My pastor approached me in 2002 with a handful of papers and told me, “Here, you should do this. You do it all anyway ― you might as well get paid for it.”

I took a look at some forms for applying to the Commissioned Lay Pastor (now Commissioned Ruling Elder) program just being started. My thoughts went from “What the heck is a CLP?” to “Who the heck would want to be a CLP?” to “Why the heck does Bruce think I’d want to be a CLP?”

I laid the papers aside, but the seed had been planted and the Spirit wouldn’t let it lie. Little by little I investigated what it would mean to become a CLP. Everything except having to speak in front of people intrigued me.

I tested the waters by mentioning it to all my friends. The last person I approached was my husband, Arnie. I had been afraid to “ask” him for fear of much objection, but he somehow supported it. I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time away from family and the classes were held once a month with assignments to work on in between times at our own pace.

The initial cost was $1,000 which I didn’t have. My home church voted to give me $400 as undesignated mission monies and my Presbyterian Women gave me $500. I did have $100, so that stumbling block crumbled.

With most of my excuses for not taking the training having disappeared, my journey began …

Becoming a CLP is a definite call from God. It started for me as a general restlessness in doing church in the same old way. It felt like there had to be more: different ways to worship, new ministry opportunities, deeper lessons to be learned and fewer boring activities.

When I applied, I was scared spitless. Meeting new people is not my strong point. Getting up in front of people made me sick. The lines of communication got crossed twice and I was finally interviewed by phone. It’s a good thing no one could see me because I was literally shaking like a leaf.

God bless Scott Nesbitt (pastor at First United Church in Clinton, Iowa) for saying, “Well we’ll just see where the Holy Spirit takes this.”

My friends and co-workers kept asking where I would work, would I have to move, what would I be doing? I didn’t know and always answered, “Wherever God puts me.”

Some of my closest friends are now my fellow CLPs. We gather twice a year for retreats, including one last month, to keep in touch with our ministries, our home church challenges, our personal lives, our blessings, our frustrations with church and our joy with our Lord.

We worship together, study together, laugh and cry together. One of us was greeted with, “Hi! I didn’t know if you were going to make it or not.” And the response was, “Oh yeah, I wouldn’t miss this.”

We all enjoy the late night conversations, piles of food, hugs, inside jokes and countless other blessings found in our group. As new folks join the program, we just widen the circle. Though our title has been officially changed to CRE, for commissioned ruling elder, we insist we will all remain CLPs. 

If you’ve felt a stirring for some unknown something in your heart, it could very well be that God is calling you to join the CLP program. If your church is struggling to find a minister, perhaps a CLP could fill your needs. 

My favorite quote thus far is from a guest at the church I serve, First Church United in West Liberty: “So, you’re the pastor here?”


“And they don’t have a real pastor?”

“Nope, just me.”

Gotta love ‘em.

Marian Hart is CLP/CRE at First Church United in West Liberty, Iowa.