Giving Thanks for Clerks

by | Oct 2, 2023

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Ephesians 1:15-16

Every morning I begin the day with a prayer of thanksgiving. I confess that sometimes I stray into prayers of concern and supplication, but somewhere along the way I read a quote about the importance of saying “Thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever.” (I just Google’d the quote to find the source—turns out it is a New Age-Buddhist story! Oh well, blame the Bay Area, where I lived for a long time.) A Christian corollary is from the mystic Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, it would be enough.” In any case, as I pray my gratitude, even when I stray into complaint territory, I am aware that I really have nothing to complain about. I find that to be the source of my sense of privilege—and my responsibility to work for others to find their privilege.

On Saturday I invited clerks of session of our churches to come and “have your books stamped.” My guess is, only clerks of session and a few pastors know what that means. Since I have never been a stated clerk for this presbytery, I had no idea how people would respond, because I don’t know what the traditions of this presbytery’s clerks have been. In the presbytery where I was stated clerk, I came to rely on several long-time clerks of session to help mentor new clerks, but when I came to San Gabriel it wasn’t clear who our veteran clerks were. I was glad when Ally started to have quarterly meetings with clerks, to develop the camaraderie that we clerk-types share.

On Saturday I was happy and grateful to welcome 17 people, representing 14 churches, to the Presbytery Center. Not all of them were clerks (that happens; often pastors step in to help with the clerk role); not all of them had their books ready (that happens too!). It was nice to see folks I know pretty well—and nice to see others whom I have never met—and just visit a little. And it was impressive to see the care that many clerks have taken to preserve the records of the congregation.

When several folks had arrived, I was moved to thank the clerks and pray for them. I have not been a clerk of session, but I know that clerks are unusually dedicated and gifted, as they take on the responsibility of maintaining records and the requirements of the PC(USA) on an ongoing basis, with no monetary compensation. I don’t know how often they are thanked for their work, which many church folk either don’t know about or don’t always appreciate. But as someone who has been in the church for a while, I am aware that clerks are a key connection to the larger church and to fellow congregations—and to the church in ages past. I am reminded of, for instance, clerk of session Dorothy Kirkland digging into the minutes of my family church, now First Presbyterian Altadena, to show me how my grandfather worked with the session to discern their response to the rising threat against Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.

Yesterday was the first of several actions that need to be taken as we come to the close of the year and the beginning of 2024. We budget for next year, and look ahead to elected leadership. The clerks partner with each other to review the records from last year, and get ready to provide several annual reports—from minister members of the presbytery, from sessions on pastoral terms of call and contact information for church leaders, and from sessions to the national church (known as statistical reports). And, we prepare for new requirements that came out of the last General Assembly, which include:

  • providing for a minimum of twelve weeks paid family medical leave for pastors
  • boundary training for everyone including elders, deacons, commissioned ruling elders, anyone working with children and vulnerable adults, and people in the CPM process; and
  • an anti-racism policy along with policies on sexual misconduct, harassment, and protection for children and youth.

Yikes! I have to say that I’ve been one of several voices pleading with the national church to slow down the growing list of requirements being loaded onto sessions—though the biggest issue is the General Assembly (see above!). While there is value in all of these new requirements, we also have to have patience and support as we strive to meet them.

In the midst of all of this is the clerk of session, who is the main communication link between the session and the presbytery and therefore the national church. Did you know that in the PC(USA), the only position that is required at every level of the church is the clerk? Congregations can go without a pastor, presbyteries can go without an executive presbyter, but we must have clerks of session and stated clerks! That’s how much the administration of the PC(USA) relies on clerks. So I ask that you let them know they are appreciated, and offer them some support and prayer!

I’m thinking I will try to give thanks for others in future columns, as we look forward to Thanksgiving. Other things might arise to take my attention, but there is much to be thankful for. If you want to share what you’re grateful for, please let me know!

Grateful for this Presbytery,