Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Why do they need the building?"

“Why do they need the building?” a pastor’s four year old asked as he and others cleared out his office. This is the ultimate question for members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today. A friend who is a psychologist sat in my kitchen this morning talking about family therapy. He explained that when a family experiences a crisis that is when one finds out the spirit and strength of that family. They may respond with courage and love, they might respond with outrage and spite. How are we as a Presbyterian family doing? How are our Presbyteries responding to the crisis at hand?

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.


Peter Larson said...

Viola: When I learned about Hector Reynoso and the three Hispanic congregations being evicted from their church buildings, it reminded me of Jesus being evicted from the synagogue in Nazareth. It's not just Hector who's been cast out of the PC(USA), it is Jesus.

Patrick Watters said...

and the Spirit groans . . .

Viola Larson said...

Peter and Patrick, I agree with both of you.

Patti Beckman said...

Viola, thank you for sharing the details. I am beyond distressed with how the presbytery has reacted in this situation. But... I am very impressed with the way Hector and Tom and the three congregations have handled themselves, being willing to give up the material aspects of ministry in order to follow where Christ calls them to go. Would that the entire Presbyterian family behave with the same dignity and grace!

Viola Larson said...

Amen Patti, they need lots of prayer from all of us.

Presbyman said...

At worship yesterday, I asked for prayer for the pastors and congregations of these evicted churches yesterday ... also for the Presbytery, that it show some grace.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

pastor thalos said...

"...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." I wonder how PCUSA leadership and Mission Presbytery (ironic name seeing as they have become anti-mission) more specifically, reconcile their treatment of dear brothers and sisters in Christ with our Lord's words as recorded here in Matthew? The hardness of hearts on display in this situation toward the least of these. Christ's brethren, by Mission Presbytery is shocking in it's anti-Christian sentiments.

As an EPC teaching elder in a neighboring Presbytery, I welcome these dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are thrilled to be able to covenant and partner with them in their calling and mission, supporting them in every way we can. We will be praying for them regularly, thanking our Lord for the strengthening of their faith and that their love for each other and for all those around them might grow.

Rev. Adel Thalos
Hixson, TN

Sherry L. Kirton said...

John 15:12
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Luke 6:32
...for even sinners love those who love them...

1 John 4:11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:20
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

There is much more our Father has said to us regarding how we treat our brothers. It is a shame that our leaders choose policy over people, over God's people. The leaders and churches that have left are trying to follow the calling of Our Lord. He will bless them for it. How about those of us who have stayed? Should we continue to elect and follow such leaders who mistreat our brothers?

Viola Larson said...

Thanks for all the Scripture Sherry they are all so good. I believe some are called to stay and some are called to leave. But the Lord will be with all.