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The roles of deacons and ruling elders have long been an important part in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The parts they play in the life of the church may vary among congregations, but their significance cannot be overlooked. Leaders in the Office of the General Assembly are preparing to launch a year-long initiative that will focus on deacons and ruling elders.

The initiative, "Year of Leader Formation: Investing in Ruling Elders and Deacons," will incorporate a new training resource, a series of articles, a webinar series, and other tools to help participants grow in the role.

“As a denomination, we haven’t offered new training resources for our ruling elders and deacons for quite some time. This really goes beyond how you are prepared to serve in these roles but also how you live that out,” said Martha Miller with Ministry and Education Support in the Office of the General Assembly. “It is a continuous process focusing on relationships with God and with each other.”

The resources include, but are not limited to:

  • "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons based on the Constitutional Questions" A multi-session resource will be delivered through the denomination’s online training site, EQUIP. Study guides will be provided for leaders to use in a monthly and retreat format.
  • "Regarding Ruling Elders: A Monthly Series of Serving Faithfully" consists of a series of articles that will include a spiritual formation thread in each issue. Issues are posted on the ruling elder webpage with a searchable archive of past issues available in Equip.
  • Three webinars covering topics of interest to both ruling elders and deacons.
  • A new hymn entitled: “Each Christian Has a Calling,” written by the Reverend Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship.

“When we think of faith development, we tend to think of it focusing on children and young people, but all of us are continually developing, growing, and that’s the focus,” Miller said.  “We are scheduling these opportunities as a focus for the year, but these resources will live beyond that.”

“We often talk about formation, but we don’t always talk about ecclesial formation and how important that is,” said Jiyhun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly. “Even though many church leaders get that, it is a lifelong journey and formation process.”

The Reverend Tim Cargal, Ministry Preparation and Support for Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, says he is seeing more movement between denominations and even faith traditions in American society.

“One consequence of this movement is that people with excellent skills and gifts for ministry leadership in our PC(USA) congregations and worshiping communities may not also have significant knowledge about and experience with what makes our Reformed understanding of the Christian faith and community practice distinctive,” he said. “While we certainly want to be open to what we can learn about God’s mission in the world from others, we also need to be sure our leaders have training to enable them to bear witness to the world of the Presbyterian and Reformed understanding of God’s mission.”

Cargal says one of the primary contributions of Reformed and Presbyterian theology to the global church has been its insistence that ministry is not the exclusive domain of clergy and priests.

“In their baptism, God calls and enables all Christians for the work of ministry. And in recognition of specific gifts, some people are called forward within faith communities to help discern what God’s mission is for that time and place (ruling elders) and to lead in ministries of compassion and justice (deacons) in the furtherance of that mission,” he said. “Absent the leadership in ministry of ruling elders and deacons, a congregation will achieve only a fraction of its potential mission impact.”

“The PC(USA) affirms that we are best able to join in God’s mission in the world through shared leadership among teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons. These leaders do not do ministry for the rest of us they lead all of us in this ministry. As a denomination, we know that this kind of leadership is complex and demanding. Effective training enables elders and deacons to lead with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom,” said the Reverend Dr. Barry Ensign-George, Coordinator for Theology and Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “The Year of Leadership Formation will provide just such training, both for the year, and beyond."

“There’s no magic that it’s taking place in 2021 and it wasn’t structured around the pandemic,” said Miller. “It’s really about relationship and formation and what it means to be a Presbyterian leader.”

The highlighted resource, "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons," includes a monthly leader guide for use during meetings of the session and deacons throughout the year, with each month diving deeper into one of the constitutional questions. The resource will be available for use in 2021 in English with plans to provide a culturally proficient resource in Spanish and Korean in the coming months. Rather than providing a direct translation, this method will take into account cultural changes.

Reverend Rosa Miranda, Associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support in the Office of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, says this is an encouraging first step, as churches continue to learn better ways in which diverse voices from different cultures may contribute.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to explore new ways to do things, and the outcomes that may come out of it and maybe even put together a supplemental resource to add a diverse texture to this one.,” she said. “It is my hope that in this process we may learn ways that might be adapted to other contexts to connect and bring together leaders and faith communities isolated or in the margins.”

The collaboration includes the National Presbyterian Hispanic Latino Caucus and the Intercultural Congregational Hispanic Latina Office.

Additional information as well as links to associated resources and events can be found at the Year of Leader Formation webpage. Go to the EQUP link for course information.