The session governs a particular congregation. It is made up of elders elected by the congregation, plus all the installed pastors on the staff, including pastors, co-pastors, and associate pastors. (G-10.0101)
Serving as an Elder is a divine calling. While we might initially view participation on the church session as "taking our turn on the board," it's essential to recognize that our response to a nominating committee's invitation is guided by God. The role of a ruling elder is a ministry to which we are ordained. During the ordination process, ruling elders (and deacons) address the same questions as teaching elders (ministers), excluding those specifically related to the duties of the ministry. Ordination is a lifelong commitment, even though terms on the session are finite. When not actively serving on the session, a ruling elder remains eligible to fulfill various ministerial functions, such as serving as the clerk, assisting in sacrament administration, or acting as a commissioner to broader councils.
We are presbyterian, not congregational or episcopal. In congregational churches, decisions are reached through congregational meetings. Episcopal churches entrust decision-making authority to their bishops. Presbyterians, on the other hand, gather in assemblies comprised of individuals elected by those they serve to collectively make decisions. These elected individuals, known as presbyters, include ruling elders and teaching elders (also referred to as ministers of the Word and Sacrament). The majority of decisions are not made by individuals acting alone or by congregational votes; instead, the session is primarily responsible for decisions affecting the congregation's life. These decisions span from organizing worship, education, and spiritual development to managing the church's physical assets and adopting a budget.
There are four councils, or governing levels, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The session functions as the governing council of the congregation, and its members are elected by the congregation itself. The session includes a moderator or co-moderators and ruling elders, each serving for specified terms. The presbytery encompasses all the congregations and teaching elders in a designated district (G-3.0301). A synod represents a specific geographic area with a minimum of three presbyteries (G-3.0401). The General Assembly serves as the governing body for the entire church (G-3.0501). When these entities convene as deliberative bodies, they consist of commissioners, comprising both ruling elders and teaching elders in as balanced a number as possible.
Presbyters are commissioners, not delegates. Whether we're engaged in serving on our congregation's session or acting as a commissioner for presbytery, synod, or the General Assembly, our aim is to "find and represent the will of Christ" (F-3.0204), not merely the preferences of those who elected us. While we consider their opinions and stances, they do not restrict us. In our collective gatherings, we join in prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, actively listen, engage in discussions and debates, and cast our votes in accordance with the leading of the Spirit.
When presbyters are gathered as deliberative bodies, decisions are made by voting. After opportunity for discussion and discernment, “a majority shall govern” (F-3.0205). We use the most recent edition of “Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised” (RRONR) as our parliamentary authority (G-3.0105). RRONR is a tool that helps us determine the will of the body. It should never be used as a means of exercising power at the exclusion of fairness. We can understand this by keeping in mind three parliamentary principles which are identified in Marianne Wolfe’s booklet, “Parliamentary Procedures in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)”:
The rights and the unity of the body
shall be preserved;
The will of the majority shall prevail;
The rights of the minority shall
We bear in mind that Christ is the head of the church (F-1.02) and all of the business we conduct should be done in a way that builds up the body of Christ.
“Ruling” in the title of ruling elders is about measuring, not flexing power (G-2.0301). Their responsibility is to assess the spiritual well-being of the congregation under their stewardship and make decisions that enhance and fortify the congregation's discipleship. Ruling elders emulate the example set by Christ, leading through service and collaboration with session moderators and pastors.
Compassion is one of the characteristics of ruling elders. In many Presbyterian churches there are deacons who carry out ministries of compassion, witness and service (G-2.0201). In the Presbyterian churches that have chosen not to have deacons, “the function of this ordered ministry shall be the responsibility of the ruling elders and the session” (G-2.0202). In either case, part of the role of the session is to be a compassionate witness in the congregation and community.
We sometimes disagree. At times, individuals on church councils may sidestep disagreement to maintain a sense of "niceness" or perceived Christian conduct. Presbyterians have acknowledged since as far back as 1788 that "there are truths and forms with respect to which men (people) of good character and principles may differ," emphasizing the importance of practicing "mutual forbearance" (F-3.0105). Disagreement is not inherently negative, provided it is expressed in a manner that doesn't disrupt the "peace, unity, and purity of the church" (W-4.4003g).
We are a constitutional church. Presbyterians uphold the belief that our communal existence thrives when guided by "a disciplined concern for order" (F-2.08). Our constitution surpasses mere rules, consisting of two integral parts. Part 1, the Book of Confessions, encompasses 12 documents with roots spanning 1,800 years of church history. Part 2, the Book of Order, comprises four sections delineating the structure of our collective life. It's crucial to recognize that the foundational aspect is Part 1, the Book of Confessions, emphasizing that our polity's bedrock is our shared beliefs. The regulations in the Book of Order emanate from this foundation. Even within the Book of Order, the outset consists of a three-chapter overview of our beliefs (entitled The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity) before delving into the subsequent sections: The Form of Government, The Directory for Worship, and The Rules of Discipline. These dynamic documents undergo modifications through a specified process, potentially every two years.
We are a connectional church. Every congregation is interconnected within the Presbyterian family's network of relationships. In part, this interconnectedness means that both each congregation and its session are answerable to the larger church through the presbytery. This accountability is demonstrated through requirements for annual reporting and the review of session records. Presbyteries and synods, in turn, are accountable to the higher council. We are all collaborative participants in this shared journey. The decisions made by one council have a ripple effect on the work of another. Individuals ordained by a specific presbytery or session hold ordination within the entire church. Mutual support and prayers bind us together. Those chosen as ruling elders to serve on their sessions may also find themselves called upon to serve as commissioners to presbytery, synod, or the General Assembly.
The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Lynn Haven is comprised of three classes of three elders each.
CLERK OF SESSION: Rosa Stanley
MODERATOR: The Reverend Lisa W. Martin
CLASS OF 2023
Huey Hayes, Ann Fyfe
CLASS OF 2024
Don Mowat, Kathy Welsh
CLASS OF 2025
John Deegins, Rich Kangas
In the summer of 2019, the Session decided to start moving FPC toward a more "project-driven" way of doing the tasks of ministry previously handled through the committee process.
Focusing on projects will allow a greater number of people to participate in projects without extensive time commitments. These projects will be delegated by the various committees.
The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Lynn Haven has established the following committees (comprised of elders, laity, and staff):
FINANCE AND STEWARDSHIP
The Reverend Lisa Martin is member, ex officio, of all committees and may moderate as needed.