Pastors often talk about the value of colleagues. Those folks listen to our concerns, share ideas and help guide us when we aren’t sure of our next move. Most of us consider our colleagues to be other pastors, whether in this denomination or another. But fellow pastors are not our only, or even our most valuable, colleagues. One of the greatest gifts I have received in ministry has been working with stellar clerks of session. To my surprise and delight, I learned that the clerk can be the pastor’s very best colleague. A wise and supportive clerk is worth her weight in gold.
When I was newly ordained, I was called to pastor a small congregation in Michigan. I had trained well and interned in multiple congregations, but I still didn’t know much about putting together an agenda for session meetings or how to resource a personnel committee. Thankfully, the clerk did and he wanted to help me succeed in these and many other tasks. From my first day, he both respected my position – green as I was – and actively supported my ministry. He was ready to meet with me to discuss all my questions and he never rolled his eyes at the things I didn’t yet know. He shared his opinions when asked, but didn’t try to run the show himself. When crises came up, he urged me to step up and lead. Yes, I had to be the one to say hard things to a staff member. Yes, the buck did stop with me. I didn’t always want to hear what he had to say when it meant I would have to tackle challenges. But in the end, his advice was almost always right. That clerk taught me more than I can say about leadership and ministry.
In the ensuing years, I have found that good clerks embrace this role of being a colleague to the pastor. They check-in with me frequently, they serve as an advocate to make sure I have what I need to do my job well, and they serve as wise and nonjudgmental counsel, regardless of age or other differences in life situation.
Clerks like these also excel at their own ministry. They take seriously the record-keeping and administrative aspects of their job, while also knowing enough Robert’s Rules to keep good order during an enthusiastic session meeting. They share with me their insight on the odd and curious questions that tend to arise in church ministry. Having this kind of clerk by my side reminds me that I am not alone in dealing with whatever new situation I am facing.
I believe the role of clerk is a special calling and one we ought to celebrate more often. A strong and wise clerk can contribute greatly to a pastor’s and church’s successful ministry. The role is definitely not flashy and sometimes it involves a lot of mundane minutiae. But attending to the minutiae with integrity and care frees the pastor to engage in other areas of ministry, since she knows the clerk has the administration well in hand. That knowledge truly is a gift and a blessing. When the Nominating Committee calls a new clerk, it is never a position that can be filled with a warm body only. Rather, a clerk who brings warmth, wisdom, integrity, energy and focus will be a gift to their presbytery, congregation, and pastor.
If you are a clerk, thank you for your faithful ministry. If you know a clerk, thank that person for all that they do to help your church and pastor flourish.
EMMA NICKEL serves as pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes, and learning more about parenting. She lives just outside Detroit with her husband, Matt, and their two daughters.
In memory of Ken Meuchel, former clerk of session at First Presbyterian Church in Warren, Michigan.