The way presbyteries negotiate with churches seeking dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I believe, says a lot about how they view the church universal. And this includes the presbytery’s view of the mission of the church. The thoughts I am writing about here came together after listening to the speakers for three administrative commissions at the last Presbytery of Sacramento meeting. Adding to my thoughts was a letter the session of Journey Church, (My church), received from the Presbytery negotiating team.
And let me quickly add that I don’t believe questions about the PC (U.S.A.)’s view of its mission or its view of the universal church has yet been truly formulated and answered by either my presbytery or the denomination. So here is the background.
At the presbytery meeting first two speakers explained what an AC was doing about two Korea churches who had simply withdrawn from both the denomination and their properties. One church, Capital Korean, now has 49 people worshiping in their church and according to the speaker are in need of healing. They hope to emphasize their youth ministry.
Zion Presbyterian church is consumed with problems. At the first meeting with those who had not left, the speaker stated that 58 people were present but twenty of them were people who wanted to leave but not with the pastor. The situation at this church is troubling to the AC and the presbytery because the church owes a huge debt. As I stated in another posting members of the presbytery wondered if the people who left owned the property and should pay the debt. The report was confusing but it seems as though the Presbytery is acknowledging that the property with the debt is theirs.
The third report was about Burney Presbyterian Church. The AC speaker for this church stated that there were 10 people staying—this is out of around thirty people. He stated that in the small town of Burney there was a need for a mainline church and also for ministry to Hispanic youth. After the meeting, I asked him if the 10 persons were attending church, because I had been told by a friend that at first no one came. The speaker stated that no one was yet coming to the church for worship because they did not yet have a pastor. This church was taken from the members of Burney who wished to leave with their property and yet no one is worshiping there!
The letter, e-mail, that came to Journey’s session was to ask for a meeting and for a gathering of mostly financial information but we were reminded of the various information the PET would be looking at. They referred to the Presbytery’s new dismissal policy. “Before negotiating the terms of dismissal the PNT shall review, perform and/or obtain the following:”
Among other bits of information PET needed to obtain they pointed to this: “The Presbytery’s mission strategy in the geographic area, and the proximity of other PC (U.S.A.) congregations;”
However the information the PET asked for was not about any of the ministries of Journey but about their property and financial status. For instance there is this:
“As the PNT interprets the policy, we are requesting specifically, but not limited to, the following:
1. Any tangible and or electronic check registers, check stubs, canceled checks, bank statements, and reconciliation statements, deposit books, statements of account, and all other books and records covering transactions from January 1, 2010, to the present date., with respect to any checking, savings accounts, credit union accounts, savings and loans associations accounts, investment accounts held in the name of, or for the benefit, of the church or by any individuals or business entities on behalf of the church or in which the church has, or will receive, an interest. (Including funds not yet dispersed as a result of bequests of deceased persons.)”
“ 13. Any and all documents pertaining to employment of the staff , including but not limited all records showing the amount of accrued vacation sick leave, and comp time , applications for employment, notices of employment, notices of promotions, or salary/fringe benefit increases, notice of demotions, pay deductions, discipline or termination, notice of resignations of employment, written reviews of staff work performance, any and all payment vouchers and records reflecting contributions to and withdrawals and rights under any employment retirement program, retirement plans, including Individual Retirement Accounts, pensions plans, 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans from all employment.
14. Records of Journey Church’s Session and Deacon meetings, including but not limited to Minutes, confidential reports, emails, or other communications.
15. Records of financial reports including but not limited to treasurer reports to Session and Deacons, the congregation, sub-committees, budgets, revised budgets, data bases containing financial information, passwords to accounts held in electronic storage,”
This is all about money, but there is that other question about the church universal—how do these requests reveal the presbytery’s view of the ministry of the whole church? And if one ignores the ministry and mission of Journey or any other church what does that say about concern for mission. Is the PC (U.S.A.) the only denomination who has a worthy mission?
Not far from my house is a huge Salvation Army church. They have a large gym so that the youth in the area can participate in sports. There is a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in the midtown area and a well-known artist, a member of the church, hosts’ city artists who work with clay. He even built a kiln for them to fire their work. Likewise, Journey Church is filled with ministries—prison ministries, a food bank, Teen Challenge, an African school, the list goes on and on.
The heart that is generous and full of the love of God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will rejoice in the Holy Spirit’s work in other places of the vineyard. When the PC (U.S.A.) begins to value the universal church in all of its true diversity—yes, including the Southern Baptist and the Assemblies of God, many of our battles will be over. When the presbyteries see the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and that of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians as enhancing the Kingdom of God there will be true unity under the Lordship of Christ.