So You’re a Clerk. Now what?!
Being a ruling elder is a ministry to which we are ordained. Ruling elders answer the same questions at ordination as teaching elders answer, except those questions specifically related to the duties of the ministry.
Principles of our Polity
The principles of our polity run deep, though they are often misunderstood. At their core our beliefs in government uphold:
- The rights and the unity of the body shall be preserved;
- The will of the majority shall prevail;
- The rights of the minority shall be protected.
Navigating our Constitution
- Part 1: Book of Confessions
- Part 2: Book of Order
It is critical to remember that our Confessions is the first part of our contitution and the foundations of our decisions start with Scripture first and our Confessions second. Only after that do we move to the Book of Order for guidance.
The Presbyterian Church was born out of the fires of the Reformation…and under the leadership of a French Lawyer by the name of John Calvin…who believed that the reformation of the church was essential if we were to get back to the Bible as the sole source of authority for the Church.
Reformed and Always Reforming
- The church, in obedience to Jesus Christ, is open to the reforming of its standards of doctrine as well as its governance.
- The church affirms “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God” in the power of the Spirit. F-2.02
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
There are few things more intimating to a new clerk than to walk into a session meeting unprepared. Here are some tips to help make it less daunting:
- Collect all reports several days ahead of the meeting (if possible)
- Use a minutes template. Write up a standard template that you can use for writing minutes at every meeting. Insert reports in the minutes prior to the meeting and as the meeting goes on simply fill in the action items as needed.
- Find out what action items are coming to the session meeting and insert them into the minutes prior to the meeting. If amendments are made then simply make those corrections as discussion evolves.
- Minimize content for action items. Robert’s Rules simply says we need to record the actions taken, not the conversation that accompanied that action.
- The less you can create from the scratch the better off you will be, and the happier you will be in your role!
Know The Language of the Book of Order
Knowing the language of the Book of Order in integral to your work as a clerk. There are things you must reinforce and uphold, but there are other things that leave a wealth of possiblity and options for your congregation. Knowing the difference between mandate and guidance is a game changer and drammatically lightens your burden as the perceived gate keeper.
SHALL and IS TO BE/ARE TO BE signify practice that is mandated. There is no way around it, if it says “shall” then it shall be, no way around it.
SHOULD signifies practice that is strongly recommended. In the spirit of connection anything with “should” is recommended because it is a practice that binds us together, but it is not mandatory, so possibilities outside of this exist. Do not be fearful of “should”.
IS APPROPRIATE signifies practice that is commended as suitable. This is entirely permission giving. If you want to do it, and it is labeled appropriate, then go for it!
MAY signifies practice that is permissible but not required. This is also permission giving. Use it to your advantage anytime you can.
You Are Not the Gate Keeper!
There will be a lot of pressure on you to be the “keeper of the law”, but that is absolutely not your primary role as a clerk. Your primary role is the record the story of your congregation and to be the person who helps them find their greatest self. Sometimes you may have to point out the “shalls” in the Book of Order, but it is not your role to throw up road blocks, no matter how many encourage you to do so.
The Book of Order is Often Silent
With the newer Book of Order it is often silent on things, but that can be a good thing! If the Book of Order is silent on something then take a moment to think about whether or not it upholds our call to ministry as Presbyterians. If you feel it does, then encourage your session to coninute down that road. It is most likely the Holy Spirit at work in your congregation and we never want to get in the way of that.
Resources to Help You Get Started
The first think you should know is you are not alone! We have 60 clerks of session across the state and we have all been in the same boat at various stages of our tenure as clerks. For this reason, we have resouces that can assist you in your work and to help you get started. Below is a Powerpoint utilized for training clerks and also a manual to help with the finer details of your work, which includes the assistance with the writing of minutes, keeping good registers and rolls, and other helpful guidance.
Taking some time to familiarize yourself with these resources will dramatically improve your ability to do your job proficiently and efficiently.
Want to learn more
We’d love to meet you and learn more about you. Click the link below to find out how to get in touch.