One thing that draws people from different faith backgrounds to the Presbyterian Church is that we don’t claim to be the “One True Church” or that we’re the only church authorized by the New Testament. Maybe that’s because we focus more on being Christian than Presbyterian. The word “Presbyterian” refers more to how our church is organized and governed than about what we believe.
Each Presbyterian church has a governing body, the Session. Session members are called Elders and are elected by the congregation to 3-year terms.
Our Session has 20 members–19 Elders plus a Clerk of Session–and meets monthly.
The Session is organized into 7 ministry areas: Adult Education & Leadership; Deacons; Family, Youth & Children; Justice & Mission; Stewardship; Trustees; and Worship. Each ministry area is headed by 3 Elders, with each Elder serving a staggered 3-year term. A new Elder is elected annually for each ministry. See Current Elders by Ministry
While the Session has the final say on church matters, it’s always with input from the rest of the congregation. And since Forest Hill is part of the Presbyterian Church USA, we also have access to the resources of our local Presbytery.
Every Presbyterian church in the PC(USA) is part of a local Presbytery. Presbyteries ordain ministers and pay a small staff to track and support all the Presbyterian churches in a geographic area. Ours is the Presbytery of the Western Reserve. Every other month representatives from each church in the Presbytery meet to worship and share what’s happening in their church.
Each Presbytery is part of a larger organization called a Synod, which supports a large number of Presbyteries. Our Presbytery is part of the Synod of the Covenant. The Synods report to and are ruled by one big national church group called the General Assembly, which meets every other year.
The General Assembly sets priorities, 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.
What Does It Mean to Be Presbyterian?
One of the nice things about being Presbyterian is the lack of rigid creeds and doctrines. 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 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.)
Every Presbyterian is considered a minister of the church. In the Bible, this is called the “priesthood of all believers.” Some are called to be Pastors (or “Teaching Elders”), others are called to be Deacons or Elders (“Ruling Elders”), and others are called to particular areas of service according to their gifts and passions.
It’s not a perfect system but when we make a mistake, we keep working to fix it. For example, it took many years for the General Assembly to overturn the age-old prohibition against ordaining gays and lesbians. After lots of discussions and committees and votes, our rules now allow individual ordaining bodies – local church sessions for elders and deacons and local presbyteries for ministers – to determine someone’s fitness for ordained office.
In other words, persons in a same-gender relationship can now be ordained. So now, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or queer, nothing stops you from being a member or leader 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 and supported at Forest Hill.