Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sacramento Presbytery, Synod of the Pacific and trust-Update

Trust will always be one of the greatest, rarest, and happiest blessings of our life in community, though it can emerge only on the dark background of a necessary mistrust. We have learnt never to trust a scoundrel an inch, but to give ourselves to the trustworthy without reserve.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

Letters & Papers From Prison

Saturday, May 21, 2011, was the Sacramento Presbytery meeting in a small town, McCloud, in the beautiful Shasta Mountain area of California. The sermon, about the centrality of Jesus Christ, the hymn, In Christ Alone, and the reading of that part of the Declaration of Barmen which states that “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death,” were comforts for what would follow.

The Synod of the Pacific having taken over the cases against Roseville and Fair Oaks Church’s from the Sacramento presbytery had extracted 810, 000 from Roseville and 1.1million from Fair Oaks. The money was then given to Sacramento Presbytery. My pastor, Rev. Don Baird sent a motion to the Presbytery which we were to vote on at the meeting. The motion asked the Presbytery to “Receive from the Roseville Presbyterian Church their original gift of $160, 000 and Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church their original gift of 250, 000, gifts they offered and we accepted in 2007, and return all additional amounts they may have already sent to the Sacramento Presbytery as a result of their negotiations with the Synod of the Pacific as a gesture of our charity and oneness in Christ.”

Eight reasons were listed as to why the money should be returned. One of them was “Because Fair Oaks Presbyterian and Roseville Presbyterian churches have been in our community for over 50 years and we look forward to sharing ecumenical ministry with them each for many more years to come.”

An important technical reason was because: “the Sacramento Presbytery has the authority of trusteeship of all the congregational properties (G-8.0601) and responsibility for ecumenical relations within its boundaries (G-15.0101, .0102, .0103; 10.0102q; 11.0103u)”

A commissioner who has been a past Moderator of our Presbytery, sent an inquiry about the motion, without any Evangelical knowing, to a lawyer, Stephen L. Taber, who not only works for Meyers/Nave but is also connected, by profession to the Covenant Network. The lawyer's return letter was sandwiched in between a motion to table the first motion. I did not see it until just today because both were passed out by the lady during the second motion.

On the back of the motion to table and the letter from Taber, was a copied article from The Layman, which they had taken from the Sacramento Bee. It was about Fair Oaks accomplishment of raising the1.1 million to pay to the Synod. One can only suppose that the article was there to suggest that any church that can raise money that fast should not have their money returned to them. The second motion passed 41 to 38.

The worst part of this debate was a letter from the Synod of the Pacific read to the Presbytery. I will put that next, but what most of the commissioners do not know is that the Stated Clerk of the Synod sent this message to our Stated Clerk: (I am posting it as it appears in what was sent to me)

“Dear Carolyn,
Attached please find a letter from the Synod Coordinating=Council to the
Commissioners of your Sacramento Presbytery. Please r=ad prior to the vote on
the motion mentioned in the letter.
Thank you =or your assistance in this matter.
And please phone me when you receive =his, since you and I have had trouble with
our email in the past!
Ble=sings to you and the commissioners as you deliberate on the business at ha=d
this Saturday!
Rev. Wendy G. Warner
Stated Clerk
Syn=d of the Pacific”

Here is the letter from the Synod:
To the Presbytery of Sacramento
C/o Carolyn Knight, Stated Clerk

Dear Commissioners to the Sacramento Presbytery meeting of May 21, 2011,
It has come to the attention of the Coordinating Council of the Synod of the Pacific that there is a motion on your Presbytery docket stating:
That the Sacramento Presbytery receive from the Roseville Presbyterian Church their original gift of 160, 000 and Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church their original gift of 250, 000, gifts they offered and we accepted in 2007, and return all additional amounts they may have already sent to the Sacramento Presbytery as a result of their negotiations with the Synod of the Pacific as a gesture of our charity and oneness in Christ.

While we certainly encourage gestures of “charity and oneness in Christ”, this particular gesture, hence this motion, can only be seen as an attempted irregularity.

First, the motion quoted above does not mention the repayment of the legal costs incurred by the Presbytery and the Synod in the pursuit of settlement of the civil cases and the negotiations precipated by the Fair Oaks and Roseville churches in the filing of their civil cases. Over 200, 000 has been spent by these two governing bodies seeking resolution to these cases, and the governing bodies must be repaid.

Secondly, the Presbytery of Sacramento VOTED to request that the Synod assume original jurisdiction over these two cases, and the Synod VOTED to accept that request. These two actions were never rescinded by either body and are thus still in effect.

Finally, Chapter VII of the Book of Order states clearly that “all property by or for a particular church, a presbytery … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” G-8.0201. Since both churches requested of the Presbytery of Sacramento that they be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is a denomination which has no relationship with the PC (U.S.A.), and both churches are in some stage of effecting that dismissal, it is clear that any monies given to either church would not benefit the PC (U.S.A.). Such a ‘gift’ which would come from property that is limited to the use and benefit of the PC (U.S.A.) and therefore would violate the provision of the Book of Order.

Dear friends in the Sacramento Presbytery, we are keenly aware that these are difficult days in the life of our denomination. We pray, as our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we may find our way together along the path which is before us. “(Bold mine, capitalized lettering of voted authors.)

This is signed Coordinating Council of the Synod of the Pacific by the Synod Executive, Rob Brink and by the Synod Stated Clerk Wendy Warner.

Here are some answers to the letter.

1. The legal fees have already been paid they are not a part of the money that is being written about in the first motion.

2. “From the time we asked that the synod appoint an Administrative Commission to deal with this issue, the synod decided to move forward without appointing an Administrative Commission and to deal with the issue as they deemed necessary. “Once the agreements and payments by the two churches [were made it] terminated the synods authority as to our original request.” (known source)

3. The PCUSA is in communion with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church according to the Book of OrderG-15.0201 (2).
“a. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in full communion with those churches so recognized by ecumenical agreements approved by the General assembly.
b. The General Assembly is in correspondence with the highest governing body:
(2) of those churches that are members of the ecumenical bodies in which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) holds membership”

Both the PC (U.S.A.) and the EPC belong to the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

One of the arguments for tabling the first motion was because God has given this to us as a gift, and although it may be hard we should receive it.

In the tabling motion it states that such money could be used for-“new church development, mission work, a viable resource center, specialized ministries (as Latino or other ethnic ministries.)”

Will our Lord honor the use of what is considered by some blood money for his work? Will he even see it as his work?

When all of the debate was over, and we were on to other issues, one very quiet pastor who rarely speaks took the floor to talk about a well known older pastor who had died and had been given a memorial service by the speaking pastor’s church. He mentioned that his church had been too small to hold the 500 people who came. But, he said, Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church generously allowed them to use their Church.

Update-"The two churches paid the total cost of all legal fees incurred by the Presbytery and Synod. The Sacramento Presbytery received $203,550.02."

Letter on file.


Reformed Catholic said...

This may be a portent of things to come if nFOG is passed.

Many requirements currently assigned to the Presbyteries and Sessions would be usurped by 'Higher Councils'.

Viola Larson said...

Reformed Catholic,
The Sacramento Presbytery did turn the cases over to the Synod because we were going broke. However there were stipulations which they did not follow. And they did not need to charge the churches that amount of money. And it is partly their fault that the cases went on as long as they did.

When David Thompson filed a complaint against our Presbytery for letting the Churches go for only a mere 160, 000 and 250, 000, the Synod insisted that the Presbytery immediately end our dismissal and not file counter charges. They aggravated the situation and have ever since. And it is interesting g that almost all of the people fighting to not give the money back are on the progressive side and have pushed for the ordination standards to be let go.

Viola Larson said...

But yes, it is undoubtedly a portent of things to come and one of the reasons I wrote on it.

Viola Larson said...

Reformed Catholic and others,
For further information about how the Synod has interfered in this case at a later time read,

This was a time when the Synod ordered the Sacramento Presbytery to appeal a case that they had refused to appeal.

With this they set the Presbytery toward bankruptcy and caused them to have to turn the case over to them.

Alan said...

The more I read the happier I am we took the step when we did.

Peace and prayers to you and for yours


Mrs. Reverend Doctor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Presbyman said...

This is very depressing. The Synod's language is petty and legalistic. They come across as grasping and greedy about money. The communication is far from expressing the Spirit of Christ.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

John E. I think in this case it is both some in the Synod and some in the Presbytery.

Pastor Bob said...

Didn't this happen to a Louisiana presbytery too and bankrupt the presbytery? The presbytery was going to just let the church go. The synod set up an administrative commission that oversaw the presbytery's process and required the presbytery to ask for money. I think.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

Mac said...

And then there was Presbytery of Northern New England which spent $600,000 on legal fees, only to settle. part of the $600,000 was used to sue each elder of the departing church individually. Vindictiveness to the max. When they went to Louisville for "promised" financial support, they were left dangling in the wind.

will spotts said...

Mac -

The GA set up an extra commitment opportunity for conducting vindictive lawsuits - specifically referencing Northern New England. I don't think they got many contributions.

will spotts said...

Viola - off topic, but FYI: Belhar looks to have been defeated. nFOG seems likely to pass.