I was ordained an elder (what we used to call and, it appears, may be calling again, a ruling elder in 1983, I think. I learned a lot about my faith, the Church, and people during the years I spent as a Session member. Most importantly, I learned that service as a ruling elder was a lot more about serving that it was about ruling. I became a candidate for ministry and left that position about the time that congregation began a search for a new pastor. Some chuckled when they said candidacy was a lot to undertake to avoid being on a search committee.
I was ordained a teaching elder or Minister of Word and Sacrament in 1988 after finishing Seminary. I learned a lot more than I expected to about a lot more things than I even knew existed during my preparation for that ordination. My service as this kind of elder continues to be one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. Right now, it's a little confusing as I try to sort our where God is calling me to serve next, but I know and believe that this role is all about service, and that's as it should be.
I became another kind of elder last week. Some of you know my mom died last summer. My dad died last week. Neither of their deaths was altogether unexpected, but we didn't expect either of them when they happened. From a place too close to reflect much, the most identifiable feeling I have experienced so far has to do with the strange reality that my sister and I are now the elders of our tribe. There are two or three (nobody's quite sure about one of them) aunts remaining on my dad's side and one aunt on my mom's. But for our immediate family, my sister and I are now the elders. Both of us have two kids whom we love dearly, and they know it. But the line back from us stops with us. It's a weird feeling. I'm hoping that this way to be an elder is about service, too, that we can do and be things that will be helpful to others, especially to our kids, and, someday, to theirs.