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