My friend Mildred celebrated her 100th birthday on July 5, 2020. A lifelong Presbyterian, Mildred has served many terms on the session of her church in Indiana. Active at all levels of the PC(USA), Mildred’s first love has always been her local congregation, including several years serving on staff. As I’ve known, watched, and learned from Mildred for 40 years, one thing that she taught me was the way that she lived out her service to Christ’s church is how ruling elders can serve as educators.
Ruling elders commit to teaching. Ruling elders have opportunities to help children learn the stories of the faith. They can engage with youth and young adults, talking with them about their joys and struggles and encouraging them in their faith journeys. Ruling elders should be on the constant lookout for resources to share with adults—resources that speak to life’s issues and challenges.
Ruling elders commit to worship. The regular presence of church leaders on Sunday mornings — or whenever their congregations worship — says loudly and clearly that community is vital to the life of faith. Singing and praying together, hearing and responding to God’s word together, ground us and empower us for the work of ministry in the world.
Ruling elders commit to mentoring others. Ruling elders mentor seekers by inviting them into the church community and by standing with them as they experience language and customs that may seem quite strange at first. They mentor those in confirmation classes by listening to their experiences, responding to their questions, and praying for them as they consider church membership. They welcome new church members with gratitude and enthusiasm. Ruling elders look for, and seek out, the gifts of church members and invite the sharing of those gifts.
Ruling elders commit to the whole life of the church. Even though ruling elders may have a particular ministry area to which they focus, they support the whole of their congregation’s life. They engage in mission endeavors, attend special musical events, and support youth group fundraisers. They model generosity in their financial giving and share joyfully what the church and its ministry mean to them.
Ruling elders commit to the larger church. Ruling elders, as connectional leaders, have opportunities to be aware of and share church news and information with others — sometimes even their pastors. They can encourage support or presence at denominational gatherings such as the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, the Presbyterian Women’s Triennial Gathering, and at summer camps and conferences. They can be involved in meetings and committees of the presbytery, the synod, and the General Assembly so that they can learn from others, effect change, and return to their own communities with new ideas.
Ruling elders recognize, and even celebrate, that they do not cease to be ruling elders when the term on session is fulfilled. They know they’ve been called for life:
- To teach;
- To worship God regularly with joy and enthusiasm;
- To invite others to the faith;
- To nurture children, youth, and adults for the work of ministry in the church and in the world;
- To engage in the life of their own particular communities;
- To pray for people and places all over God’s world;
- To share generously, whenever and wherever needed, their time, talent, and financial treasure;
- To serve God and the church with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
Questions for Discussion
Take some time to think about the roles you have played in your service as a ruling elder.
- How have you served as an educator for others?
- How will you live out, or are you living out, your call after serving on the session?
Written in Honor of Mildred Myers Flanary, ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Indiana, who facilitates the Sunday morning adult Bible class and reads stories each week to the four-year-old class of the Presbyterian Pre-School Ministry; sings alto in the choir and frequently plays the offertory music on the clavinova; invites people to come to church, using her amazing ability to recognize hidden talent in folks of all ages; is present for every endeavor of the church; has only recently stopped being the regular commissioner to presbytery.
Carol McDonald, a minister member of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley, retired after serving the PC(USA) for 42 years as a pastor and mid council executive. She served for nine years as a member of the Educator Certification Council of the PC(USA) and from 2010–18 was a member of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. In retirement, she serves as parish associate for Northminster Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.