Why and When to use a CRE
Albert Einstein is credited with saying, "You can't get yourself out of a situation using the same thinking that got you into it." This paper is meant to stretch your thinking about the ministry of Commissioned Ruling Elders and the marvelous richness they bring to a presbytery's mission. The CRE program is an expansion of the Church's mission in a changing world. It is not a compromise when a congregation cannot find a "real" pastor. It is not a cheap way to provide pastoral services to congregations. Commissioned Ruling Elders and Ministers of Word and Sacrament are partners in mission as we seek to bring the good news of Christ to an ever-changing culture.
Freda Gardner (previous moderator of the General Assembly and member of the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary) encourages us to realize that service as a Commissioned Ruling Elder is a calling, a vocation. CREs provide context appropriate ministry where seminarians do not fit and they have uncoupled ministry from the need to make a living.
Boyd Stockdale, Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Seattle, writes, "How do we take seriously our mission in a community that has 116 languages in it? How do we fulfill the mandate to provide effective evangelism to the end that the Presbyterian Church significantly increases its ethnic membership? The answer ... is Commissioned Ruling Elders."
Commissioned ruling elders Reflect the Mission of a Presbytery
"When a presbytery, in consultation with the session or other responsible committee, determines that its strategy for mission in a local church requires it, and after additional instruction deemed necessary by the presbytery has been provided, a presbytery may authorize a commissioned lay pastor…" Book of Order G-14.0800
A statement for the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of Seattle Presbytery is to the point. "The object of a CRE program is not to provide lay leadership in lieu of qualified ordained clergy, nor to provide a second-track career opportunity for persons who want to circumvent the standard candidacy and seminary education requirements pursuant to ordained ministry… The CRE program is intended to honor these principles ("priesthood or ministry of all believers") by providing a temporary solution to the lack of available ministers of Word and Sacrament to carry out the Presbytery's ministry in a particular place."
A presbytery's mission strategy determines the role a CRE program plays in its overall direction. A presbytery that intends to reach immigrant populations will design its CRE program to contribute to that goal. A thoughtfully designed CRE program can provide a way to reach into communities that our denomination is not equipped to reach at the present time. Indigenous Commissioned Ruling Elders can reach into immigrating communities without the need to learn a new language or be sensitized to a different culture.
Most presbyteries are aware of congregations that have been without an installed pastor for years. These congregations invest a lot of energy into surviving. They spend a lot of energy trying to find someone to preach each Sunday. Even when they have the same Sunday-to- Sunday preacher, they often lack someone to provide others pastoral services. A Presbytery determined to provide pastoral care and preaching from our Reformed perspective to small churches unable to call ministers of Word and Sacrament will design its CRE program to meet those needs.
We live in a rapidly changing world. We face migration of populations among our citizens. Communities that used to be densely populated are declining. Previous rural areas are becoming urban or suburban. Immigration into our country is shifting away from Western culture and becoming more Asian or Hispanic. Commissioned Ruling Elders can provide a valuable ministry in our ever-changing society.
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