Thursday, June 22, 2006

Loyalists, Step Up: Volunteer for Examination Committees

Now that the Peace, Unity, and Purity report has passed, the burden shifts to sessions and presbyteries to really examine – and re-examine – officers of the church. Too often we let these examinations become perfunctory. We get to know someone as a decent person and an active member of the congregation, and let that substitute for a serious judgment of whether they are really suited to be a Ruling Elder of the church. When it comes to potential ministers in our presbytery, we are more likely to rely on their seminary credential to assure us that a candidate would be a sound minister.

Now that the application of national standards has been returned to the local ordaining and examining bodies, those of us who live and pray in those local congregations and presbyteries must do our part to make those national standards real. PUP can help promote the peace and unity of the church at the national level. But this will only work if we have the will to promote purity at the local level.

Seriously examining someone else's vocation face to face is a very hard thing to do. It is much easier for the perennial critics in the church to attack other people from a distance. Loyalists, though, are loyal to their actual local church.

Therefore, loyalists need to take up the burden of judgment and discrimination, in the highest sense of those terms, in order for there to be purity, unity, and, in the long run, peace in the church.

12 comments:

Chris said...

Well said. When I go through my ordination exams and am candidating for a call and ordination, I want the people who examine me to know exactly what they are doing and to be truly qualified to do so. If the examiners and CPMs and COMs aren't doing their jobs, ordination loses its true importance and is reduced to another loophole in the presbyterian bureaucracy.

Denis Hancock said...

Personally, I prefer "discerning" in favor of "judgement" and "discrimination". It somehow sounds better...

I have seen elder examinations where the only question is "having been elected are you now willing to serve?"

I have also seen examinations where prospective elders are asked what their personal sense of God's calling is.

I have rarely seen an examination of an elder where they are asked about any aspect of theology.

How might the nominating committee fit into this process? Of course, they cannot vote to ordain, but can they excercise their discretion in letting potential nominees what is expected of them?

Bottom line, though -- I agree that the local congregation is where it has to start.

Gruntled said...

Let me ask a question back: how do you feel about the rotation of elders? It seems to me that if we had fewer, but more carefully chosen, elders, the process of nominating, examining, and re-examining would produce a higher quality result.

The Parson said...

I don't have a problem with terminating the rotation of elders and letting elders serve until either they need a break or they do something that requires disciplinary action. We don't have term limits for ministers (thankfully).

Mark Smith said...

I can see serious problems with stopping the rotation of elders.

The current process ensures that a power clique doesn't take hold at a church. It ensures that at least 1/6 of the session rotate off every 6 years (sometimes more, rarely less).

Without rotation, I can see the same 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 elders controlling a single church. They just get re-elected over and over and over - never giving anyone else a vote in the operation of the congregation (a lot like the US Senate).

The alternative is a MESSY challenge process at the Annual Meeting. When that happens, churches tend to fracture.

Of course, you can form a power clique with a force one year off. I've seen that happen, where the elders coming off of session get put on the nominating committee which puts them BACK on the Session.

Carl said...

What tools do nominating committees and examining bodies have for doing this real exmination and re-examination? There has never been much clarity about the standards we are supposed to hold up against the claims and character of candidates. A cursory view of Statements of Faith (why do we only use those for minister examinations?) reveals a set form, but great latitude within that form, a latitude often stretching the concept that any theological standards exist within the PCUSA. It's reassuring (for some)to hear that "the standards have not changed", and that examining bodies have a renewed mandate to do their work, but we've never really been told plainly what that work is and how we are to do it.

Denis Hancock said...

Let me ask a question back: how do you feel about the rotation of elders?

Fair enough. Rotation of elders can prevent fossilization of the Session, but, depending on the working procedures of the nominating committee, can lead to weakening of the Session.

There are some assumptions that seem to go into the work of many nominating committees:

* Ordination is an entitlement of membership.
* Preference is to be given to people who have never served.
* All groups need to be represented according to their proportion in the congregation.
* Will they say "Yes"?
* Is their body temperature at or near 98.6 degrees?

I may be exaggerating (especially on the last), and this should NOT be taken to represent the nomiating committee of my own congregation.

In my opinion the two most powerful and far-reaching roles a member can play are (1) Sunday School Teacher; and (2) member of a nominating committee -- if they choose to do their job conscientiously. Too many times people run like Jonah when the CE committee comes around recruiting teachers, or fail to ask the right questions while serving on nominating committees.

And too many times the nominating committees have to move on down the list because the first choices said "No".

I feel that prospective elders should be provided with a clear description of what is expected of them at the first visit, and no answer should be expected until they have been given a chance to pray and consider if they truly feel a call.

Well, this is turning into an essay, and a disorganized one at that, so I'll close.

Gruntled said...

An examination should start with the candidate's statement of faith. In congregations in which it has not been the custom to ask elders for a statement of faith, perhaps now we all have sufficient reason to do so.

I think a further benefit of taking examinations more seriously is that the examiners will become more familiar with what the confessions actually say.

Denis Hancock said...

I guess I'm looking a little earlier in the process.

The examination takes place following the election by the congregation and prior to installation.

I hev never seen an elder either "fail" an examniation or decline to serve at that juncture.

We give great weight to our nominating committees, thus the outcome depends on the N.C. doing a good job.

Still, the statement of faith is a good idea, and I hope more congregations do it.

The relevant section of the Book of Order {G-14.0205) has the Session confer with the electees as to their "willingness to undertake the office", but after that "the session
shall examine them as to their personal faith; knowledge of the
doctrine, government, and discipline contained in the Constitution
of the church; and the duties of the office."

There's that "S" word again. The Session shall perform their duties.

I'm glad to say the session on which I currently serve does ask more than "are you willing to serve".

Gruntled said...

I was also thinking of earlier in the process. Yes, let's add nominating committees to the institutions loyalists should volunteer for.

Quotidian Grace said...

Excellent points. Let's add two more to the list:

Committee on Ministry of the presbytery--because this is where questions come before and after ordination and installation such as the controversy in Austin over the admission of the atheist to church membership.

PJC--It's important to have loyalists who are willing to risk some unpleasantness in order to enforce the Constitution when charges are being heard. Example: the PJC of Redwoods presbytery that held same-sex marriages were "within the Reformed understanding." (That decision is on appeal to the Synod PJC).

Most presbyteries, like most sessions, are looking for warm bodies. Call the Nominating committee or someone on General Council or the General Presbyter and tell them you are willing to serve.

Gruntled said...

Amen. Serving the hard, conflict-solving committees is a duty for those who love the church. That doesn't make it fun, but does make it rewarding.