Your Role as a Session in Preparation for Ministry
The church session in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has the responsibility and the privilege of participating in the process by which an individual prepares for ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. This guide includes (1) a summary of the process an individual completes in order to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament and (2) the role and responsibilities of the session in relation to the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). You will often be referred to as “the sending church” or “the endorsing church,” and indeed, an individual’s local church is the first to affirm that individual’s gifts for ministry.
The process of preparation for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has two phases; Inquiry Phase and Candidacy Phase. These two phases enable individuals and the Church to explore their sense of call, evaluate their gifts for ministry, and prepare for the work of ordained ministry. Both the Inquiry Phase and the Candidacy Phase of the process nurture and test the individual’s development in five key areas: Education for Ministry, Spiritual and Faith Development, Interpersonal Relations, Personal Growth, and Professional Development. For this purpose, the presbytery enters a covenant relationship with those preparing to become ministers of the Word and Sacraments and with their sessions and congregations. Foothills Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry oversees this process for those under its care. While both the local session and the CPM provide support and encouragement to inquirers and candidates, it is the ultimate responsibility of the CPM to determine the fitness of its candidates. In this sense, it serves a “gate-keeping” role. The local session takes the lead role in providing pastoral care and support for its inquirers and candidates, taking seriously its responsibility in endorsing individuals with genuine gifts for ministry.
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.
The inquirer phase begins when a person who has been an active member of a congregation for at least six months is endorsed by his/her session and received as an inquirer by the CPM. This phase provides time for the individual and the Church to explore the person’s suitability for ministry of Word and Sacrament (G-2.0603). For a session to endorse an individual to become an inquirer, the session must have received and distributed to its members copies of Form 1, most of which is completed by the potential inquirer. Prior to reviewing Form 1 and meeting with the potential inquirer, the session should contact the CPM to schedule an orientation to the process.
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.
The purpose of the candidacy phase is to provide full preparation for persons to serve the Church as ministers of Word and Sacrament. The inquirer and candidacy phases shall continue for a period of no less than two years, including at least one year as a candidate (G-2.0602).
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.
When the session approves an individual to come under care as an inquirer, it appoints a liaison to serve as its primary contact with the Inquirer. While it is typical for the liaison to be an elder currently serving on session, that is not required. If the liaison is not currently serving on the session, s/he should plan to report regularly to the session about the inquirer’s or candidate’s progress and needs.
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
In addition to covering the cost of required psychological/career counseling, many churches provide other financial support, such as helping a student pay for seminary textbooks or providing direct financial aid. The financial support you provide will depend upon your church’s resources and your student’s needs. Often, the seminary’s financial aid officer can suggest ways that you can best help support your 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.
Forms and Guidelines
All required forms used throughout the process may be downloaded from the Foothills Presbytery website. They may be found under the Committee on Preparation tab, labeled “PCUSA Forms.” In addition, the CPM’s Manual for Inquirers and Candidates may be found under the same tab, labeled “Foothills Guidelines.”