As I write this article I am in Wexford, Pennsylvania where I have traveled to participate in the service of installation for a very good friend from seminary. I am here at the request of the pastor who is being installed and with the permission of Pittsburgh Presbytery who invited me to preach the sermon as a guest of the Administrative Commission. While we were in seminary, my friend was under care of a presbytery in Virginia, he was later ordained by a different presbytery in Virginia, and in this service of installation that ordination was recognized as members of Pittsburgh Presbytery (and a guest from the Presbytery of South Louisiana) completed the process to formalize his call to this congregation. The Book of Order tells us that, “the councils are distinct, but have such mutual relations that the act of one of them is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate council” (F-3.0203). This is what we mean when we say that we are a connectional church. This is also why ruling elders, teaching elders, and deacons are not re-ordained when they are called back into active service. It is also why a baptism performed in one congregation is recognized when that individual moves to a new congregation. All of those were acts of the whole church performed by a small part of it in a particular place and time (there are, of course, other theological reasons too).
This brings me to one of the responsibilities of Clerks of Session: the keeping of registers. Specifically, the Book of Order requires that “There shall be registers of baptisms authorized by the session, of ruling elders and deacons, of installed pastors with dates of service, and such other registers as the session may deem necessary” (G-3.0204b). While that requirement provides some information about baptisms (those authorized by the session) and pastors (dates of service) there is little information on what to include in the registers of ruling elders and deacons. As you might imagine, that has led to differing practices between congregations. Some congregations record only those ruling elders and deacons who were ordained and/or installed in that congregation along with the dates of their ordinations and service. Other congregations maintain this register as a list of ruling elders and deacons within the congregation and ask new members if they have been ordained so that they can be added to the register. Because the Book of Order does not specify, both practices are appropriate and the decision is left up to the session to decide what information it will record. I actually commend both practices to you. The first practice provides a helpful record of ordinations and service that may be called upon when a member moves to another congregation or in researching the history of the congregation. The second practice provides a more practical day-to-day tool for the session (say to identify leaders to help with home communion) or the nominating committee (when it is time to elect new officers). Ultimately both honor our belief that ordination is an act of the whole church and that, once ordained, ruling elders and deacons, “continue to bear the responsibilities of the ministry to which they have been ordained” (G-2.0404) even when not actively serving on the session of board of deacons.