My, my. Our Session did something rather intersting last night.
In 1901, Miss Mary was brought before the elders of her church to answer the charge of adultery.
I stumbled on information about her while reading the handwritten notations in the dusty, moldy Session Minutes book of her tiny country church. I served that church as pastor in the 1980's, and at that time if anyone committed adultery in the church, we'd all just pretend we didn't know anything about it.
But in 1901, the church believed in discipline. There is, in the Presbyterian Church, USA, a manual called, "The Rules of Discipline," which describes how to file charges and how to hold a church court. We use it in regional and national levels of our church, but I don't know if we ever use it in a local congregation.
The amazing thing about Miss Mary is that she seems to have been a very horny Christian. Every 6 to 9 months, she was having to face the elders for adultery. If the man was also a member of the church, he would also be charged with adultery. Try this today and Miss Mary would simply say, "Hey bozo, just transfer my membership to the Lutheran Church down the street."
But not Miss Mary.
She would confess her sins and submit to the authority of the Session -- sometimes she would be barred from the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Sometimes she would be barred from teaching Sunday School. Sometimes she would have to meet with the other women of the church for prayer each Sunday evening. The duration of the disciplinary would vary, but at the end she would meet again with the Session for a review and she would thank the elders for their guidance.
I think about my elders.
Alice was a Sunday School teacher as well as an elder. She was arrested for embezzelment of funds at her job.
Betty's son is now in the NBA. I'm sure you haven't heard of him unless you are a die-hard fan of that particular team. In high school, he played for a school even though he didn't live in that district. It was THE school to play for if you had hopes of a career in the NBA. The newspaper wrote articles on all the athelets playing for the school who were not living in the school's district. Betty's son wasn't the worst -- a couple of 20 year olds from the Dominican Republic were also on the team. But one night there was Betty on TV, standing on a front porch and insisting that she lived in that home, which was in the district. An hour later the news crew returned and knocked on the door. A man answered the door and admitted, "Betty don't live here. She was just some woman who gave me $500 if I let her stand on my porch for a while."
Betty was our Clerk of Session at the time.
Charlie was an elder in a church I served in the 1980s. He was arrested for sexually molesting residents at the nursing home he operated.
Don was a compulsive gambler.
Evelyn was very faithful in attending worship, even when as drunk as could be. She was a deacon.
The purpose of church discipline is reconciliation and restoration. It is not punitive.
Wouldn't we have been more helpful to Evelyn if we had admitted that she was ill? Instead we just acted like we knew nothing about it.
And what of Don? We might not have healed his addiction, but at least we would have been more helpful to him and his family.
And Betty? What did her actions, along with our inactions, teach our youth about honesty and integrity?
The governing body of a local Presbyterian Church is called a Session. It is composed of elders. This is not simply a Board of Trustees or a community club -- these elders are ordained, just as I am ordained. They are our spiritual leaders.
And yet, we have a elder who no longer attends worship. He angrily spreads rumors about our Associate Pastor and undermines her at every turn. He does not make motions during meetings of the Session, but then goes into the congregation to complain about what is wrong with our chruch. I have in my computer an email in which this elder said, "I want nothing more than to take a shotgun and blow the Associate Pastor away."
In our last Session meeting, we set up an Administrative Commission to be composed of three elders. In our denomination, a commission is more than a committee. A commission can be empowered to act on behalf of the governing body.
This Administrative Commission of the Session is empowered with the responsibilities...
- to investigate and gather information,
- to privately address individuals who may need to be exhorted in the proper conduct expected of an elder,
- to work as its three main goals (1) the restoration of elders that they may be faithful in their vows to God, (2) the reconciliation of members of Christ's body who are in conflict and discord, and (3) the protection of the congregation's peace, unity and purity.
- In order to accomplish its goals, this Commission is empowered to follow the guidance of the Book of Order's Rules of Discipline, including, if necessary, filing charges against any member of the congregation who is guilty of violating ordination vows.
I'll keep you posted.