Monday, November 18, 2013

Assistant Stated Clerk, Laurie Griffith's response to my question about the Tecumseh AC Commission Report

Toward the end of October I posted an article, The Polity Conference, the Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report & a sign, about the handout given out at the Polity Conference for leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I wrote this:

"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."
 I sent this e-mail:

"Laurie Griffith

Manager of Judicial Process And Social Witness
Office of the General Assembly

 Dear Ms. Griffith,

 I have read the two handouts for the panel discussion/workshop you facilitated for the Presbyterian Polity Conference, "Workshop A4 - Dismissing Congregations to a Reformed Denomination - A Panel Discussion.' I am interested in the second handout "Tecumseh Administrative Commission Report," and am wondering why that was chosen as a handout and how it was used. Was it considered a good model?  I am very interested in the report because it reminds me of how the case for my former church Fremont Presbyterian in Sacramento was first approached. (I now attend Journey Church in Folsom, a PCUSA church.) The approach to Fremont was changed and they are now EPC with a small PCUSA church nested in their campus.

 I write about many Presbyterian issues on my blog Naming the Grace and will be writing about the handout; because of that I hope you can provide me with relevant information.

 Sincerely in Christ Jesus,

Viola Larson

Ruling Elder, Sacramento"

I waited a week and then once again wrote to Griffith. She returned my e-mail stating she had not seen my earlier e-mail, and asked if I could resend it. I did so providing her with a link to my article. I waited until today, November the 18th, and once again e-mailed her. Griffith has finally answered and here is her e-mail.

“Hello Viola,

 This was a conversation, not a how-to workshop,  among persons from Presbyteries that are or have been discerning their mission regarding whether or not to dismiss a congregation to another reformed denomination.  The conversation was begun by short presentations from three presbyteries in different stages of their discernment with particular congregations.   This was an example of a presbytery that had concluded a discernment of mission that resulted in a dismissal.   

 Thank you for your interest in the process that presbyteries take when discerning their mission for organizing, merging, dividing, dissolving or dismissing congregations.

 Here are the guiding principles around this process as found within the Book of Order the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

 A Presbytery has the power to establish plans and rules for the worship, mission, government and discipline of the church and to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity and progress of the church under the will of Christ.  G-3.0102.   Mission determines the forms and structures needed for the church to do its work.  Administration is the process by which a council implements its decisions.  Administration enables the church to give effective witness in the world to God’s new creation in Jesus Christ and strengthens the church’s witness to the mission of the triune god. G-3.0106. A presbytery has the responsibility to coordinate, guide, encourage, support, and resource the work of its congregations for the most effective witness to the broader community.  In order to accomplish this responsibility, the presbytery has authority to a. develop strategy for the mission of the church in its district; b. control the location of new congregations and of congregations desiring to move as well as to divide, dismiss, or dissolve congregations in consultation with their members.  G-3.0303, G-3.0303a and b.

 I hope that this is helpful to you.

 Laurie Griffith

Assistant Stated Clerk

Coordinator of Judicial Process and Social Witness

Office of the General Assembly

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

100 Witherspoon Street

Louisville, KY 40205

First, I will have to confess, I did not know that Laurie Griffith was the Assistant Stated Clerk. In a sense, Griffith, without stating it, has given me a yes to my question, “Was it considered a good model?” because if this was an example of a presbytery that had reached the end of the dismissal process it would be a model—the only model described in a handout. I do not believe that the Office of the Stated Clerk is working toward peace among Christians. If anyone was a part of the process and would care to expand and/or contradict my statement I would be happy to hear from them in the comment section.


Mateen Elass said...

As of last October, there are many varied processes from an array of presbyteries successfully dismissing churches to other Reformed bodies. Ms. Griffith could have chosen a sample demonstrating the whole spectrum of approaches, or at least one demonstrating true grace. The fact that she chose only the Tecumseh approach speaks volumes, in spite of her protestations that this was only a "conversation," not a workshop.

Viola Larson said...

Yes and there was the gracious dismissal overture voted in by, I believe it was the 2008 General Assembly. That seems to be totally ignored.

robert austell said...

The 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

1. Directs the Stated Clerk to send this resolution to the presbyteries, synods, and sessions, indicating the will of the assembly that presbyteries and synods develop and make available to lower governing bodies and local congregations a process that exercises the responsibility and power “to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches in consultation with their members” (G-11.0103i) with consistency, pastoral responsibility, accountability, gracious witness, openness, and transparency.

2. Believing that trying to exercise this responsibility and power through litigation is deadly to the cause of Christ, impacting the local church, other parts of the Body of Christ and ecumenical relationships, and our witness to Christ in the world around us, the General Assembly urges congregations considering leaving the denomination, presbyteries, and synods to implement a process using the following principles:

•Consistency: The local authority delegated to presbyteries is guided and shaped by our shared faith, service, and witness to Jesus Christ.

•Pastoral Responsibility: The requirement in G-11.0103i to consult with the members of a church seeking dismissal highlights the presbytery’s pastoral responsibility, which must not be submerged beneath other responsibilities.

•Accountability: For a governing body, accountability rightly dictates fiduciary and connectional concerns, raising general issues of property (G-8.0000) and specific issues of schism within a congregation (G-8.0600). But, full accountability also requires preeminent concern with “caring for the flock.”

•Gracious Witness: It is our belief that Scripture and the Holy Spirit require a gracious witness from us rather than a harsh legalism.

•Openness and Transparency: Early, open communication and transparency about principles and process of dismissal necessarily serve truth, order, and goodness, and work against seeking civil litigation as a solution.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Robert

will spotts said...

You quote "A Presbytery has the power ... to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity and progress of the church under the will of Christ."

I never noticed that word progress before. I wonder what that indicates.

Viola Larson said...

I felt so insulted that she sent me something out of the Book of Order rather than completely answering my question that I only skimmed that part.

That is a good question, I never noticed that before. I would think anyone could interpret that any way they wanted. But then the other words work the same way.