Logo
The Key Office Holders in the Church

The Assemblies appoint people to manage the church‘s routine affairs.

    Acting according to civil laws, they appoint Trustees to supervise the management of  property and investments held in the name of the church. These investments may come from bequests, gifts, loans and a range of other sources.

The Trustees serve as stewards, seeking to ensure that civil laws are obeyed, that investments yield a fair and ethical return, and that trusts are applied in good faith to the purposes for which they were set up. Their supervisory role extends as far as the property and finances of local congregations.

    The church retains the services of legal officers who advise the  church, its courts and its institutions, on matters relating to church and civil law. They are required to be active members of the church and they have seats on the appropriate General Assembly.

    The Law Agent is a solicitor and the Procurator is a barrister. They carry out their professional functions in the affairs of the church as they are called upon, usually through the General Secretary. The Procurator may  be called upon to represent the church in the civil courts.

    The General Secretary is the chief administrative officer of  the church.  The position carries a seat on the Assembly.

    The Moderator is a person elected to chair the meetings of the courts. Moderators of Presbyteries and state Assemblies are elected annually. The Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia is elected every three years. Moderators have no vote except when votes are tied. 
Moderators are elected in complicated processes that involve nomination and voting, in the case of State Moderators, by Presbyteries and, in the case of Moderators-General, by state assemblies.

They are not the heads of the church. Jesus Christ is the only Head of the Church. They cannot speak publicly on behalf of the church. They can only relay the decisions made by the Assembly (e.g. on social issues)

    Conveners are elected by Assemblies to chair each of the committees that carry out the affairs of the Assembly during the year. They have no authority in their own right other than those delegated to them by the assembly, most notably the efficient organization of the committee.

  strath The Presbyterian Church in the leafy
avenues of Strathfield in Sydney’s west.
Logo
The Session Clerk

The Session Clerk may be described on the surface as the Secretary of the body of elders, known in local congregations as the Session. However his/her role is considerably more that this. The Session Clerk fulfils a pivotal role in the affairs of the local church
Leadership, irrespective of who is exercising it, extends beyond the performance of the duties that go with the job.  It is an ability to make things happen, to ensure that the group’s aims and objectives are always obvious, to clarify goals, to unite others behind a common purpose, and to intervene at the right time with sound advice and informed opinion.
Christian leadership must go even further. It must be motivated by love and a desire to serve. It must be uncorrupted by a desire for power. In practical terms, it must be guided by a high sense of ethics and honour.
They are qualities that  are expected of all elders, especially the key position of Session Clerk.

Duties
   The Session Clerk has a number of formal duties. Minutes of Session and congregational meetings must be faithfully recorded. All church records must be maintained and kept in safe custody. Correspondence must be written and received. Extract minutes must be supplied when requested. Meeting agendas must be drawn up.
Some business conducted by a Session is very sensitive. This relates to the good name of members of the congregation. Session business is normally conducted in closed court and matters considered in closed court are strictly confined to members of that court. However the Session has the right to maintain a record of proceedings considered extremely sensitive separate from the normal records of the Session. It is the duty of the Session Clerk to seal them and to keep these in a safe place until they are to be destroyed.
The Session Clerk occupies a  key position in the affairs of the congregation, formally linking the Minister with the Session and the congregation with the Session.
    He or she is frequently the Minister’s confidante and chief advisor in the affairs of the parish. They should expect support and encouragement from each other. Loyalty and discretion is important. Private discussions must remain strictly that.
However  the Clerk owes  a duty  of  loyalty  and  service to the congregation and as a  result should be a channel by which matters of concern are brought discreetly before the Minister or the Session. The Clerk should be the first to give constructive criticism if such becomes necessary.
Impartiality is vital. A congregation will reflect a variety of opinions. Its members will be at different stages of spiritual development. The Session Clerk must be prepared to give impartial advice on any matter brought to his or her attention, including directing people to other sources of information and assistance.
In conclusion,  the Session Clerk is neither an authority figure nor merely the secretary of the elder’s meeting. That office should be seen as a  link between the church’s leadership  and its people and organizations. He or she must be respected by all parties as a person of initiative, high integrity, sound judgement and spiritual maturity.

Logo
"Decently and in Order"

  The affairs of the courts of the Church are required to be conducted with strict attention to correctness. The expression “decently and in order” is frequently used in Presbyterian circles. These correct procedures are outlined in the Code.
Some may view these procedures as cumbersome and an annoyance but they ensure that business is efficient and fair.

 Minutes (II Code 3.05-3.16)
Minutes of courts are the record of the proceedings of a meeting. Minutes of Session are confidential and access to them is permitted only to members of the court and a higher court. In higher courts minutes are normally a public document.
A basic convention  in minuting is that they record the decisions that are made, not the debates that take place. It is not necessary  to summarize verbal reports. However the minutes must be complete and they should be concise.
An effective decision of a meeting of any organization of the church should contain the following information:
What is to be done?
     Who is to do it?
     Within what time frame?
     What conditions apply?
     When progress reports are required?
The Clerk should be prepared to prompt the meeting for this kind of information.
Once recorded in the minutes it becomes a simple matter to  keep track of progress on the matter through the “Business Arising” part of the meeting agenda. However it is vital that the Clerk record some information in the minutes (e.g Fred Bloggs reported that he had ....) each time the matter is reviewed. This will enable the matter to be reviewed during “Business Arising” at the next meeting.
The wording of minutes can be very important, especially if the business is controversial, sensitive or relates to the business of a higher court. In the informal situation that a Session meeting usually is, where business is often agreed to by consensus, the Clerk would be wise to read the final resolution to the meeting to ensure that it is acceptable to all. In all courts it is wise to expect movers of motions or amendments to prepare motions in writing. In Assemblies it is a requirement.
At times it is necessary for some minutes to be recorded apart from the permanent record. These are minutes that involve the good name of members and which are private, sealed, and allow for a new beginning in their lives. They are destroyed after a set period of time. The Code sets out clear rules for the care and disposal of such records.

 Agenda
Drawing up the agenda should be the joint responsibility of the Moderator and the Clerk. However the fact that the minutes are in the Clerk’s possession places the latter in a position to exercise initiative. He/she holds the office indefinitely and develops a high level of expertise in the affairs of the court. The Clerk knows the on-going matters that will be coming up. Consultation with the moderator is important.
It will be necessary for reminders, formally or informally, to be given to members of the court, not only about the timing of the meeting itself, but for a range of other reasons.    They may have something to report to the meeting, they may wish to place a matter on the agenda,  or they may have strong feelings about an issue and would like to prepare their arguments for the debate.
The Code requires that the agenda for a meeting be confirmed at the start of the meeting. Business without notice may only be introduced under exceptional circumstances.
Sessions usually follow the standing orders in the Code Part 1 but are not bound to them unless specifically  stated.


Logo
The Rights and Obligations of Church Membership

There are two levels of church membership recognized within the church. Both levels have clear sets of rights and obligations.

Communicant Members
"A communicant of a congregation is a baptized person who associates regularly with the congregation in worship, and who, on profession of faith, has been admitted by the session to participation in the Lord's Supper and therefore into full communion with the Presbyterian Church of Australia, or whose name has been added to the roll by transference certificate or by resolution of session ...." (The Code 1.07)

A communicant has the right to have his/her name on the roll of communicants and, if not less than sixteen years of age, to take full part, including voting  in congregational meetings. Only communicant members may elect elders and ministers.

Adherent Members
"An adherent to a congregation is a person who associates regularly with the congregation in worship and whose name appears on the adherents' roll by resolution of session." (The Code 1.09)
An adherent has a vote in the election of managers and at all meetings affecting the temporal affairs of the congregation.

Obligations of Members
1. Faithful attendance at gospel ordinances.
2. To give ministers all due respect, encouragement and obedience in the Lord.
3. To submit to the Session as over them in the Lord.
4. To cherish a loving, caring spirit among themselves.
5. To promote the peace and prosperity of the congregation.
6. To take a lively interest in all that concerns the welfare of the whole church.
7. To contribute heartily, as the Lord shall enable them, for the maintenance of the ministry and for the furtherance of the gospel at home and abroad.
8. To display a Christian spirit in all relationships of life.

Dissatisfaction with a decision:
If a communicant or adherent is dissatisfied with a decision or resolution at a meeting of the congregation, it is important that he/she exercises his/her right to vote. Such a person has the right to have their dissent recorded in the meeting minutes. This opens the way for that person to petition the presbytery to review the decision or resolution.

A Petition:
All members, either alone or with other members of the congregation, have the right to petition their Session, to ask it to do something, or to investigate an idea. The petitioners concerns should be detailed in writing. It is then the petitioner’s right to go to a meeting of the session and present a case by addressing the members of the session and answering any of their questions.

The Session will then make its decision on the matter and if dissatisfied when the session makes its decision, you may say "I protest for leave to appeal".

The Minister and Session Clerk are obliged to give members advice on procedures.

    A congregation is a diverse body of people who meet together to worship God and to have fellowship with each other. Church membership is in one of two categories, communicant members or adherent members.

A parish is a geographical area which may contain more than one congregation, They share a common purpose of outreach and an obligation of mutual pastoral care  within their defined boundaries. They are led by a body of elders called a Session which oversees the spiritual life of the parish and a Committee of Management (or Deacon’s Court) which administers the financial, property, social and charitable affairs of the parish.

Each  parish has at least one minister. Ministers are invited to serve the local congregation by means of a call whereby members of the congregation sign their agreement and willingness to support the new minister, financially and personally. Once inducted into a parish, ministers remain in that position indefinitely, usually until they accept a call to another congregation, retire, resign or accept an appointment position.

Parishes and congregations are mostly funded from free-will offerings taken at services in the parish. The first obligation on every congregation’s funds is the minister’s stipend. A parish is committed to paying its minister a modest stipend, set each year by the State Assembly. It must also provide a free manse (or an equivalent allowance),  a travelling allowance and a superannuation contribution.
A number of other charges are made against church finances but generally a congregation is allowed to decide how  its funds are spent.

 Full church membership comes after a short course of instruction conducted by an elder or the minister and a willingness to make a declaration of faith before the congregation. Membership grants a person a range of rights within the congregation although full voting rights are only gained on reaching the age of sixteen.

Members can transfer to and from other congregations and at times a person may be admitted to membership “by resolution of Session” for a range of reasons such as their membership of another denomination.

Elders or ministers often approach regular worshippers who are not full members to consider taking this step. However it is quite acceptable for people wishing to become full members to make the first approaches.

Each congregation is obliged to keep a roll of both communicant and adherent members. In effect it only becomes significant when the time comes to call a minister or elect new elders.

    Congregational meetings are held on occasions to make decisions that relate to the work of the parish, such as the calling of a new minister. They require a quorum of one tenth of the communicants roll. The Annual Meeting, among other things, elects a Committee of Management. The Committee, which includes all elders, is answerable to the congregation for the conduct of its affairs.


Logo
The Congregation

    A congregation is a diverse body of people who meet together to worship God and to have fellowship with each other. Church membership is in one of two categories, communicant members or adherent members.

A parish is a geographical area which may contain more than one congregation, They share a common purpose of outreach and an obligation of mutual pastoral care  within their defined boundaries. They are led by a body of elders called a Session which oversees the spiritual life of the parish and a Committee of Management (or Deacon’s Court) which administers the financial, property, social and charitable affairs of the parish.

Each  parish has at least one minister. Ministers are invited to serve the local congregation by means of a call whereby members of the congregation sign their agreement and willingness to support the new minister, financially and personally. Once inducted into a parish, ministers remain in that position indefinitely, usually until they accept a call to another congregation, retire, resign or accept an appointment position.

Parishes and congregations are mostly funded from free-will offerings taken at services in the parish. The first obligation on every congregation’s funds is the minister’s stipend. A parish is committed to paying its minister a modest stipend, set each year by the State Assembly. It must also provide a free manse (or an equivalent allowance),  a travelling allowance and a superannuation contribution.
A number of other charges are made against church finances but generally a congregation is allowed to decide how  its funds are spent.

 Full church membership comes after a short course of instruction conducted by an elder or the minister and a willingness to make a declaration of faith before the congregation. Membership grants a person a range of rights within the congregation although full voting rights are only gained on reaching the age of sixteen.

Members can transfer to and from other congregations and at times a person may be admitted to membership “by resolution of Session” for a range of reasons such as their membership of another denomination.

Elders or ministers often approach regular worshippers who are not full members to consider taking this step. However it is quite acceptable for people wishing to become full members to make the first approaches.

Each congregation is obliged to keep a roll of both communicant and adherent members. In effect it only becomes significant when the time comes to call a minister or elect new elders.

    Congregational meetings are held on occasions to make decisions that relate to the work of the parish, such as the calling of a new minister. They require a quorum of one tenth of the communicants roll. The Annual Meeting, among other things, elects a Committee of Management. The Committee, which includes all elders, is answerable to the congregation for the conduct of its affairs.
  wenty The historic church at Wentworthville
in Sydney’s west.
Logo
The Eldership and the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments

     The Eldership is an office unique to the Presbyterian Church, despite the fact that the title elder is shared with other denominations of the Christian church. 

The minister and the elders share the pastoral care of the people of the congregation. To the Ministry belongs responsibility for the teaching of the Word of God to the people while the elders supervise and promote the fruit of that teaching. Both are people recognized for their leadership ability and spiritual maturity. Normally only ministers may celebrate the sacraments but there is provision for elders to do so, in exceptional circumstances, when ministers are unavailable.

Elders
Elders are elected to office by the congregation and hold office for life. There is an importance in the fact that the congregation must recognize their gifts before they can be ordained. Together the elders meet as  the Session, a court which has executive, pastoral, legislative and judicial responsibility in the local parish. Together they assist the minister in the celebration of the sacraments. Individually they lead in various fields in church life, and at times they make pastoral visits to the members. They also represent the parish in the higher courts of the church.

Ministers
Ministers are ordained after a long and exhaustive process. They are expected to be  called  by God to the ministry. It is the responsibility of the Presbytery to examine the call and to determine if it is genuine. It decides first if the candidate has the gifts necessary for the office. These include scholarship, maturity of faith, motivation and vision as well as the gifts of teaching, counseling, organization and self-management. Then they must submit to training which extends over several years.

On successful completion of the training course, the candidate is again examined by the Presbytery to determine if the gifts and the beliefs have been confirmed. The student is then licensed to preach and is usually appointed to a parish for a twelve month period. Only when the parish decides to call him to be their minister will he be ordained and inducted as their minister.

At the time of writing only men may be ministers of the Word and Sacraments.

More detailed information on the requirements for entry into the ministry may be obtained at the excellent web site of the Sydney Presbyterian Theological Centre.

In fulfilling their office, ministers are answerable to the Presbytery for their actions, and, in a deeper sense, to God Himself. Providing they conform to the doctrinal standards of the church, they cannot be taken to task over what they preach from the pulpit or who they admit to the pulpit.

Ministers are obliged, for professional reasons, to keep many matters confidential. Indeed the effectiveness of their ministries, and the trust in which they are held by their parishioners, depends on their not revealing anything about private matters to anyone, including their own spouses.


Logo
Calling a Minister

    Presbyterian congregations choose their own minister. In what is termed a call, they invite an ordained minister or licenciate of their choice to be their minister. He or she may accept or decline the call.

The decision to call is made by the congregation, firstly at a congregational meeting, and secondly in a process by which individuals sign a call form. A decision by a congregation does not oblige individuals to sign the call. At least three fifths of a congregation must sign for the presbytery to consider sustaining the call.

The Interim Moderator
In a vacancy the Presbytery appoints a minister to act as the Interim Moderator of the parish. That person is, for all intents and purposes, the minister of the parish until a new person is called and inducted (i.e the minister for the interim period). It is that person's job to see that the parish continues to operate as normal.

The Interim Moderator moderates the Session, chairs meetings of the Selection Committee, organizes preachers, etc. Some of these tasks may be delegated to elders. Chiefly it is the task of the Interim Moderator to assist the parish to find and call a minister.
The Interim Moderator's task is to ensure that all is done according to the laws of the church. He may not impose his will on the congregation or to seek to influence the congregation as to who should be called.

Procedure
The details are set out in Section 6 of the Code.  The following ought to happen as soon as possible after the Interim Moderator is appointed by the Presbytery.

There should be a meeting of the  Committee of Management and the Session (perhaps a combined meeting) where the former works out the Terms of Call.   A congregational meeting is called to agree to the Terms of Call and  to elect a Selection Committee.

The Selection Committee then gets on with its work.  The following should be noted and strictly adhered to:

  • All approaches relating to filling a ministerial vacancy in the parish must be made only by or through the Interim Moderator or the Session Clerk.
  • The selection committee should look at one minister only at a time. It should make inquiries, interview him/her and then make a decision as to whether to recommend that name to the congregation.  Only when the committee has decided not to proceed with a particular name should it then look at another name.
  • During this time the Session is to update and if necessary alter the rolls and keep the work and activities of the congregation running as smoothly as possible.
  • Discretion and confidentiality are important.

     Choosing a minister is a very important task. It takes time. It is better to be vacant for a longer period than to call the wrong person.  Once inducted a minister holds office indefinitely.

Despite this, it should be noted that if a parish is vacant for more than twelve months, a Presbytery has the right to make an appointment. This appointment is most likely to be for twelve months but may be for up to five years. Nevertheless the congregation is not obliged to call the appointed minister if it regards him or her as unsuitable.


Logo
Women in the Church

Women
To the modern mind, the debate about the status of women in the various churches and their access to the ministry or the priesthood is almost incomprehensible. Women have long proved their equality with men in the professions and their equal capability of making competent decisions in leadership positions. Most people these days simply accept these facts and look back with amazement to the days, not so long ago,  when women were patronized and accorded a lower status than men.

Small wonder that this issue has become a stumbling block to churches, which are steadily declining in numbers and influence in the modern community.

For reasons that can seem obscure, the Presbyterian Church has regarded ordination to the ministry as a matter of doctrine and, therefore, within the jurisdiction of the General Assembly of Australia (the GAA). Ordination to the eldership is viewed as a matter of government and falls within the responsibility of state assemblies.

Historical Background
The Presbyterian Church in NSW granted women the right to be ordained as elders in 1968. They continue to have this right in New South Wales but the General Assemblies of Queensland and Victoria have since removed this right.

Women were granted the right to become ministers  by the GAA in 1974 and a number of women subsequently proceeded to ordination. Sadly the decision was made under controversial circumstances. It was made at the same assembly that approved the formation of the Uniting Church, which many ministers and elders were committed to join. Opponents of women’s ordination argued that the decision or ordain women should have only been made by those who were planning to remain in the continuing Presbyterian Church. As a result they remained committed to reversing the decision.

In the years that followed the establishment of the Uniting Church, the continuing Presbyterian Church, already quite conservative, moved towards a position of extreme conservatism. In the late 1980s the move began to change the laws of the church in order to deny women the right to become ministers.
The issue took on the status of a shibboleth, a cause or catch-cry used to identify factional friends and opponents, and remains primarily so to this day.

The matter was heavily debated in churches in the lead-up to the 1991 General Assembly of Australia, and the Presbyterian Fellowship was born during this time, among other things, to provide counter-balancing argument to that of the extreme conservatives.

In 1991 the Assembly voted to deny women a place in the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments and this is the situation today. In all GAAs since then there have been proposals to reverse this decision but they have been unsuccessful. This is in spite of indications that many people are coming to recognize that a compromise position will have to be reached for the church to unite its people and to restore its credibility in the community.

Attacks on Women in the Eldership
Since that decision there has been a concerted effort by arch-conservatives to deny the eldership to women. The 1997 GAA confirmed the view that it was a state responsibility. The NSW Church, by far the largest and most influential of the state churches, has strongly and successfully resisted this move.
However Victorians made a decision to follow this course in 1998, and Queensland took this decision in the 1980s. There have been two attempts in NSW, so far unsuccessful. However in 2007 the General Assembly of Australia voted to deny women access to the eldership. It was opposed strongly by the Fellowship and the proposal eventually failed. Women can still be elected to the eldership in New South Wales.

Arguments
The core arguments of those who oppose women in the ministry and eldership are:

  • The Apostle, Paul, said “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” I Timothy 2.12
  • The relationship of God to His people is that of a father. The Church must reflect that relationship by allowing only men to hold positions of authority.

    Those who support women in the ministry and eldership would point out that:

  • The scriptures, and in particular, Paul’s words were written in a cultural context and, in the case of 1 Timothy 2.12 were intended to address a specific problem, in a specific place at a specific point in time.
  • The Bible contains many examples of women called to positions of authority and there is no reason to expect that God will not continue to call gifted women to office.
  • God has qualities that people would call “feminine” and the Bible clearly indicates that Woman was created in His image as was Man. To dwell excessively on God’s gender as being “masculine” fails to recognise that the English language only has a range of pronouns that  describe human gender.
  • God has blessed the ministries of many well-loved women ministers, evidence of His approval.
  • Paul, himself, in Galatians 3.28 declares that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” among the baptised.

    The debate is still continuing.  The Fellowship is committed to ensuring that, where possible,  the issue is debated at every GAA in the future until the policy is altered.