One thing that draws people from different faith backgrounds to the Presbyterian Church is the way they 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, usually called the Session, with members called Elders elected by the congregation for 3-year terms.
Our Session has 20 members–19 Elders plus a Clerk of Session–who meet monthly to pray, laugh, and try to discern God’s will for the church.
The Session has divided the work of Forest Hill into 7 ministry areas: Deacons; Education; Justice & Mission; Leadership Development; Stewardship; Trustees; and Worship. Each is headed by 3 Elders, serving staggered 3-year terms. A new Elder is elected annually for each ministry. The current Clerk of Session is Elder Jeff Smith. 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 Presbytery.
Every Presbyterian church 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.
Every other year, 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.
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 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.)
Every Presbyterian is considered a minister of the church. In the Bible, this is called the “priesthood of all believers.” Some in the priesthood are called to be Pastors (sometimes called Teaching Elders), others are called to be Elders or 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 that we’re the only church 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 when they prohibited local churches from 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, transgendered 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.