Presbytery moderators and vice moderators from across the country spent much of the day Saturday, October 29, learning about the nuts and bolts of moderatorial responsibilities.

Worship planning, meeting management, and parliamentary procedure were among the topics of plenary sessions at the Moderators’ Conference, one of three events running concurrently just before the October 30–31 Polity Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The “big, cosmic themes” of worship

In a session on “Worship Responsibilities of a Presbytery Moderator,” the Reverend David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), told listeners that “the goal of every worship service we plan is giving glory to God.

Planning worship involves considering “big, cosmic, Star Trek–like themes: Time, space, matter,” Gambrell said.

You must consider the time for worship (liturgical year, time of day, etc.). You must also consider the worship space (accessibility, symbols such as font and table, etc.). And you must be sure that the matter—the physical things—used in worship direct attention to God, not to themselves. 

 “Worship begins with God’s initiative,” he said. “God calls us to worship and we respond. Worship is an offering of our lives in gratitude for God’s grace. Worship should not be a platform for other agendas. When we meet God in worship, we are somehow changed in the process.”

Gambrell also reminded participants that worship is not an individual act. “Worship is first and primarily a communal action of the body of Christ.”

Other guidelines offered by Gambrell: Worship planning should be shared by all involved, including preachers, musicians, leaders of prayers, etc.  Leaders in worship should represent the full diversity of the presbytery.

“Don’t neglect silence,” Gambrell said. “Silence can be the space where worshipers engage most deeply in prayer.

Gambrell cautioned moderators to be sure they secure the necessary permission for reprinting copyrighted music and other worship materials. He pointed them to useful resources for worship planning, including the Revised Directory for Worship, approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016). He also suggested models for various types of worship at presbytery meetings, including ordination and installation services.

A fun approach to meeting management

Moderators must learn “how to get from the opening prayer to the closing prayer of a presbytery meeting with your sanity intact,” said the Reverend Sue Krummel, director for Mid Council Relations for the PMA and the Office of the General Assembly.

Her comment set the tone for an unexpectedly entertaining plenary session on “Meeting Management” led by Therese Howell, ruling elder and stated clerk of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

Meeting are important for Presbyterians, Howell said, because “we’re better together. We seek together to find the will of Christ.”

But too often presbytery meetings are “afflicted with the 3 D’s: Deadly, Dull, Disorganized,” Howell said. “They also can be too long and poorly run.” 

She stressed to the group of moderators: “You are the key to effective meetings.” She told them to embrace the call to lead. “The moderator rules! The stated clerk advises.” 

“The secret of effective meetings is preparation, preparation, preparation”—and lots of prayer, Howell said.

She stressed the importance of treating everyone at a meeting with respect. But she added, “Sometimes to be fair, you can’t be nice. You must control the process.” 

Howell summarized the goal of moderators: “Be sure that the Kingdom is going to move forward, and so is your agenda.” 

And if mistakes are made or business items left hanging, she said, “Remember, there’s always another meeting.”

 What makes a memorable presbytery meeting

“What’s the best presbytery meeting you can remember? What made it so good? What was your contribution?” In a plenary session led by Krummel, presbytery and synod moderators spent time in small groups talking about these questions.

What emerged from the discussions was a list of common themes—a list Krummel suggested participants take home to their presbytery planning committees. The themes included worship, celebration, fairness, and respect.

Another theme was building community—“which in my presbytery includes food,” one participant said.

Krummel stressed the importance of preparation. She recalled that in the Presbytery of Great Rivers, which she served formerly as executive presbyter and stated clerk, “We practiced the presbytery meeting in a conference call before the meeting.”

She also told the moderators: “Hold what happens in presbytery meetings as a holy thing. It’s not like a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Participants shared examples of how their presbyteries build into their meetings a focus on mission. Some do hands-on mission projects; some choose a mission focus for each meeting and collect an offering to go to the project; others have mission fairs or give grants to new mission projects.

The Moderators’ Conference also included a full afternoon of workshops on parliamentary procedures. In the final plenary session Saturday night, participants gathered for a Q&A session with the Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly (2016), the Reverend Denise Anderson and the Reverend Jan Edmiston.

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