“Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ Mark 9:24
Letting Go and Letting God
At our January Session meeting, I asked who would be rotating off Session at the end of 2022. Three stalwart elders raised their hands. Suddenly, I wished I hadn’t asked. I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with such a significant exodus. These are three great elders, the kind of people who ask challenging questions, think deeply about consequences, and have solid insights to offer.
As many of you may know, the Session is the ruling body of the church and is made up of Elders elected by the congregation. Each Elder is elected for a three year term. Once that term is up they can be nominated for a second three year term. After the second term, they cannot be reelected for at least one year. These rules are written in our Book of Order and all PCUSA churches are obligated to follow them. Our polity (how we make decisions) has been developed over centuries, originally established by John Calvin in the sixteenth century as a rejection of authoritarian rule by Bishops. The Book of Order has evolved since its origins in the European settlement in the U.S. Our church benefits from a tried and true form of government that works in both fat years and lean years.
These are definitely leaner years. Once upon a time, being an Elder was a coveted position in the church. It was a sign that one was respected by their peers and that their contributions were highly valued, and so the competition was stiff. Today, being nominated as an elder is still a sign of respect and esteem, but accepting the nomination is more of a challenge than it once was. Why? Because there are fewer of us. It takes time out of already busy schedules. It means not just attending Session but chairing a committee too. The work of the church is work and many already have plenty on their plates. This is why having three solid elders go off Session in one year gives the pastor heartburn.
And yet, this is as it should be. God has demonstrated, time and again, that there is wisdom in the rotation. It breathes new life into the church and reminds us that the church is bigger than any one person. Opening the door to new leadership these days usually starts with the worry that no one will cross the threshold. But they do. The Spirit is moving and will respond through a gentle nudge to the right person; the person who will bring the right qualities, the right ideas, and the right questions for this moment in time. I look forward to discovering who among you it might be, even as I acknowledge my human concern that no one will hear the call (i.e., see the father’s prayer in Mark 9:24 above).
Grateful to serve alongside you,