The constitutional questions for ordination and installation have all been asked and answered. You said, “I do” or “I will” in a strong or trembling voice. Perhaps you knelt and had hands laid on your shoulders or back. You felt the weight of the promises you made as well as the support of those who have served before you, as a prayer for the guidance of the Spirit was prayed over you. You’ve been helped up, offered congratulations, and extended the “right hand of fellowship,” or a Covid-era elbow-bump. You’ve made your way back to your regular seat in worship, to receive the benediction—the good word that sends you out to serve.
So, what happens next? What happens after you’ve been ordained and installed as a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?
You might answer: a lot of meetings. You’d probably be correct! But that’s not all.
You are embarking on a journey of faithful leadership that will enrich you, those with whom you serve, and the community in which you show and share the love and justice of Jesus Christ. That part is a given. The Holy Spirit will show up as you move forward. She already has.
When you answered the questions we’ve been studying during this year’s series of Regarding Ruling Elders, you made some public promises. As with any promises you make in a relationship, all those things to which you said “I do” and “I will,” these are promises of active intention.
If you make resolutions for the upcoming new year, it’s a good time to consider the promises you’ve already made—not just to yourself but also to others with whom you are in relationship. This includes the people in your community of faith. You made promises to them, and they in turn made promises to you. Remember?
They promised to accept you as a ruling elder, “chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead … in the way of Jesus Christ.” They vowed to pray for you, encourage you, respect your decisions, and follow as you guide them, serving Jesus Christ. They are supporting you as you put on the mantle of this particular call.
Whether you are newly ordained, or have been for years, hold on to the good news that you don’t serve alone. In addition to your fellow church officers and congregation members, you have a host of others invested in your call. They want you to be equipped and empowered for service. You have presbytery, synod, and online gatherings and opportunities to explore. You have knowledge and resources in our national denominational offices just waiting to be discovered.
I admit that before being asked to write for this year’s Regarding Ruling Elder series, I didn’t know about it. I had never explored the vast resources within Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions, which we used to guide this series, or Equip, the online training site offered by the PC(USA).
I was a little embarrassed about this at first. How did I miss it? I’ve not been living under a rock, and I do read my email. I suppose it’s a little like all those church members wondering why they didn’t know about something when it’s been in the newsletter for weeks … but what a happy discovery! After 30 years of ordained ministry, I am continually finding new resources to help me live out my own call and keep my promises. As in your own ministry and church community, those who provide resources for you to grow in faith keep on adapting and innovating.
So, how will you keep growing and learning as a church leader?
- What resources for learning have you not yet explored in your presbytery or through the denominational offices of the PC(USA)?
- How does your session keep growing and learning as a group?
- What promise will you make to yourself for the new year, to strengthen your call to serve in ministry?
Listen to the new podcast for PC(USA) church leaders, Along the Road, and consider subscribing to periodic emails for connection to additional resources and announcements about current and future opportunities for ruling elders and leader formation.
Rev. Julie Coffman Hester is a pastor and writer in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She is inspired by faithful ruling elders, like her parents, and the remarkable disciples with whom she has served in local congregations.
This article is the last in a 12-part series focusing on the constitutional questions that church leaders answer upon their ordination and installation, using some of the materials from Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions, which is available through Equip, the church’s online training platform.