Role of the Session
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
FOUR COMPONENTS OF CALL
Theologian Richard Niebuhr wrote much about vocation and “call” in the Christian church. He described “four components of call,” which will be helpful as you consider endorsing a person to become an inquirer or to move to candidacy.
Disciple of Christ: Each of us at our baptism is called to live as a disciple of Christ. As disciples, we seek to live “holy and joyful” lives, telling the truth; living honestly; exhibiting love, compassion, humility, and morality; and growing in maturity in Christ. Look for these qualities in any who seek your endorsement as an inquirer or candidate in ministry.
Call of the Holy Spirit: One being called into ministry experiences what Niebuhr calls the “secret call,” the personal touch of the Holy Spirit on his/her life. Look for evidence of this personal call in an individual seeking your endorsement.
Evidence of Gifts for Ministry: There are many types of pastors who bring a variety of talents to meet different needs within the larger Church. Essential gifts for any ministry include good communication skills, a love of people, imagination and creativity, humility, personal strength and confidence.
Preparation for Ministry: The “ecclesiastical call” represents an individual’s process of preparation and affirmation for ministry by the Church. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this process includes academic and spiritual preparation as well as endorsement by the local session and the presbytery.
When a session endorses a member to become an inquirer, it should appoint a liaison to be a point of contact between the session and the individual. The session must complete its portion of Form 1 as well as Forms 2A and 2B and forward these to the CPM.
Psychological/career counseling is required when an individual requests endorsement by the CPM. It is customary for the sending church to cover the cost of this two-day process, which is conducted at a career counseling center approved by the CPM.
Before meeting with a prospective candidate, the session must have received from the inquirer and distributed to its members copies of Form 5A along with other paperwork required by the CPM. Following endorsement for candidacy, the session should complete its portion of Form 5A and as well as Form 5B and forward all paperwork to the CPM. In deciding to endorse an inquirer for a move to candidacy, both the session and CPM will assess whether the person has completed his/her exploratory phase and shown evidence of suitability for ministry and a desire to fully prepare for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The candidacy phase officially begins when the presbytery affirms the session’s and CPM’s endorsement of an inquirer to become a candidate.
The primary role of the liaison is to establish and maintain a line of communication between the inquirer/candidate and the session. The liaison may contact the inquirer/candidate prior to each session meeting to learn how s/he is doing and what needs s/he might have, including prayer needs. The session liaison should also plan to attend the inquirer’s/candidate’s annual consultations and other meetings with the CPM. Regular communication confirms to the inquirer/candidate that s/he is still considered an important member of the church family.
The process of preparation for ordained ministry is a rigorous one, involving graduate level study, completion of special examinations, field work in both church and clinical pastoral care settings, personal introspection, and challenges toward greater spiritual, emotional and moral growth. The process may place a financial strain and other stresses on individuals and families.
An inquirer or candidate needs to feel that s/he can be candid with the session about personal challenges and needs. While it is expected that the session and CPM will exchange appropriate information with one another on a “need to know” basis, it is also expected that the session will – to the greatest degree possible – honor the confidentiality of the inquirer or candidate.
SUPPORTING OUR INQUIRER/CANDIDATE
You also may support your inquirer/candidate by offering opportunities for worship leadership, including preaching during the second and third year of seminary. Finally, your inquirer/candidate will benefit from prayers and words of support from members of your congregation.