If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already noticed that we care more about being a Christian church than a Presbyterian church.
But there are some cool things about being Presbyterian. One is the way our church is organized. (It’s the same form of government that the framers of the Constitution modeled the United States government after.)
Here’s how Presbyterians “do church”:
This is our “governing body.” Session consists of members who are called Elders. The Elders – members with a passion for particular areas of ministry – are elected from the congregation.
The Elders oversee 7 ministry areas:
Each ministry (except Deacons) is headed by 3 Elders, each serving a staggered 3-year term. And each year we elect one new Elder for each ministry.
How It Works
Session has 20 members: 19 Elders plus a Clerk of Session to keep track of what’s happening. They meet once a month to laugh and pray and try to discern God’s will for the church. It’s a lot of fun, but the pastors are the Moderators and sometimes they make everybody calm down and get back to work.
The current Clerk of Session is Elder Scott Lafferty. Current Elders by Ministry
So does that mean that the Session runs the church?
Well…..technically Session does have the final say, but it’s always with input from the rest of the congregation. And of course, since Forest Hill is part of the Presbyterian Church USA, we also have access to the resources of our Presbytery.
Every Presbyterian church is part of a local Presbytery. Presbyteries ordain ministers and pays a small staff to keep track of and provide support for all the different Presbyterian churches in a geographic area. Ours is the Presbytery of the Western Reserve. Every other month representatives from each church in the Presbytery get together to worship and talk about official Presbyterian stuff.
OTHER GOVERNING GROUPS
Each Presbytery is part of a larger organization called a Synod, which supports a whole bunch of Presbyteries. (Our Synod is the Synod of the Covenant.) All the Synods report to and are ruled by one big national church group called the General Assembly, with offices in Louisville, Kentucky.
The General Assembly sets priorities for the church’s mission under Christ, develops overall mission objectives and strategies to guide church life, provides programming to help with the overall balance and diversity within the mission of the church, and runs national and international ministries of witness, service, growth, and development.
If I decided to join Forest Hill, would this “General Assembly” tell me what I have to believe?
That’s one of the nice things about being Presbyterian. No one tells you to believe in a bunch of complicated rules and doctrines. In fact, the word “Presbyterian” really refers more to how our church is organized and governed than about what we believe.
To be a member of a Presbyterian church, as with most other Protestant denominations, you just have to commit to trying to follow the teachings and authority of Jesus Christ.
Even if you’re not sure about Jesus, you’re still welcome here. Many of the people in our pews are here not because they’re sure of their faith but because they want to learn more about what faith is and what it means to follow Christ.
THEN WHAT MAKES SOMEBODY A “PRESBYTERIAN”?
Besides the Jesus thing? Hmm. One big thing is that every member is considered a minister of the church. In the Bible, this is called the “priesthood of all believers.”
Some in this priesthood are called to be ordained Pastors, others are called to be ruling Elders and Deacons, and others are called to particular areas of service according to their gifts and passions.
This system works well for us, but we don’t believe that our church is the “One True Church” or even that our system of church government is the only one authorized by the New Testament.
It’s not a perfect system – after all, it is run by people. But when we make a mistake, we keep working to fix it. For example, many of us thought the General Assembly erred by prohibiting local churches from ordaining gays and lesbians, but finally . . .
News Flash regarding the LGBTQ Community and Ordination!
On May 10, 2011, a majority of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 173 presbyteries ratified an amendment to the church’s constitution to allow ordaining bodies – local church sessions for elders and deacons and presbyteries for ministers – more flexibility in determining individual candidates’ fitness for ordained office. What has changed is that persons in a same-gender relationship can be considered for ordination. The new wording states:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all the requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
Forest Hill and the Presbytery of the Western Reserve have been advocating for this change for almost 3 decades. We think the famous Presbyterian, Henry Sloane Coffin, a self-described “liberal evangelical” born in 1877, would agree. In 1925, Coffin asked “whether we have any right to call ourselves a Christian Church, if we exclude from its ministry any whom Christ manifestly does not exclude from the gift of His Holy Spirit.”
So now, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered, nothing and no one can keep you from being a member of a Presbyterian church or from serving God as you feel called to serve–whether that’s teaching Sunday School, leading a small group book discussion, facilitating a prayer group, or being ordained as an Elder, Deacon, or Pastor. All members of the LGBT community have always been and will continue to be welcome at Forest Hill.