Where has your faith journey taken you?
My journey has always kept me in the church. As a child, my playtime included lining up my dolls on the couch for Sunday school where I was the teacher, for worship where I was the preacher, and we all sang together. Later in life, I taught Sunday school with real kids, which led me to become a Christian educator, which led me to work for the presbytery as the resource center coordinator and then as their educational consultant and camp coordinator. In the meantime, I completed my presbytery’s commissioned lay pastor (CLP) preparation and have since been commissioned to a couple of churches. Eventually I was called to service as the presbytery’s CLP program coordinator. God leads, I follow. Well, more realistically, God pushes and who am I to say no to God?
Over the years, the name of those commissioned to serve in this way has changed: commissioned lay pastor (CLP), ruling elder commissioned to particular service, commissioned ruling elder (CRE), and now, commissioned pastor (CP). Regardless of the name, we are ruling elders who have been trained to provide specific pastoral functions. Many fill this role within a small congregation.
More than half of mainline congregations are small. Many cannot afford ministers of Word and Sacrament, but these churches are family. They want to continue to be together as that family of faith and be the body of Christ in their community. The Book of Order provides a way to assure that there is pastoral leadership available for these small congregations (G-2.10).
CLPs, CREs, CPs are not “called” pastoral leaders in the sense that the Book of Order speaks of “called and installed pastors.” They are “commissioned” to specific forms of pastoral functions. It is a three-way covenant between the church, the ruling elder, and the presbytery — God is in the mix, always. The commission is to a particular place for a particular time. That commission is reviewed annually. Being commissioned to a particular place means that the CRE can only officiate at weddings, communion, and baptisms that are for that portion of the body of Christ and approved by the session.
Before that commissioning can happen, the ruling elder needs to be trained. The Book of Order currently leaves this up to each presbytery to set their own standards for its requirements. Training often includes areas such as: Bible overview/how to study Scripture, Reformed theology, worship and sacraments, how to teach/preach, polity, pastoral care, and programs and mission of the PC(USA).
A CRE is most often a part-time job. You are usually employed somewhere else but have a desire to serve God through the church. What I have said to the churches that I have been commissioned to is that with a CRE we get to be what we say we are: the ministry of the people — the priesthood of believers. The “pastor” can’t do it all! We ALL have to BE the church!
There was an old commercial for the United States Army that used the tag line, “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” I would say that is true for CREs. It is a privilege and a joy to be able to share the Good News of God’s love through worship, Bible study, and pastoral care.
Where might your faith journey be taking you?
Chris Wolf is a child of God, currently a CP/CRE/CLP, and was first commissioned more than 15 years ago. She previously worked for the Presbytery of Lake Huron as the resource center coordinator/educational consultant/camp coordinator. Wolf has also served as Christian educator in several churches.