About a month ago I got a call from the pastor of a congregation in our presbytery who was trying to figure out what to do. The annual congregational meeting was swiftly approaching and the nominating committee had not been able to find anyone who was willing to answer the call to serve on the session in the midst of this pandemic. What was more, the outgoing elders were willing to stay on. After a year of leading the congregation and making dozens of difficult decisions about closing down, embracing new technology, resuming in-person worship, applying for government loans to keep employees paid, and more they wanted to keep a steady hand on the wheel while we (hopefully) come to the end of this global tragedy. The problem was that the outgoing elders had already served two terms and were not eligible to serve another. That was when my phone rang with the question “What can we do?”
That congregation is not alone. Congregations across the country have been struggling with the same issue. My own congregation in Hammond ordinarily rotates officers in May of each year but when the pandemic hit the work of the Nominating Committee and new officer training was the last thing on my mind. Eventually the committee got back on track and I trained new officers but they started in November instead of May! If your congregation is struggling to identify new leadership right now know that you are not alone. I hope you also hear my story of ordaining and installing officers six months late as word of encouragement that it can be done. However, you should also know that there is another option which I suggested to that pastor who called me. While the Book of Order establishes that no one will serve more than six consecutive years as a deacon or ruling elder, it also states “The presbytery may, upon written request and by majority vote, grant a congregation a waiver of this limitation on terms” (G-2.0404). This waiver is most often used for small congregations where their membership has fallen the point that the regular rotation of officers is no longer practical. However, in the time of COVID even larger churches may need to hit the pause button on the rotation of elders until more normal patterns resume. Waivers in this presbytery are granted through the Committee on Ministry. If you have questions about that process please contact me or COM Chair Nannette Cagney.
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
Rev. Barry Chance, Stated Clerk