We have five excellent candidates who are standing for the office of Moderator of the 220th General Assembly. They have each selected a Vice Moderator candidate. Each of these ten indivduals reflects different backgrounds, different world views, different areas of interest. But they all share one important thing in common: they are all teaching elders. Two years ago, out of the 12 Moderator and Vice Moderator candidates, eleven were teaching elders and only one -- me -- was a ruling elder.
During my tenure as Moderator, I have talked about my belief that an essential of our polity -- the parity between ruling and teaching elders -- is quickly diminishing. And that is a problem for a church that rejects the usual "clergy/lay" distinction in favor of two complementary, and equal, orders of ministry.
Ruling elders are, of course, still very visible within the congregation. But beyond the congregation -- within the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly -- it's becoming increasingly difficult to find them involved in ministry and mission, especially ruling elders who have not yet reached retirement age.
I understand how and why this has happened. Presbytery meetings are often at at a time when ruling elders just simply can't get there. And it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine how a ruling elder, still working, could serve as Moderator. I was able to do it only because I had spent a career at one company and was in a position to switch to part-time work after I was elected (and in fact I retired fully at the end of 2011).
I have no ideas whatsoever as to how to solve this problem. But we all need to start thinking about it. Perhaps we need to reconsider the travel schedule of the Moderator, and allow more moderatorial appearances to happen electronically.
The ruling elder, especially the ruling elder who works outside the church, brings a unique perspective and analysis to the issues of the church. We simply cannot afford to lose that perspective.