Question i (1) - Faithful Ruling Elder

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A Story about Call and Discernment from the Writer

At 20 years old, I was ordained to serve on the session of the Iglesia Presbiteriana en Caparra Terrace in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In decades past, there had been other elders that were young, even younger than I was at that time, yet I was the youngest person to be ordained in a while in our congregation. 

It almost didn’t happen. No one, other than my fiancée, knew about this part of the story: I struggled with saying “yes” to the invitation of the nominating committee. I struggled not necessarily because of my young age, but because of the weight of ordination.

My grandfather (abuelo), Edgar Olivieri, had been a ruling elder since before I was born. His example of leadership, commitment, and mentorship embodied the word “ruling elder” in my mind. My abuelo was a person of great conviction and unwavering faith, trusting that the God who called him would see him through even in the most difficult of times. 

Would I be able to fulfill the responsibilities as my abuelo did? Would I have the time to serve given my school and volunteer commitments? I was born to this congregation. I’d been a member of the church for some years now, active in the youth group and camp. I sang in the choir, participated in the drama group, and had led worship and prayer circles. Was that enough? Was I knowledgeable enough? Did I have what it took to be a more involved church leader? Was I ready to face another side of the church that I was not really familiar with: the governance? The nominating committee seemed to think so. I wrestled with these and other questions while discerning how to respond to the invitation to serve.

As Reformed Christians, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. We are all called in baptism to ministry in Christ’s name. Ephesians 4:4–7 reminds us that there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. …” In the midst of living into that call, some persons feel called to fulfill particular functions, so that the ministry of the whole people of God may flourish” (BOO, W-4.0401). I understood my life as part of a big, universal faith family, as a Christian who happened to be Presbyterian, in the context of this church community in San Juan.

After a conscious discernment process, what ultimately moved me to respond affirmatively was that I felt called by God to serve as a ruling elder in my congregation. At 20 years old, though, I couldn’t put this into words. The very process of discerning the call to serve on the session would be the first step of a lifetime commitment precisely to discernment and governance. Along the road I discovered that being ordained to this ministry would encompass more than serving the local faith community. Responding to the call is just the first step to a lifetime of ministry.

I served on session for one term. During that time, I finished college, got married, moved from my hometown in San Juan, and became a teacher. My husband, José Manuel, was ordained at that time, too. We moved to the city of Caguas, Puerto Rico, as José Manuel was called to be the re-development pastor of a fourteen-member church that had gone through a schism. I was member number fifteen. Alongside a presbytery administrative commission, José Manuel began his ministry as a parish pastor.

My ministry as a ruling elder flourished there as well, in a faith community that needed nurture and care after going through so much. I hadn’t served on a session since I served in my home church in San Juan, yet the call to serve the people of God, in manifold ways, had remained strong throughout the years.

At various points in my life I have served as a Sunday school teacher, a choir member, a presbytery committee member and chair, as synod vice-moderator, as a commissioner to presbytery and General Assembly, in a permanent committee of the General Assembly, as a presbytery moderator, and as Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018). In this ordered ministry, the greatest joy is to serve and to make disciples.

Like my abuelo before me, I get to mentor new leaders and walk alongside them as they discern the ways in which God is calling them. It warms my heart to see church leaders I knew as children, youth, new church members, and as first-time churchgoers now serving the people of God as ruling elders, youth group and camp leaders, musicians, ministers of Word and Sacrament, Sunday school teachers, deacons, stated clerks, committee members, community leaders, and so much more.

The ministry continues as the Holy Spirit calls “women and men to all ministries of the Church” (“A Brief Statement of Faith,” Book of Confessions, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 11.4, Line 64). When God calls, God empowers. The plan belongs to God. Responding to it is just the first step to a lifetime of ministry and service to God and neighbor. Así nos ayude Dios. So help us, God.