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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Bruce

Defining Elders

SUC Circles

Elders: Terms of Reference for Eldership in the Executive of the Congregation*

Two Core Values

Faith formation is at the heart of all we do as Christian Community and that the practice of faith formation needs to be engaged by its core leadership group, informing their decisions and enlivening their encouragement of the life and ministry of the congregation.  This is best done by having those who provide eldership present to and involved in the decision-making and regular governance of the congregation.

Leadership needs to be encouraged in all areas of the congregation from the newly forming edges and and its more established places. The way of offering leadership needs to be made easily accessible.  One does not need to learn all the details of a committee structure to offer leadership.  There is simplicity and fluidity.  This encourages liveliness throughout the body.


The Manual of the United Church of Canada in its definition of Elders gives us a place from which to begin.  “People elected by the congregation or pastoral charge for their wisdom, caring, spiritual discernment and other gifts of the Spirit.  They must be members of the congregation . . . unless the Presbytery makes an exception” (Manual 2013: 7.2).

In this governance model, we build on this definition. We make explicit the role of Elders to intentionally tend the connection between the ministry and mission of the congregation and the gifts of individuals within the congregation.  This connection is kept before, and informs, the decision-making process of Executive.

This model is shaped to include 3 – 4 Elders.   Eldership is a responsibility shared among those who serve in this way.


  1. Good listener

  2. An active participant in the life of the congregation

  3. Committed to individual and group/congregations faith formation

  4. Values and encourages shared leadership

  5. Approachable in a variety of ways

  6. Open to the emerging ministries to which we are being called


  1. Attend meetings of the Executive of the Congregation (Executive), Executive Grounding Gatherings ** and Shared Ministry Area Gathering***

  2. Facilitate the grounding gathering on a rotation basis of all members of the Executive

  3. Tend the Discernment Board****: Check regularly and frequently for new ideas submitted and take appropriate action

  4. Bring new ideas needing Executive discussion to the soonest Executive meeting

  5. Be alert to the many gifts/talents/interests present in the congregation; practice a ministry of encouragement supporting the sharing of those gifts

  6. Nurture the shared ministry of Eldership:  keep in touch with one another, support one another in the sharing of responsibilities

Time Commitment

  1. Meetings:  average 3 hours total per month for all meetings

  2. Attention to the Discernment Board and to those who have posted there:  a few minutes per week (this time is at the Elder’s discretion)

  3. Consultation among Elders (a few minutes each week)

  4. Shared Ministry Gathering (3-4 times per year) ______________________________________________________

Descriptions and Definitions

*The Executive of the Congregation:

The Executive is the governing body of the congregation, equivalent in function, though not in its way of functioning, to a congregational Board or Council or Session/Stewards Governance.  The name was chosen to reflect this body’s close engagement with the whole congregation through Ministry Groups and Areas facilitated by the Elders.   It is in more proximate relationship to the whole congregation, whose size allows this relationship and discourages the effective functioning of a governance based solely on committee structures.

** Grounding gathering:

Monthly, excluding July and August, the Executive meets for an hour and a half

This gathering is explicitly for faith formation through exploration of the narrative of Scripture and of the congregation/ no “business is discussed

The facilitator of the gathering chooses a Scripture text of their choice and something that has come to mind in the life of the congregation and brings it to the group.  This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the inclination of the facilitator.

***Shared Ministry Area Gathering:

Ministry Area Gatherings are held 3 or 4 times per year.  This is a place for any who have engaged in Circles of Service, standing committees, or the life of the congregation generally, to be present to one another for the sharing and celebration of ideas.

The elders are present to support new ideas that arise, to notice ministry areas that are less active and to encourage celebration of the various expressions of ministry within the congregation.

****Discernment Board Process:

The Discernment Board is a magnetic board on our left as we enter the worship space.  Forms for inviting Circles of Service are held in a folder to one side of the board.  Each week an elder or elders check this folder for new invitations. If an idea supports the ministry/mission of the congregation it can be posted immediately on the Board.  If money is required to support the idea, Elders will consider it in consultation with the Executive.  If Elders are unsure whether the idea supports the congregation’s ministry/mission, they may bring it to the Executive for further discernment.

Once a new invitation is posted on the Discernment Board, the Elder (s) provide encouragements and support to the person who is inviting the Circle of Service.  Support may include help with or suggestions for communication about the group, direction to the church office regarding available time on the church calendar for booking space, and following up with the person as the group proceeds.  The first sign of support may be to mention to the person inviting the Circle that it has been noticed on the Board.

Encourage reporting, once the group is underway, of the group’s experience.  This reporting can be to the Executive or for the Annual Report.

Consider an assessment of the program once it is complete.

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