In Search of Sabbath

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Adriene Thorne

I am sore afraid that the ruling elders in my church are working two jobs, at least – the one they get paid to do and the unpaid one they do to the glory of God. Too often, church looks like their second job – their second job with long hours and lots of demands. While I am grateful for the working relationships I enjoy with dozens of dynamic, creative elders, I am also on a mission to reclaim sabbath for us all. I hope you will join me.

I began feeling nervous last fall when an elder in my church told me that when she and her husband retire at the end of this year, they would probably take a break from church. I murmured, “Oh, visiting family and friends? Traveling abroad?” She replied, “No, I think we will take a break from church because… maybe we’re tired?” She spoke in a little chipmunk voice with her hands in front of her face as though she thought I would smite her! She went on to share that she wanted a break from lying awake at night wondering if the boiler would work on Sunday morning. She needed a reprieve from coming to church and answering questions about the building, the insurance, and the new church carpet. She wanted to be free of the burdens of doing ministry in a 200-year-old building that had spilled into her life over the course of more than two decades of service. She was in search of a sabbath, and I couldn’t blame her. Just listening to the many responsibilities she carried out made me want to take a nap!

It isn’t just my elder, and it isn’t just my church. Over the past six months I’ve queried lay leaders from a few churches around the country who have shared with me both their satisfaction in serving and their joy in finally being done. Elders I spoke with thanked God their time of service had ended. Every. Single. One.

As I attend conferences and connect with ruling elders from all walks of life, I am reminded that I signed up for this work, that I trained for it, and that I love it. It is my calling and my job. I take a sabbath rest two days of nearly every week, but many of my elders work all week at their paying job and then work many evenings and all weekend at their church job. A colleague recently said to me that church work, done right, is life giving. Yes, that is true, but I am also listening to the stories and looking into the faces of elders who look anything but alive.

I realize that the language I’ve heard thrown around in ministry that says lay leaders are unpaid staff, is problematic. First and foremost, lay leaders are members of the body of Christ entrusted to the care of their pastor. They, as much as any member, and sometimes more than most, need the pastoral attention of their teaching elder. And if the only or primary conversations we are having with them are about budgets and attendance and volunteering more of their time, then something is wrong. Where and what is sabbath for ruling elders?

I’ve started a self-scheduling calendar for elders at my church. They can put themselves on my calendar for an agenda free tea date as often as they need one. Occasionally, I will invite one or two or several over for dinner with me and my family and say bring your partner and kids. Sometimes I’ll grab a glass of wine with an elder at a local bar after I’ve put my kid to bed, and always when we gather, I’m creating sabbath. The only rule is that church conversations are banned. Often, we laugh, share stories, and learn something new about one another, and for that hour, there are no demands on us to accomplish anything more than the tending of ourselves. My elders love pondering where God is in their lives right now and what it is their soul needs. The hour leaves us feeling loved and fed.

We are all slowly starting to come back to life at my church. It is imperfect, and we still do too much. September is already jam-packed, but things thin out by Reformation Sunday. The best part is that we are doing a better job of being on the lookout for Sabbath and asking the questions that make ministry possible and most importantly, life giving and restful.


Adriene Thorne serves as pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn in New York City where the community seeks to tell God’s story of love and justice in creative and transformative ways. Find her on Facebook at Adriene.Thorne.Minister, on Twitter at @AdrieneThorne and on Instagram at revadriene.

Building Relationships through Mission and Pastoral Care

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sue Williams

This February, when I learned that I may be experiencing another diagnosis of breast cancer, the first person I called was my husband. The next person I told was my Pastor, Rev. Jane Summey Mullennix.

Jane became my go-to person as she offered me pastoral care along this new cancer journey. The trust I had in Jane came from the many times that we worked together in various groups, she as the staff liaison and I as a lay leader.

One committee that we both serve on is the Mission Committee. My heart and passion for mission opportunities is one of the reasons I volunteered to serve on our Mission Committee. In November 2005 and several years thereafter, I joined members of my congregation as we traveled to a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance site in D’Iberville, MS, to help in the recovery and rebuilding of that community after Hurricane Katrina. It was during these experiences that I witnessed firsthand the deepening of relationships not only with those that I served beside but also the people of D’Iberville. I longed to see our church engage in outreach to other communities struck by natural disaster. In the spring of 2017, I shared my desire with Jane and the Mission Committee, and they encouraged me to see what opportunities might be available in my home state of South Carolina.

I had the energy and vision and researched our options. Jane offered her support, and together through collaborative leadership we planned a 2018 intergenerational spring break mission trip to Summerton, SC. We had 12 volunteers planning to go on the trip, ages 11-75, with a wide variety of abilities.

When I learned of my diagnosis in March, only one month before our mission trip, I was concerned that I might not be able to participate. It was around that time that one of our most skilled volunteers discovered that he would not be able to go. Needless to say, I was quite discouraged and thought we might have to cancel the trip. When I found out that my medical care could be put on hold for a week, I spread the word that the trip would still happen! This met with great enthusiasm, especially from Jane.

While on the trip, we shared many memorable moments. Jane led the way in showing us that taking the time to listen to someone share their story brought about a sense of healing and hope. Together we shared laughter, tears and sometimes even frustration. Through God’s grace, our humble, enthusiastic group was able to complete the tasks that were assigned to us. I told Jane that our week in Summerton is what I envision the Kingdom of God being like. She responded, “It was a kingdom adventure. In many ways, our group was kind of a representation of the kingdom with all our quirks and differences, but united in our love for God, neighbor, and one another!” We eagerly anticipate an opportunity to return and serve together again.

I attended a workshop at the 2018 NEXT Church National Gathering entitled “Leadership Essentials for Laity.” During that workshop the presenter, Dr. Ann A. Michel, stated that “Trust is the foundation of constructive engagement.” I believe it was the trust Jane placed in me to plan and organize this trip that has led to a rich and rewarding relationship with her as my pastor. As Jane continues to walk with me on this journey with cancer, I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our next adventure!


Sue Hicks Williams serves as a Deacon, Stephen Minister, and Mission Committee member at Oakland Ave. Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, SC. Sue is a Special Needs educator in the Rock Hill School District. She enjoys long walks, reading and spending time with family and friends.

Recognizing We All Have Gifts

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Marsha Somers McElroy

When we ask how we grow working relationships to meet the needs of a ministry, we have only to look to the text in Ephesians 4:11-16. There are many gifts and God calls us to many types of ministry. We often forget that no gift is more important than the other. Do we really think the pastor is the only one who can amplify scripture reading, the only one who can pray (or ask a blessing!), the only one who can comfort and support grieving families? If we believe in the priesthood of believers then, of course, those statements are untrue. However, I have heard on many occasions an elder say, “I’m just an elder.” Is that said to abdicate responsibility or because one really feels inferior? Healthy working relationships will first need to break through this wall. There are many gifts and those gifts are to be used to serve our Lord.

Part of breaking the wall is learning about the gifts of others. Within the last several years I was recruited to chair a committee to discuss ways we might use our church plant during the week to serve a community need. As a social worker working with older adults, I had interests and skills related to this area of need in the community. So I was keen to be a part of this discussion. The pastor recruited others with similar interests and some with skills and interests around the needs of children. Our discussions were lively and all over the map till we began to narrow our focus. We now have a bilingual preschool meeting in one of our buildings that is used only a little during the week. We learned a lot in the process and continue to rejoice at the work God is doing. Using our gifts as the Spirit worked among us!

Many years ago I was in a civic club and served as an officer. The first time we gathered to make plans for our group the president’s first question was “What do I need to know about you so that we can work together well?” I thought that question was brilliant. I remember that as a fun and rewarding year. That leader respected us enough to want to know our perspective and that engendered our respect for her and for one another. Along with respect was trust that we would work together for the health of our group. This experience is nothing different than being on a local governing body.

Volunteers and staff have other essential roles to fill. What is it like to walk in the shoes of staff: There are many bosses, right?! Members of the congregation who are quick to point out flaws and eager to triangulate staff to “solve” issues… Staff regularly sees persons who are sick, angry, dying, and grieving and persons with lots of questions. The sadness must be overwhelming at times. Church officers have similar experiences but with less intensity and frequency. Here is the opportunity for mutual support. Who doesn’t relish empathy in the midst of turmoil or deep sadness? Who doesn’t need to be encouraged to carry on or to be reminded that God is with even when things are messy?

Along with support and empathy, working relationships are made much stronger with expressions of appreciation. The simple “Thank you” is very powerful. Finding ways for expressing simple gratitude is necessary and can be a powerful support. And, of course, this is mutual – staff to volunteer; volunteer to staff.

The actions are simple really – listening, learning about one another, showing gratitude, recognizing and using gifts, respecting, supporting, encouraging. There is time involved and a certain amount of intentionality. But strong working relationships are faithful and essential to the health of a congregation.


Marsha Somers McElroy is a ruling elder at Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Marsha received her BA from Queens College and MSW at UNC Chapel Hill. She has served as director of Christian education, serving churches in North Carolina for 21 years. She also served as a social worker with older adults, primarily as a caregiver support specialist. She lives in Long Creek with her husband, Bill, and cat, Max.

The Makings of a Vital Partnership

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Katie Harrington & Kelley Hames

Pastors and volunteers rely on one another to make ministry happen at local churches, but how does a successful relationship work? At Sardis Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rev. Katie Harrington, associate pastor for families, and Kelly Hames, a ruling elder, have a vital partnership that enhances the children’s ministry at their church.

Kelly: I have an exceptional relationship with my pastor. What makes it so special you may ask?

Photo from Sardis Presbyterian Church Facebook page.

I have given it a lot of thought and what continues to impress as unique and powerful is that my pastor appreciates my vocation: a divine call to God’s service in the church as a volunteer. She has a care for my gifts and a desire to help me use them to the glory of God… always nurturing me, gently leading me, and sometimes challenging me in the development of those gifts. She treats me as a partner in ministry worthy of respect and gratitude. This, in my opinion, is the true secret of our relationship and ability to work well together: we’re equal members of the same cohort with different calls to service, both necessary in the church.

For my part, I believe that elders are called to embrace new thoughts and ideas. The culture in which the church exists is constantly changing. The church should adapt if we want to be relevant now and into the future. There are so many opportunities these days for ruling elders to increase in knowledge and wisdom — through continuing education and associations, to name just two. We should take advantage of these resources so that, in partnership with pastors and staff, we can grow with and lead the church through all the tides of change.

Katie: One of the joys of serving the Church is discovering leaders in the church who not only make the ministry happen, but make it thrive. Kelly is one of those ruling elders at Sardis Presbyterian. With a passion for children’s ministry, and lots of experience and training, she makes church work exciting and inspiring. Our relationship enhances my ministry to the whole congregation, and our collective ministry to the children and parents of our church. We truly are partners, and inspire one another to do exciting new things for our families.

One of the challenges of ministry is finding volunteers — there are always holes to fill for Sunday School teachers, youth advisers, coffee hour hosts, ushers, greeters. You name a role in the church, and we need a volunteer to do it. The joy of ministry is when we ask someone to fill a role for whom that role becomes a vocation, a calling. And then, we teaching elders need to step back, trust and support their leadership, and give them lots of encouragement along the way, building a vital partnership that benefits all of God’s kingdom.


Kelly Hames is from Mobile, Alabama, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Accounting from the University of South Alabama, and in 2012 graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary with a Masters in Christian Education. In 2008 she was ordained as a Ruling Elder in the PCUSA. She now lives in North Carolina where she is a member of Sardis Presbyterian Church.

At various times she has served on Finance, Member Care, Missions, Worship, Children’s Christian Education, and Elementary Faith Formation Committees. She served as Interim Director of Children’s Christian Education at Matthews Presbyterian Church twice and in between that as the Director of Children’s Ministries at Indian Trail Presbyterian Church. She now thoroughly enjoys doing similar work as a volunteer at Sardis.

She lives with her disabled sister, their seven fur babies, likes to read, enjoys card-making and adores fantasy science fiction (especially dragons). She has a passion for children’s ministry and delights in her favorite role as Sunday School Teacher.

Katie Harrington is associate pastor for families at Sardis Presbyterian Church in Charlotte NC, where she enjoys serving families in every sense of the word family. Originally from Ohio, after 13 years, she has now settled into life in the South, assisted by marrying a native Charlottean and raising two southern kids!

Ready or Not, God Calls

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Todd Muldrew

Just over two years ago I received a phone call from my pastor. She wished to know if I would serve as an elder. Honestly, it’s flattering when a leader at your church calls to ask if you’re willing to lead, too. But I was uncertain.

I was relatively new to Presbyterianism, but I was at a point in my relationship with my church where I was willing to step up when called. I spoke with my wife, a lifelong Presbyterian and elder. She explained the commitment to me, both in faith and in time. I was ready. I was excited.

Image from Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church Facebook page

Because I was working often with our mission group, I assumed that is where I would plug in. But instead, I was asked to serve on the Christian Education and Formation committee – which includes a major focus on Sunday School. Now, I will admit to being a sporadic attendee to the Sunday School hour. But I said to myself, “This is where God must need me, so I will have faith that it’s the right place for me to be.” Then I went to my first meeting. By the end of that meeting it became clear that I was not just going to be on the committee – I was being asked to moderate the committee. My heart skipped a few beats. Who was I, as a part-time Sunday School participant, to moderate such an important part of the life of our church? Had there been a mistake?

The very next month, I was asked to give the devotional at our first meeting of the new session. In doing so, I found both guidance and peace. I discovered an article entitled “Wait Until You Get to the Corner.” It’s about a young pastor who is anxious and uncertain about what God has in store for him. An older pastor counsels him to walk the path before him with God, and not to worry about where the corner is or what’s beyond it until God reveals it. “Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be.” The author counsels us at the end: “There’s a line in a song, ‘I will go, Lord, where you want me to go.’ We might add, ‘And I will stay, Lord, where you want me to stay.’ And when we know that we are at a place and in a position because God has put us there, it takes a lot of stress out of it.”

It does indeed. God knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and yet here I am. I have faith that I am playing a role in God’s plan for our congregation, regardless of my inability to see around the corner.

As I took this leap of faith, the pastors and staff have been incredible partners in our work. Our children and youth programs are growing rapidly. This growth is wonderful, but it requires an evolution in our priorities and new commitments from our congregation.

One of the biggest challenges we face is awareness and buy-in. My first year, I took time to observe the process of this committee as I stepped gently into my role. Much decision-making seemed to take place with just the moderators and staff. When I listened to congregation members not privy to these meetings, I heard people complaining that such-and-such wasn’t happening in their child’s Sunday School – when, in fact, such things were happening. There was a disconnect between perception and reality.

This year, we have widened the circle of people who are involved in the committee’s work. Consulting with the pastors and staff, we have both solicited and personally invited interested and concerned members to our visioning meetings. This not only increases our awareness of the different needs of our members, but also gives us a conduit back to the congregation to explain what is going on – and why. The response has been rewarding, both in new ideas and greater understanding from the congregation.

I am prayerful that this momentum will continue to grow in the years to come. In the meantime, I remind myself “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!” Ps. 27:14. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us next.


Todd Muldrew is member of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He gladly serves as an elder and moderator of the Christian Education and Formation Committee of the session.

Removing “Just” From our Vocabulary

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Lisa Raymaker and Heather Newgreen

Growing up, pastors were always on a pedestal – set apart by God, always doing and saying the right things, seemingly without fault. As we get older, perspectives change. Set apart by God is still true, called for a special service is true… AND we are ALL set apart, we are ALL called for a special service. Responding to that call sometimes makes us feel inadequate.”But I’m just a layperson, how am I equipped to answer that call?” God doesn’t pay attention to the “just.” He/She gave each of us particular gifts and calls us to use them, regardless of whether we think we’re up to the task.

Business people connecting puzzle pieces

We’ve been able to believe this more because of our relationships with our pastor. He treats us as an equal in the body of Christ and encourages us to lead where we are called. In the beginning, it’s normal to feel that we need to be careful with our words, to put our best foot forward. We are in a church, after all. As we work together more as the hands and feet of Christ in our faith community and in our city, we can become more comfortable being our authentic selves, for better or worse. We have learned that it’s alright to question the way things are done; to speak the truth in love; to challenge each other to think, love, and serve more deeply. We learned that our thoughts and ideas are valued, and that the diversity of our thoughts is exactly what the church needs.

The relationship between a pastor and an elder can be summed up in one word: equals. We should be listening to each other, questioning each other, and trusting that we are capable to serve in the roles where God has placed us. When a congregation sees that the elders they elected are working in partnership with their pastor and not for their pastor, they can trust that their voices are being heard.

We believe there are three components to making a teaching elder and ruling elder partnership successful (of course, there are three – thank you, Triune God): always making room for the Holy Spirit to move and lead us, the teaching elder valuing and encouraging the work of lay leaders, and the ruling elder believing in and using their spiritual gifts. God’s call comes in many different forms and at different volumes. It can be a burning bush and it can be a whisper. It can be to serve as a pastor and it can be to use your skills as a business person to help lead your faith community into uncharted territory. If we listen, if we respond, if we work together as equals in the body of Christ, if we get rid of the “just” in our vocabulary, God will lead us to amazing places.


Lisa Raymaker is a member of Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, and a ruling elder. After serving a 3-year term on the Session at Caldwell, she is chairing the Hope Committee, which is part of the new Gambrell Social Justice Fellowship program, and the Touchpoint Committee, which focuses on Caldwell’s outreach to the Charlotte LGBTQ community. Lisa works in the insurance industry and her husband, Patrick, is a musician.

Heather Newgreen was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church. She was ordained and installed as an Elder in 2009 and recently reinstalled in 2018. Heather currently serves as the Chair of Christian Formation where she oversees the education programs from infants to adults for Caldwell Presbyterian Church. She has remained an active volunteer in many of the church’s educational programs such as Godly Play, Youth Sunday School, and Confirmation. Though she holds a degree in music, Heather works for a non-profit that provides financing to small businesses. Her husband Kyle, and their two small children, James and Emily, are her greatest blessings.

Establishing/Maintaining a Working Relationship with Your Pastor 101

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Barbara Cannon

Having been a member of five Presbyterian churches, I have some experience with new pastors, either my being new to the church or the pastor coming on the field of my church. There are a number of pastors and their spouses with whom I share longtime friendships and insight into the relationships they experience within their congregations. These circumstances have led me to want a close relationship with my pastor and family.

Initial meetings are important. After a period for settling in, schedule a brief appointment to introduce yourself. This is an excellent way to begin your relationship. Express support for his/her ministry and a positive attitude about the future of the church. Avoid posturing, recitation of personal accomplishments, and litanies of church problems. Ask “How can we together accomplish the mission of the church?” Don’t expect the pastor to remember your name after this meeting. When you next see each other, give your name again.

Establish a personal relationship as soon as possible. Invite the pastor and their family into your home. If the pastor is new to the presbytery, use the opportunity to invite other local pastors in the presbytery or community. I have done this on several occasions and found it a good way for the pastor to make contacts that will benefit them throughout their tenure in the area.

Written or electronic notes to the family are appreciated, especially on special occasions. I send a note of thanks to the family on the yearly anniversary of my pastor’s arrival at the church. Notes of encouragement or congratulations after a particularly meaningful sermon or a contentious problem are most appropriate.

Recognize the knowledge and education of your pastor. I remember asking my minister Randy Taylor, former Moderator of the General Assembly, the meaning of a word he used in a sermon. I increased my vocabulary and he recognized there were worshippers who were listening intently.

Remember the spouse and children. They are often left out of the early assimilation. On one occasion, an ex-officio position on the Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women was created for the wife of the new minister. The pastor called to express his gratitude. She met and worked closely with a group of women in this capacity. A bond was formed almost immediately. Children can be invited for play dates or birthday parties. Their parents will be grateful for these gestures.

Encourage the pastor to fulfill his/her duties to the broader church. Often a pastor is uncertain if a congregation is supportive of the mandate for a pastor to serve in the broader governing bodies. Pastors need to be with their peers, especially if they are in isolated areas.

When you have things to discuss with the pastor, make an appointment. Respect his/her time, keeping a list of items to include in the meeting. Wait until you have several topics before you meet. If there are items the pastor needs to prepare, mention those when you make the appointment. I am often guilty of trying to give information to the pastor or ask questions of the pastor at inappropriate times (at a bereavement reception for instance). If this is truly necessary, write it down for him/her. I am working on this.

Do not be a tattletale unless you are the one confessing.

Say yes when your pastor asks you to serve the church.

All of these suggestions, simple though they be, will establish a relationship that will serve you and your pastor well. If the time comes when either of you feels a need to provide constructive criticism, you will have the mutual respect that allows the exchange.


Barbara S. Cannon is a ruling elder, not currently on the session, at Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Huntersville, NC. She is a former Moderator of Charlotte Presbytery, formerly Mecklenburg Presbytery. Her service to Presbytery includes serving on the Permanent Judicial Commission, Christian Education Committee, Preparation for Ministry Committee and presently the Committee on Ministry.

Tips for Working in Mutual Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Grace Lindvall, Kim Nims, and Sherese Smith

This is our common calling, to be disciples and servants of our servant Lord. Within the community of the church, some are called to particular service as deacons, as elders, and as ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
– Ordination and installation services for elders and deacons, Book of Occasional Services

Working together as ruling elders and ministers is essential to our identity as Presbyterians; it is also the heart of much joy, collegiality, and growth. The church works its best when we work together as different officers in the church, when we recognize our particular services to the church while keeping our eyes always fixed on our common calling.

Photo of Trinity Presbyterian session from their Facebook page

While the church works its best when we work together in mutual ministry, there are, and have been, and will be bumps along the road. After all, we’re humans working together in relationships that are unlike any other: we’re pastor and parishioner – which can mean muddied waters sometimes. Who is responsible for what? Who has the greater stake in the church? Where are the boundaries supposed to lie? Who holds who accountable? How can we push each other without hurting each other? How do we mix business and pleasure and worship?

Sure, any one of these could prove to be hard – even impossible – hurdles to jump to find healthy working relationships but over the two years we’ve found that it is possible to move through them. And, amazingly, not only is it possible to get past them but the relationship that comes from it can be more than special, and downright sacred.

As we reflected on what works for us, themes kept bubbling to the surface, things we’ve done and learned:

Respecting our individual calls to ordained ministry – ordained lay leaders and ordained ministers

First things first: the most important part of our unique relationship becoming a sacred relationship is our respect of one another’s callings. Blessedly, each of us has had the opportunity to see and be a part of the other’s ordinations or installations. We’ve laid hands on one another in prayer and seen that it is God who has called us all to these unique roles in the church. We respect that one calling is not higher than the other, but that we have been mutually called to serve God and Christ’s church.

Sharing together

Before we are minister or elders or leaders, we are humans. When we meet together we bring our days, weeks, joys, and sadnesses with us. Part of the beauty of this special relationship is that it is special and unique. In what other working relationship do you get to sit down and tell your partners that you are frustrated because of your kids behavior and need advice, gush about a recent engagement, or share that you are stepping down from a working role and seeing where God leads you? Sharing together has become a part of our time together. Before we cut to business, we check in with who we are as humans and who we are as disciples. We share joys with one another, we share grief, we share scripture, we share our faith, we share our doubts, and we share our prayers.

On the topic of sharing, share a meal together – share a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a lunch. Break bread together. We’ve become convinced that our sacred relationship is sacred because of this sharing.

Being willing to be surprised and even wrong

Some of our greatest joys in ministry have come when we found out we were wrong. Some of our biggest successes in ministry have come from what we did not plan. When we come together without agenda of what we want the other to say or the direction we hope the meeting will take, the Holy Spirit shows up and surprises us. It’s amazing what happens when we sit back and watch without agenda, and cling instead only to the hope of the Spirit’s movement in our conversations.

What ways is your sacred relationship between elder and minister shaping your ministry?


Kim Nims is a 59 year old wife, mother of 3, and grandmother of 2. She is a graduate of Columbia College in South Carolina. Formerly, she has served as a piano teacher and as director of music and activities for children and youth in PCUSA churches in Georgia and North Carolina. Kim has recently retired from serving for 14 years as a Teaching Leader and Area Advisor with Bible Study Fellowship International. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. For fun, Kim enjoys walking 1000 miles a year, traveling, and spending time with her family and her dog.

Grace Lindvall serves as Associate Pastor for Mission and Church Growth at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Before arriving in Charlotte Grace graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary where she had the opportunity to learn from wonderful teachers and classmates. She enjoyed the opportunity to serve in different ministry settings ranging from suburban church youth work to immersive Mission experiences in Baltimore and Rwanda. While Grace loves a good “covered dish” at church she also loves to cook, laugh with friends, share stories, and spend time with her fiance, Matt.

Sherese Smith is a 49-year-old wife and mother of 2. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and received a Masters in the Art of Teaching from Queens University. Formerly she taught school for 5 years in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system, and then worked for 8 years in Human Resources for Bank of America. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. In her spare time, she volunteers at her kids’ schools, plays tennis, walks her dog, Sadie, and shuttles her kids to their after-school sports.

A Very Special Relationship

by Suzanne Davis

Rulering Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri, and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann , co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA). (Photo by Michael Whitman)

There I am in total Presbyterian geekiness watching the election of our new co-moderators at the General Assembly this past June on streaming video, seeing a teaching elder and ruling elder elected as co-moderators. They said they were a reflection of the shared leadership of the Presbyterian church, teaching elder and ruling elder.

As they stood together on the stage, I pondered the relationship between those who are pastors and those who are not, and how indeed they do share together in the work and wonder of the church. Because we’re all in this, how do we do it? How does the pastor work with the those who often have little time for the church work? How does the church leader shore up their own spiritual insecurity to lead others? What is this special sauce of a working relationship that is beyond amateur and pro?

My own experience working with pastors at the nine churches which I attended in the past 26 years was that I was the willing pair of hands and the pastor was the connector and resource person. Until recently, the longest that I had lived in any one area was 3 years. Being involved and participating in NEXT Church has been the longest “church” relationship of my adult life. God bless those patient souls who have been around for my formation! Through NEXT Church, I have learned about the trends of church membership, about innovative ministries all over the US, about Cultivated Ministry (How do you define success and enliven old leadership models?), and community organizing (Revolutionary thought – Get to know people and have more than an everyday pleasant exchange at least once). Probably the biggest idea which has taken a hold on me is that we are indeed in this church thing together, pulpit-filler and pew-sitter, west and east, north and south, conservative and progressive, small and large church, rural and urban. We each bring a point of view that is valuable, important, and worthy of hearing.

This month in the blog, you will hear from singular voices as well as collaborative voices reflecting on this working relationship of teaching elders and ruling elders. Many of the authors are from the Charlotte area, where most were involved in the NEXT Church Elder Symposium held last year. You will also hear from a pastor who was “checking out” the NEXT Church National Gathering to see if the elders and leaders from their church would be a good fit. The message there is that it is important to share the experience with the pew-sitters in their church!

And on that very important note –

Peace be with you all!


Suzanne Davis is a ruling elder on the NEXT Church strategy team where she is challenged and stretched to move into roles she never thought were her ability! She is a proud spouse of a retired military officer with 2 children that are on their own. While she loves travel, she also enjoys staying in with the dog and cat!