What is... Presbytery

In the third of our series on aspects of the Free Church, we are going to look at what Presbytery is and what it does. We’ve already looked at two of the courts of the church, the Kirk Session being the 'lowest’ court and the Assembly the 'highest’.  Between these two sits Presbytery, placing it in a pivotal position in the organisation of church government. Each presbytery covers a geographical area with a number of congregations in it. We are part of Northern Presbytery -being its most southerly congregation.

Presbytery is broadly made up of all the ministers within its bounds plus one elder per minister. Elders are selected by Kirk sessions as their representatives to presbytery. In keeping with our flat hierarchy each member of presbytery has equal voice and vote. One minister is chosen by presbytery every year to act as moderator. This year I’m taking my turn as presbytery elder for Rosskeen. Presbytery normally meets once a month.

Presbytery is the first stage of appeal for those unhappy with Kirk Session decisions. They also act in an advisory capacity to sessions who can refer questions to them.  Presbytery are responsible for pastoral care of ministers in their area. Additionally any items of business which pass from Kirk sessions to the Assembly must usually pass through Presbytery first. Presbytery also has the opportunity to debate certain legislation from Assembly before it becomes church law.

Presbytery have responsibility for licensing of those wishing to become ministers and also the care and monitoring of ministry students in their bounds. They also 'moderate’ the calling of ministers to various congregations.

As part of their responsibility to the congregations in their area, Presbyteries perform an oversight visit to each congregation every 5 years (this used to be called a quinquennial visit, but is now known more simply as a Presbytery Oversight Visit or POV).