Wednesday, May 20, 2009

But we can't do that .....

For those who have been reading my screeds over the past year, you'll need no introduction to this, for others, well, suffice it to say that the Session at Stodgy Presbyterian puts the fun in dysfunctional.

This past Sunday we had our annual meeting to elect officers. Why they do it in May and not November has to do with reasons that are lost in time and history. However, as the head of the Nominations Committee I had to make a report that while we have officers to elect, we still have vacant positions on both Session and the Deacon Board.

This past Monday, we had a Session meeting and I made a report to Session from the Committee. Basically I gave an overview of what we were expected to do. We average about 90 to 120 attendees at Worship each Sunday. From that you can deduct about 10 to 15 as being too young to server, and another 15 to 20 in their 70's or 80's and not having the health stamina to serve.

So we're down to approximately 65 to 90 participating members of the congregation in which to staff 30 positions (15 on Session and 15 for the Deacons). Many of those potential officers have served multiple times in either positions and are tired, and do not wish to serve again.

I didn't give any advice in the report, when asked I suggested we look at two things: one, size of the Session and Board, two, what do we want the Deacons to do. Someone brought up the Unicameral model, and that was also added to the list.

About 1/2 of Session agreed that we need to look at sizes, however, there were at least one or two vocal dissenters. The problem is that many members of Session still think that when you're on Session you're expected to do everything, they do not understand what being an Elder on Session means. When the idea of Session revising what the Deacons are supposed to do came up, someone said that we shouldn't do that. Again, not showing any knowledge of what the Book of Order has to say. Someone else said that the last time any idea of what the Deacons were going to do was brought up, the Deacons were the ones who gave Session the list of what they were going to do !!

So, we are going to form a committee (how very Presbyterian) of Elders and Deacons to determine what responsibilities the Session will assign the Board of Deacons. I would have volunteered for this, but I'll be on a road trip in June and I would not want to see that time wasted. I just hope that they bring what the Book of Order has to say about the duties of Deacons to the table.

And so it goes ....


  1. You are doing the math correctly and for a church your size a 15 member session seems high. (There will also be a couple more who have to take their mandatory year off after serving two terms.) I'll leave the question of the size of the Board of Deacons to that committee that is going to figure out what the deacons are going to do. In that case 15 could be reasonable.

    While I will bring down on me the wrath of those that subscribe to the "seven last words of the church" ("We've never done it that way before!") I would advocate a reduction to nine elders actively serving on Session. I led a revision in my church, over twice the size of yours, that made it flexible (9-15) and set the current size at 12.

    I hope your session is not falling into the trap of saying "We need 15 elders on session because we have 15 jobs to do." I would argue that the concept of each elder having a specific ministry responsibility misunderstands the Book of Order.

    I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Unfortunately, the session has already fallen into the trap. Trying to get them out of that does bring out the '7 last words'.

  3. Last year we changed our by-laws to have six elders, reducing from nine. We didn't have an interim pastor, but it's something that the pastor who moderated Session had suggested. I remember him saying, "it's better to have six or seven really committed elders, than six or seven plus two who aren't that committed, don't attend meetings, etc." It's worked well. I think it helps with feeling like we *have* to get somebody, so we'll take anybody.

    We also reduced from nine committees to five ministry areas. It seems to have worked well, allowing for more continuity in our ministry.

    The Session here is pretty strong, but I face the same challenges with lifting up what the Book of Order says are the responsibilities of the office of ruling elders and deacons. As I've probably said here before, when having deacons comes up it's always so that "they can usher and take the offering". No one seems to want to really look at what the ministries of these offices are. Our nominating committee is beginning to meet, and I fear that once again the approach will be to find one or two warm bodies who say yes, without much examination of the person's faith. We know them, and they come to church, so they're qualified, right? This part is much on my mind these past couple of days, as an elder whom we ordained in January told me the other day that two Sundays ago he was baptized in and joined the LDS church. That's where "let's find someone new, and young, and who will say yes" takes us. But it's hard to convince people that it's better to have open positions than to ask anyone.

    Is there anyone on the committee that was established that sees things the way you do and will be an advocate for actually looking at what the Book of Order says? Other than your pastor, of course.

  4. Wow Kim, I can't believe someone who accepted ordination as an Elder, just goes up and becomes a Mormon. That just boggles the mind.

    Anyway, I like the fact that your Session was open to the changes that were recommended. As far as who's on the committee, there may be one person who's willing to push the BOO on the committee, I'll have to talk to him sometime this week.

    FWIW ... I've pushed the Nomination Committee this year to look at how mature in their faith suggested nominees are. I've at least pushed them from finding 'warm bodies', and just telling people that they don't have to do anything but show up for Session meetings.


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