Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Polity Conference, the Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report & a sign

The Presbyterian News Service reports that on October 14-16 during the annual Polity Conference, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons preached about Ahaz and his refusal of a sign from the prophet Isaiah. He spoke of a sign needed by those in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and concluded that the sign, unlike the apostle John's dream of the new Jerusalem, was that God was not done. There are still budgets, committee meetings and sermons that need attention.

Connected to the news posting are links for the Polity Conference schedule and various workshops and handouts for the workshops. One of the workshops was entitled “Workshop A4 - Dismissing Congregations to a Reformed Denomination - A Panel Discussion” It was led by Laurie Griffith, Manager of Judicial Process and Social Witness of the Office of the General Assembly. One of the handouts was The Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report from the Maumee Valley Presbytery.

The report is written by those who participated in an AC which oversaw the dismissal of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, Michigan. The outcome of that process was that the larger body of First Presbyterian was required to leave without the church property. While there are always problems and sin on all sides in such disputes, I found the report troubling and wondered why this particular report was used for such a workshop. The implications are many, and for that reason I have written an e-mail to Ms. Griffith asking her why the paper was used, and will report on her answer if I receive one.

In the mean time I have several thoughts about the AC report. First, the report and the actions of the AC reminded me very much of the actions of the AC that was at first put over Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento. However the actions of the AC in Sacramento were challenged by several wise and faithful teaching elders. The actions of the Sacramento Presbytery changed and the outcome of that change was that Fremont entered the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with their property and with a tiny group of PCUSA members nested as a church on their campus.

So here are several items that were brought up but not answered in the report. The presbytery required that at least 50% of the congregation should be present to vote. Since that did not happen they resolved to find out why. Yet, no answer is given about why in the report.

The vote was 150 to leave, 31 to stay. But nowhere in the report does it say how many did stay and whether they were original members or newly recruited members.

And there is a discussion about values. The AC report states that they had supposed that both sides held the same values. “Our core values assumed common convictions among all parties involved in the negotiations. Simply stated, we assumed that we all believed in the same one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” But earlier they state “There were groups that, in retrospect, we know were operating out of different core values,” and they do not explain what the different values were, which would seem to me to be extremely important.

The AC members evidently believed they had failed in some sense because they were unable to reconcile the two groups in their beliefs—but the reader is left without any understanding of who believed what. And yet they believed they did have some success, writing, “We were successful in the sense that there are two healing congregations with different ethos, core values and make up in the Tecumseh area located a few blocks from each other.” But because there was no reconciliation this was called schism which would of course place a burden on the body that wished to leave the PCUSA.

The conclusion was:
 "We presented multiple plans for resolution, at two different Presbytery meetings. Those who intended to leave the PCUSA presented multiple plans for resolution. When the portion of the congregation desiring to be affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church communicated their desire in writing, the Administrative Commission brought a motion to the February 21, 2012 Presbytery meeting requesting disapproval of the actions of the Session in making application to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and to warn the Session and the Pastor of the Presbytery’s disapproval. The debate provided an opportunity to begin to discuss some of the differences in perspectives held by the differing entities.

The Administrative Commission sought to recognize the broken relationship at Tecumseh by formal action. We brought a motion declaring schism to the Presbytery on May 15, 2012. One part of the  congregation was declared to be “true church in the PCUSA”. Original jurisdiction was given to the Administrative Commission by vote of the Presbytery on that day after extensive debate.”
Beyond the unanswered questions are what I would consider scary conclusions in the report. They are at the very end of the report where AC members write suggestions that others might follow. 

There is this: “We needed to manage the transition into the Original Jurisdiction in a different manner. In the future, we would recommend receiving the books and the financial documents at the time of the Original Jurisdiction. If there is doubt, freeze the assets.”

And this: “In contentious situations, we recommend courteous visits to the civil authorities such as Police Chief or Sheriff; to the media, including local newspapers; to the political leadership including the Mayor or Township Supervisor in order to assure them of the desire for peaceful resolutions.”

And this: “We also would recommend a visit to the bank in which the church’s assets are held, and a conveyance of the appropriate documents indicating the Presbytery’s authority over the assets if such actions become advisable.”      

It is troubling that this report was the handout for a forum/workshop on dismissing congregations. There are so many questions. Was all of this used as the best way to dismiss congregations? Was the report seen as a good model? Certainly that part of the body of Christ leaving goes because their values are usually different then those who want to stay. They can be reconciled in friendship and care for one another but hardly in beliefs.

For a different viewpoint concerning all of these actions one of the members, Mary Cates, of the original First Presbyterian Church which is now Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church, has written a paper, From Faith to Victory, on the church's journey. And there are additional papers and letters found at the end: http://emmausroa7.wix.com/whatsgoingonatchurch#!page4/cfvg

I would like to suggest that it is perhaps not a sign that the PCUSA needs, but a call about goodness; “to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God.” Give justice to those who are departing—real justice—don't grab for their money or buildings—recognize their ministries and the ministries of those outside of the PCUSA. Love the departing ones with kindness—don't take away their means of ministry. Walk humbly with your God; come under the Lordship of Christ. He has called us all to faithfulness.

Ahaz rejected Isaiah's word and promise of a sign and the sign, although fulfilled in some manner in Ahaz's time, was clearly fulfilled in Christ. When a denomination rejects God's promises of redemptive love bought on the bloody cross of Christ and instead seeks humanistic justice which includes sexual sin and the killing of innocent babies, committee meetings, budgets and even sermons will not be signs but heavy burdens without joy. I believe God is calling the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to repentance.

picture by Stephen Larson


Anonymous said...

Yes, visits to the bank, political leaders, and law enforcement certainly does show a "desire for a peaceful resolution." I can't imagine what other message anyone could possibly take from such actions. One cannot conclude anything but that the presbytery is made up of people whose thoughts are of nothing other than flowers and rainbows.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Clay Allard said...

Maumee Valley has a bad history of dealing with the Evangelical witness. I had been wondering what happened to Richard Mortimer and the Tecumseh church. Thanks for filling in the blanks for me.
Presbyteries, like people, are often driven by their past experience. MVP has always been pretty paranoid about Evangelical witnesses; it has acted precipitously in the past. The situation was a long time coming, but still there had to be a better way.

Viola Larson said...

Clay, thanks for your information you filled in some blanks for me also. Now if we could only know how this was used in the forum.

Presbyman said...


It's depressing that Parsons is pointing to this incident as a good example to others. Based on your post, and another by Mary Naegli on a different situation, I am coming to understand why a church like Highland Park Dallas pre-emptively asked the district court for an injunction. What is coming from denominational leadership is poisonous.

Bless you,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

I am not at all sure that Parsons is the one pointing to this report as a model, however he spoke at the Presbytery's service of separation not to long after the smaller group was given the church property.

Anonymous said...


One correction. The Maumee Valley policy for dismissal stated that the congregational meeting shall have a "goal of 50%." One is hard pressed to read that as a requirement. In fact, members of their AC stated that the policy was "poorly written."
For further information, when members of MVP visited city hall, one of their stated purposes was to alert them that if anything untoward occurred, the fault would most likely rest with the majority {"the other side"}. To their credit, city officials waved off the visit as inappropriate and none of their concern.
Finally, the victor always writes the history. To paraphrase an old saying, "There are lies, damned lies, and reports of loyal bureaucrats."

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Anonymous, Normally I require that you ID yourself to comment here. I think I understand why you have not done so.

So the AC actually went to the civil authorities on this case- how unbiblical and arrogant. And thank you for the clarification of the "goal" of fifty percent. You are right that is a difference.

Anonymous said...

The Tecumseh AC and the entire manner in which the Maumee Valley Presbytery handled the dismissal process was a dismal failure and is a black eye on the integrity of the presbytery, such as it might be. It is a tale of duplicity and double-speak, disregarding the process which the presbytery itself had crafted. Ultimately it was a stewardship disaster for the MVP. Hardly the things "how-to" seminars should be built upon, unless, of course, your intent is to foster that type of duplicity and ill will. Sad indeed. I pray others think better of it, and pray that the MVP treats future departing congregations with more grace and a little bit of humility on their own part.