What are Presbyterians?
Relying on the power
of the Holy Spirit,
we proclaim the love and good news of Jesus Christ through our words and actions. As a reformed church, we rely on the truth and inspiration of Scriptures for God’s guidance into the future – a future that we approach with wonder and anticipation, knowing God is with us. As worshiping communities joyfully celebrating the sacraments, we are supported, strengthened and equipped to share the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
The name Presbyterian comes from the Greek word presbýteros meaning “elder”. The basis of the governance of Presbyterian churches is elders who are ordained or commissioned by the church as leaders.
There are two types of elders.
The “Ruling elders” are elected and ordained by congregations to serve on the Session, or the leadership group of the local congregation. Although ordained for life, they now often serve for a term on a Session, as they do at St. Andrew’s. “Teaching elders” are ordained by a presbytery to the ministry of Word and Sacraments and can be called to lead a local congregation where they moderate or chair the Session. More than one teaching elder or minister can be called to a congregation depending on needs and resources. Ministers can also be appointed to other forms of ministry recognized by the presbytery.
The Session has oversight of all areas of the life of the congregation. Traditionally, as at St. Andrew’s, a Board of Managers is elected as a separate body to deal with the finances and the physical plant. Some Presbyterian congregations now have a Finance and Maintenance Committee of the Session to play the same role. Some Presbyterian churches also have deacon’s courts to look after many of the practical need of the congregation and the community.
The presbytery brings together all of the called or recognized teaching elders within a particular geographic area together with an equal number of ruling elders appointed by congregations to have oversight of that area. St. Andrew’s is part of the Presbytery of East Toronto. Beyond the presbytery, there can be other “courts” with oversight of larger areas called synods and general assemblies. All of these bodies are made up of equal numbers of ruling and teaching elders. Every court elects its own Moderator or chairperson.
Presbyterian systems of governance developed in different churches of the Reformed tradition but the system adopted in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, of which St. Andrew’s is a part, is based largely on the Church of Scotland.