our boards to match. So, in some cases, we have 9-member sessions in a congregation with only 25 actively participating members. I realize reducing the session size can be a difficult and even a painful thing to do, but it can also be a very healthy in helping the congregation discern its mission in its current context. Is there a guideline for how many session members or deacons a congregation should have? The honest answer is, No. It depends on what elders and deacons are expected to do, which may be another opportunity for discernment. And if you would like any help in any of this discernment process and how to make these changes, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to help, or find someone who can.
Grace and peace,
Erwin Goedicke, Stated Clerk
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