Friday 7th August 2020 Basis of Union 23
Acts 20:17, 28, 31-35
From Miletus (Paul) sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: “… Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son … Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no-one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Some are called to be elders. They share with Ministers of the Word and Sacraments in the pastoral oversight and leadership of the local churches, taking counsel together in the elders’ meeting for the whole church and having severally groups of members particularly entrusted to their pastoral care. They shall be associated with Ministers in all the councils of the church. Elders elected by the church meeting are ordained to their office and are inducted to serve for such limited period as the church which elects them shall determine. All elders are eligible for re-election, and those elected shall enter upon their office by induction. On moving to another local church an ordained Elder is eligible for election by that church to the elders’ meeting, and, if so elected, is inducted. The ordination and induction of elders shall be carried out in the course of public worship by a Minister of the local church (or, during a pastoral vacancy, by the interim moderator) acting with the serving elders. (23)
I thank God for elders – for this pattern of Christian service, and for a host of fine people who fulfil it. Eldership is one of the treasures of the URC. Here are some of the reasons we value it so highly.
Elders are both lay and ordained. With roots and experience in wider society, they lead and care for the church. Appointed as individuals, they work as a team. They are chosen by the local congregation, for a role recognised by the URC as a whole. We ordain them because this ministry – linking church and world, locally rooted, operating as a team – is an ‘essential element’ of our shared life, a key ingredient for healthy Church order.
I notice two practical themes in today’s scripture passage. One is vigilance: ‘keep watch … be alert’. An elder lives in two worlds – Church and wider society. To stand on the boundary is to see the dangers and the opportunities. The Church is not an island. We belong to the local community, and we represent Christ within it. Elders are well placed to understand this.
The second theme is generosity: ‘God’s grace … support the weak … it is blessed to give’. Eldership is demanding. It asks people to offer to God a lot of time, energy and compassion. Pastoring needs patience. Leadership must be given in love. Caring can be costly. Supporting others will stretch us. Yet this is God’s church, brought into being through the suffering love of Jesus. We are not in this on our own. Grace and goodness are behind us, with us and among us.
Eldership is a big ask. I see many people in the URC who have given a big answer to that ask, and I thank God for them.
For the elders among us we pray for strength and steadiness,
to care with understanding,
to lead with confidence,
to guide the Church wisely and well.
We pray that in giving they will receive –
joy in serving,
the thanks of friends,
and growth in faith, hope and love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.