A key element of Reformed theology is that all believers are ministers, and that faith informs every aspect of life, not just “church life,” – whether it’s preaching on Sunday mornings, driving a delivery truck or waiting tables.
As Therese Howell, stated clerk in Presbytery of Middle Tennessee, said Wednesday, “My role in the world impacts my faith, and my faith impacts my role in the world.”
It was put another way by Vincent A. Thomas, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota: “The vow we took as elders does not just apply on Sundays or when we are at church, but at all times. We are elders 24/7, at work, at home or at church.”
Howell, Thomas and Destini Hodges of Capital Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, discussed “Spiritual Leadership in Work and World,” during the Ruling Elder Luncheon at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which brought together ruling elders from across the nation to celebrate their calling and hear from their peers on how their faith work interacts with their secular work.
Wednesday’s event was the second time the General Assembly has convened an event specifically for ruling elders.
Hodges has distinguished herself through her dedication and service work in the City of Harrisburg. She is an avid community activist who serves as vice president of Harrisburg Hope, a grassroots community group dedicated to civil discourse and dialogue. She also serves as the coordinator for the Presbyterian Women of Carlisle and for Capital Youth Connections.
At 21, Hodges was elected as the youngest member of the Harrisburg School District Board. Earlier this year she was sworn in as the youngest member of the Harrisburg City Council.
In addition to being stated clerk of the presbytery, Howell, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, is an elected member of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution and a member of both the Tennessee and national associations of parliamentarians. She is a member of Team Stokes with Presbyterian CREDO.
Thomas is an elder and the clerk of session at Westminster Presbyterian. He began serving as a ruling elder in 1976, at age 15. He has served as clerk since 1993. He was elected to serve on the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, which he has served as moderator.
In secular life, he works at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, managing several projects intended to create pathways to a two-year degree and entry-level employment in “living wage” positions. He also has served as a trustee for McCormick Theological Seminary for three terms, from 2003-09. He is a youth-group leader, confirmation mentor and pastor nominating committee member at Westminster.
Asked to give an example of a situation they encountered where they needed to put their faith to work, Hodges said that as a city council member, “sometimes you have to stand up for something that may not be popular, but you know it is the right thing to do.”
Thomas pointed to helping resolve personal conflicts and serving as a mediator of disagreements. “You must be patient, listen and empathize,” he said.
Panelists also were asked to tell how they respond when confronted with their own prejudices.
“You have to be honest with yourself, and understand that you too have faults,” Howell said.
Thomas said one must always hold yourself accountable.