Some forty elders from our churches gathered at the Novotel at Kingston Park 15th – 16th October for a 24 hour conference led by General Assembly Moderator John Ellis and our synod moderator Lis Mullen. The event allowed elders to meet and share experiences, and reflect on the nature of eldership, with a view to working together more effectively.
As the participants quickly concluded, URC congregations are devolved and diverse, and, they were assured, the heart beat of our church is not in the central structure but is to be found in the Elders’ Meeting.
Nature of Eldership
The first day explored participants’ feelings about their call to Eldership, what it meant to them and how they fulfilled the role in their churches. Points raised included:
° Being an ordained Elder is a calling from God, and Elders are primarily responsible for the spiritual leadership of the church they serve.
° Our lives inside and outside the church are all part of being an Elder and informs each individual’s contribution to the Elders’ Meeting.
° For Elders, building the vision of the church is more important and energising that getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of daily church life.
° URC congregations are devolved and diverse. The heart beat of the church is not the central structure but in the Elders’ Meeting.
Training and Working Together
Discussion on the second day turned to the need not just for initial training, but also for “in service” training as elders seek to be fully equipped for the responsible role that they exercise within our churches.
Then thoughts were shared about how elders might work together more effectively, both with one another and with ministers. Within our churches we are all aware that the shape of ministerial deployment is changing – something inevitable given the current climate. Clearly the way elders and ministers work together will need to change, and discussion focused on ways of viewing this as an opportunity rather than a threat.
What do we as churches want from Synod?
The conference closed with an open session for elders to feed back to synod moderator Lis Mullen what they want from Synod office. Suggestions included facilities for sharing stories and experiences using a variety of media such as the website, Facebook and Synod news, and the need to consider the training needs of everyone, not just elders.
Lis informed the conference that Synod are currently looking at training related posts in conjunction with North West Synod and also that she will be offering sessions on pastoral care together with Meg Rob. And elders were also encouraged to explore the courses offered by the Lindsfarne Regional Training Partnership.
Reactions to the Day
Elders attending found the event both challenging and encouraging. As one reported, “It was a really interesting, informative and challenging experience, and it was encouraging to see how much discussion went on both within and without the sessions and how open the attending elders were to the challenges we all face in the future.”
After the session “Changing Contexts for 21st Century Elders”, where insights and guesses were shared over how things may look in the next 10, 20 or more years, another commented, “I think we all left with a lot of thinking to do, and the need to convince elders not at the conference of what has to be done and how it might be done.”
One elder submitted a report to her own elder’s meeting which condluded “I came away having had my feelings regarding the nature and importance of Eldership affirmed and with lots of ideas and suggestions to take back to my own church. I hope that further events of this nature are able to take place and would actively encourage other Elders to participate.”
And a final comment, along the same lines: “We went away with food for thought and action. The 24 hours was an excellent use of time – highly recommended”.
So let’s hope it’s repeated!