It’s likely that today’s “branding” experts wouldn’t suggest it, and over the years it’s certainly proven a challenge to fit on signs and even to spell correctly, but “Presbyterian” continues to be our moniker and continues to point to some important theological roots. Coming together as a faith group in the 16th century, partly in reaction to the top-down hierarchy of the Catholic church, Presbyterians took their name from the Greek word for “elder” for it was to be faith community led by elected elders.
Both the pastor of a Presbyterian Church and members of the Session, the leadership board, are elders. The Pastor is a “Teaching Elder” and Session members are “Ruling Elders,” the term describing leaders whose decisions must ultimately measure up against the “rule of faith” or Scriptural standards. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), any active church member — without regard to gender, physical ability, marital status, sexual orientation or age (although churches do set some lower limits; it’s called an “elder” after all) is eligible to be elected an elder by the congregation. At every level of church government beyond the local church there is equal representation between Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, between professional clergy and lay leaders on all committees and legislative bodies. That’s the Presbyterian way!
This coming Sunday our 10:00 am worship service points both to our denominational name and the office of Ruling Elder as we install and ordain new Ruling Elders to office. At that time, they will take their traditional vows and those to be ordained (some have been previously ordained) will participate in a “laying on of hands” whereby all ruling elders, teaching elders and ministers of other churches present in worship prayerfully connect physically by hand with the new Ruling Elders, an ancient rite signifying both the passing on of the tradition of the church and of the guidance of the Holy Spirit to those newly called to service.
So, join us this Sunday for a significant moment when ancient tradition brushes up against contemporary church government alive in the Spirit!
Click below for a classic representation of “Presbyterian” in popular culture!