Regarding ruling elders: ruling elders and Clerks of Session

January 15, 2016

Louisville

Growing up just outside of Chicago, I was, and remain today, an avid Chicago Cubs fan. I learned early on that living around me there were two types of baseball fans—Chicago Cubs fans and Chicago White Sox fans. It was one team or the other even though both teams were from the same city.

Believe it or not, that old childhood realization comes to my mind when it comes to clerks of session. As I’ve met with clerks of session over the years, I realize there are two types of clerks—those who are also serving on the session as an active elder and those who are not currently serving as session members. That’s because G-3.0104 of the Book of Order says only that “the clerk of the session shall be a ruling elder elected by the session for such term as it may determine.” It doesn’t say that the ruling elder must be an active ruling elder on the session. Nor does it say that the ruling elder must not be an active ruling elder on the session. It is open to either. It seems that the difference can show up in how sessions and clerks relate.

When the clerk is not a member of the session, it is often necessary to remind sessions that the clerk has been where they are. Every clerk, at one time or another, has sat in session meetings and wrestled with the same things that all ruling elders wrestle with. Whether it’s the budget or Sunday school or praying for guidance on a new mission outreach, ruling elders have had to pray and work together. As ruling elders themselves, at some point, the clerk has shared those experiences. Clerks understand what ruling elders go through on session because they have been there too.

When the clerk is a member of the session, the difficulty can often be just the opposite. It can be easy for the clerk to function more as a member of the session and not in their role as clerk. In those situations, the other ruling elders on the session may have to support the clerk in the clerk role.

Responsibilities of the Clerk of Session
Regardless of which type of clerk one has, the responsibilities of the clerk remain the same. The same section mentioned earlier, G-3.0104, details the responsibilities of the clerk “who shall record the transactions of the council, keep its rolls of membership and attendance, maintain any required registers, preserve its records, and furnish extracts from them when required by another council of the church.”

One responsibility that’s not listed in G-3.0104 but in G-1.0505 is that “the clerk of session shall serve as secretary for all the meetings of the congregation. If the clerk of session is unable to serve, the congregation shall elect a secretary for that meeting.” Please note that the congregation elects the secretary for that congregational meeting. The clerk does not appoint someone nor does the session or the moderator. The congregation has to elect the secretary when the clerk is not able to be present.

Terms of Service
Finally, it’s important to remember that clerks are “elected by the session for such term as it may determine” (that familiar G-3.0104 again). The length of that elected term is not specified and can be one year or three years or any agreed upon length. But whatever the term, if the clerk is going to be asked to serve another term, truly listening to how the clerk feels about serving again can be one of the greatest gifts ruling elders can give.

Most clerks really enjoy being able to serve their congregations in this capacity and appreciate the opportunity to work with ruling elders for the betterment of the congregations they all love. As a ruling elder themselves, they want your church—their church—to flourish and grow in service for Christ.


The Reverend Ted McCulloch has been the stated clerk for the Presbytery of Lake Huron since April 2010. He has served congregations in Birch Run and Saginaw, Michigan. As an ever-hopeful Cubs fan, Ted was very hopeful as his Cubs came up just short of the World Series this year.

For more about the information provided here, please contact Martha Miller at martha.miller@pcusa.org and browse the Ruling Elders website.

Read this post in 한국어 and Espaňol.

  1. I have just been told that as clerk, I am the only one to record in the church register(baptisms,deats, new members, etc.) we have a membership chair that records all of this.....I feel I " maintain" the book as per my duties as clerk by having the book reviewed yearly and recording deaths , baptisms, etc. in my minutes but the membership chair does the actual writing In the register...is this not acceptable? Must only the clerk do the actual "writing in" of the marriages, baptisms, new members , etc?

    by Nancy Sherman

    May 7, 2016

  2. Question's " 1.what if in a parish or congregation does have a minister in charge of that particular parish whereas there is an associate(prover) minister and a secession clerk among the clerk and the associate who then have the legistimacy or power to carry out a function in the absence of the minister incharge?

    by Raphael Okore Uche

    January 21, 2016

  3. The highest honor of my life has been the opportunity to serve as Clerk of Session during the tenure of two installed Pastors, two installed Associate Pastors, and five interim Pastors and Associate Pastors. The Clerk's duties seem to ballon during interim periods with interim staff, however, those additional duties were a blessing. I was always an Elder serving on the Session, but when I was put in a health situation requiring me to retire from the Session I consulted with the Pastor about how to proceed. I proposed that the Session elect an Elder who had served several terms on Session, had grown up in the church, and who was a practicing attorney in the community. With the Pastor's blessing I met with the gentleman to put forth this proposal. This was 8-10 years ago, and this same person is still in that role, and both he and the Session and the Pastor are content with the arrangement. Whatever plan is used, service as a Session Clerk should be seen as a calling, and the Clerk should always serve and conduct herself/himself as a servant not only of the Session or the Pastor, but mostly a servant to God and God's Church.

    by David Duncan

    January 17, 2016

  4. Filling in after the session clerk resigned, I have struggled to learn about this new role I have in my church commitments. This piece tells me in a nutshell the basics info I need! Bless you!

    by LH.Sickels

    January 17, 2016

Leave a comment