Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
This year I spent Easter service at Rock Presbyterian church in Imperial MO. I have been observing Rock’s statistics and am amazed at what is going on there. Rock is one of only two congregations in our presbytery that has grown in membership each year in the past five years. The other congregation is Third Presbyterian (which broke 500 members earlier this year!). Rock is a small congregation that boasts 36 members. It is located south of St. Louis on I-55. I’ve learned that the further south I go in Missouri, the more Southern things become! The folks at Rock were extremely warm and hospitable, and greeted me with smiles of welcome. When I told the members that I was there because they are a vital and vibrant congregation in the presbytery, they informed me it is because of the leadership of their pastor, Stephanie Knopf.
Stephanie is not ordained. She is a Commissioned Ruling Elder (CRE). Stephanie is proof that a CRE is not second-class leadership but can be a powerful presence in leading a healthy and vibrant congregation.
Often, CREs are ruling elders who feel a call to serve the church in preaching and the sacraments. What makes Stephanie’s story unique, is that she chose to become a CRE while in seminary. She said, “I knew at some point I would serve small churches unable to afford the pension dues.” So, she graduated with the Master of Arts, with a focus on pastoral care and Bible.
The CRE program in the denomination was created to help small congregations in rural areas provide pastoral services when an MDiv trained minister is unavailable. The program has since expanded and often includes immigrant congregations, small urban congregations, chaplains, and associate pastors. The decision to allow a congregation to use a CRE is up to the presbytery.
Giddings-Lovejoy does an excellent job commissioning and training CREs. The presbytery has designed a two-year program which includes Bible, Pastoral Care, Reformed Theology, Field Education, and more. A new cohort will begin soon. Stephanie serves as the dean of the program.
If you feel called to expand your role as a ruling elder, or if you know someone who may have gifts in pastoral ministry but does not desire ordination, contact Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Craig M. Howard