One church in Oklahoma meets in a theater after being kicked out of their church home. The pastor was fired several weeks before his retirement. Some churches pay horrific sums of money. One church and pastor volunteered to meet in a home waiting for God’s direction. Some churches are stuck in slow motion, almost at standstill, some waiting several years for their presbyteries to finally clear a reasonable pathway for them to join a different Reformed body.
There are gracious Presbyteries and Executive Presbyters who allow beautiful closure services that include the receiving denomination. And then there is the stated clerk who demanded that a pastor clear out his office and drop the church’s keys off to the COM Regional Chair in less then a week after he, another pastor and three Hispanic churches disaffiliated and renounced jurisdiction.
The pastors and the churches, one without a pastor, have good reason to renounce jurisdiction far more then most Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches. Their churches are all in poor neighborhoods. Their ministry to Hispanic people is being troubled not only by lack of care by their presbytery but also by progressive cultural standards in the denomination that many in Hispanic communities do not accept. And there are greater theological issues having to do with Christology and the authority of the word that are definitely unacceptable.
Three congregations, El Principe de Paz, (Mercedes TX), Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani (San Benito, TX) and Iglesia Presbiteriana San Pablo (Brownsville, TX), with two pastors, Rev. Hector Reynoso and Rev. Tom Johnson, renounced jurisdiction and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. They left for the reasons above and they did so by disaffiliation because they were concerned with the separation policy of Mission Presbytery. As they pointed out in their letter to members and staff of Mission Presbytery the policy “does not allow a session or congregation to freely discuss the option of leaving.”
The letter written to the Presbytery ,after acknowledging the trust clause in the Book of Order, contained a plea for kindness:
Therefore we appeal to your sense of mercy and implore of you to dig deep within your hearts, and allow us to keep our properties, our assets and bank accounts. We are not rich churches, we do not have a high income, we do not have big bank accounts, and we are all located in low income neighborhoods in two of the poorest counties of the United States. So we kindly implore for the sake of the extension of God's kingdom that you will let us go with the little that we have; so that we may continue to let His light shine in our respective neighborhoods.But they did not receive kindness, rather a letter to Rev. Reynoso, from Stated Clerk, Karen Stocks, which included this:
Concurrent with this renunciation taking effect, the pastoral relationship with El Principe De Paz, Mercedes TX is ended without further action by any party. Per your request, you may retrieve "books and personal items" from the church property. No later than Friday, February 16,2012, remove your personal items and turn in all church keys to COM Regional Chair.As Rev. Reynoso’s congregation gathered, worshiped and made the decision that they would all leave together, many helped him clean out his office. As he did so, his small daughter, not quite five, kept asking, “but why do they need the building?" So why does Mission Presbytery need the buildings of three Hispanic churches in low income neighborhoods? The presbytery is obviously not interested in mission or they would rejoice that these churches are still there, still reformed and still proclaiming the gospel. If it is Presbyterian polity they are upholding, perhaps they have failed to add mercy to the mix.
Our spiritual wellbeing is at stake in these troubled times. Scripture speaks to the Christian about a judgment that begins from and with the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17) As both John H. Elliot & Wayne Grudem in their respective commentaries point out this beginning is a judgment of evaluation & testing as well as vindication for those suffering (Elliot). Grudem, using Malachi 3, sees such judgment as purifying and refining. Many times we do not know ourselves. Until the crisis comes, like the families my friend spoke of, we do not know how close we have chosen to walk with Jesus.
God will winnow his people. Judgment comes as a means of calling many to repent of their hard hearts. We need to hear the cry for mercy. We must and will glorify God above and beyond any particular denominational polity.
In a final letter to Mission Presbytery, Rev. Reynoso wrote that all congregations had turned in their keys to the Committee on Ministry. They once again reminded the Presbytery of their request to keep their property. Rev. Reynoso added a p.s.:
Please be informed that El Principe de Paz owns a small cemetery and many of our saints are buried there. It is designated to bury our church members. Please take good care of it.Indeed! May all who stand for Jesus Christ, the Church militant, the Church triumphant, be taken good care of.
At the 219 General Assembly: Hector was and is a courageous and faithful follower of Jesus.