Saturday we got a first coat of paint on the boy’s walls. Since the kids have been taking karate, Computerguy and I have wanted to show them our formative karate movie: The Karate Kid. Online, I found a set of 4 discs for $4 (new, legit): Karate Kid 1,2,3 and the new one (the Jaden Smith one, alas, not the Hilary Swank one). So we watched Karate Kid Saturday night while I followed the Twitter feed for #GA222 moderator election. (The PC(USA) biennial General Assembly, our highest governing body, led by equal parts Teaching Elders (Reverends) and Ruling Elders (congregational governors), elected by Presbyteries.)
Since I have been following and admiring Jan Edmiston (A Church for Starving Artists) for years and Denise Anderson (SOULa Scriptura) more recently (but probably also years, just not as many), I was pleased with the outcome. One of the things I have liked about Edmiston is her support for and stance on ruling elders. She continually calls us to remember that we, too, are called and ordained. Deacons, ruling elders, teaching elders, all are called and ordained. There is no hierarchy of ministry. Ordained or not, we believe we are all ministers. In the Rev. Edmiston’s world, every ruling elder would have a sermon at the ready in case someone needed to step in at the last minute, every ruling elder would be practicing pastoral care, every ruling elder would have a vision for moving the Church forward, every ruling elder would live into that calling.
The Rev. Anderson, too, understands this. She writes eloquently in There’s a Woman in the Pulpit about the limbo of serving as pulpit supply and as an associate in a church during the limbo time between graduating from seminary and receiving an ordain-able call, a time when she had all the credentials, but not the title, and may have been considered “less than.”
Most places, Edmiston’s vision is not reality. There is Anderson’s feeling of “less than” for those who have not been ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (an old title, replaced by the General Assembly by Teaching Elder for just the reasons I am enumerating, but still in common usage). I’ve written about this before. There is a divide between teaching elders and ruling elders. Some teaching elders, intentionally or not, believe this and set up a “some-elders-are-more-equal-than-others” structure, particularly perhaps those who come from other denominations and cultures. Perhaps more problematic, many ruling elders don’t see themselves as the leaders of the church. Many presbyterian ruling elders don’t feel they have the scriptural or polity knowledge to have that kind of authority. So the teaching elders become overburdened because they are supervising everyone instead of working in partnership. It’s a culture that is difficult to change.
So I was disappointed reading the twitter feed to hear people talk about the one Ruling Elder standing for co-moderator making just those disparaging kinds of statements about himself. “I’m just a ruling elder” (evidently repeatedly) “I’m not a minister.” You are standing to be the face and voice of the denomination, to lead the people; if you don’t think you are an elder, period, and also a minister, why are you standing for moderator and why are you giving that message to all the ruling elder commissioners who have been charged with leading the denomination (not to mention the handful of us who are following from home)? It’s disappointing. The now-former moderator–Heath Rada, #GA221–was a Ruling Elder Moderator. He preached the sermon at the Saturday opening worship service and stood with a teaching elder behind the communion table (so she was presiding, but he was co-celebrating). This was the example we had, but the culture of “just a ruling elder” pervades.
Because it has been on their radar, I am hopeful that this is one of the things the Revs. Edmiston and Anderson will influence as they see visions and dream dreams with our church the next 104 weeks.