Pastor’s Note: Last Sunday after the our worship service, one of you commented, “Whoa, Michael, you got the Elders up front with you praying for our healing… and laying on hands.” I couldn’t quite read that statement! I’m still not sure how to take it… except to see we need to look again at the Elders.
Bob Schneider, currently our Moderator, is this week’s guest “E-pistlist.” Consider carefully what Bob has written– so you can pray for our Elders’s service… can support and work with them. But also read his words more broadly– they say much about who we are to be as a community and how we are to serve together.
“Although ‘elder’ is another word for “senior citizen,” there are elders at Old First who aren’t among the oldest of our members. Elders, deacons and bishops (or “overseers”) are the church leaders mentioned in the New Testament.
One of the responsibilities of Biblical elders was reflected in our healing service last Sunday, as we read from James 5:14, “(The sick) should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Elders are also referred to as congregational leaders, preachers, and teachers (1 Timothy 5:17-22), as moral role models (Titus 1:6), and as humble shepherds of Christ’s flock (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-5). While in some Christian traditions “elder” is a clerical position, in the UCC and its antecedent traditions, elders are lay leaders.
Before 2009, the Old First “Official Board” consisted of fifteen lay leaders: six elders, six deacons, and three trustees. The trustees were a modern addition to the two ancient, New Testament offices. Two years ago, we decided, after much discussion, that in the new Constitution and By-Laws, would move away from a tripartite Board. We decentralized decision-making authority among more people, so individuals and groups involved in the ministries could make the decisions about those ministries.
We retained the Biblical office of elder, using that name for the five to nine church members elected to serve as the “mission and vision, policy and planning” body of the congregation. We currently have six elders, Annemarie Kleinhans, Drew Aldinger, Julius DeAngelus, Nancy Donohue, Steve Wilhite and me.
The governing body of Old First, says the current By-Laws, is its members assembled in a congregational meeting. (Michael reminds us that ‘whether it is the whole body acting or any representatives thereof, in the UCC the question of governance is never what ‘we’ want, but instead always what is God’s will.) The Board of Elders is invested with fiduciary and spiritual responsibility for the on-going governance or leadership of the church between meetings of the membership. The pastor, treasurer, and financial secretary join the Board ex officio at its monthly meetings.
Our Constitution and By-laws charge the elders with five specific areas of responsibility:
~ policy-making and interpretation (including guidance to others on policies and coordinating a process for resolving conflicts that arise between or within ministry teams or members of the congregation);
~ keeping all the leaders and groups of the church focused on achieving results;
~ keeping the congregation informed of all that’s happening;
~ keeping the congregation aware of its vision and guiding its planning in pursuit of that vision; and
~ stewardship of the church’s resources.
As the elders reported at the annual meeting in January, currently they are living out this charge by:
~ organizing the recruitment and training of mediators to assist resolving conflicts between individuals and groups, consistent with our church policy on conflict resolution;
~ working with the church’s various groups to collect existing and develop new policies which can serve as the parameters for our decentralized leaderships’ efforts;
~ meeting regularly with other leaders for communication, guidance, and mutual support; and
~ serving as an ad hoc ‘discernment task force,’ to help people discern their individual gifts and how they might best be pursued in Old First’s ministries and activities.
‘Fiduciary and spiritual responsibility for the on-going governance of the church’ is a big bill to fill. Better to say, the elders’ calling is to collaborate with everyone else to keep Old First’s collective eyes on the vision of what God is calling us to be– as a community; as we seek to know and share the transforming power of God; and to be a wellspring of hope for many, many different kinds of people.”
See you in church,
Bob (and Michael)
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