Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Prayers for Fremont Presbyterian Church: an Administrative Commission

This came in my e-mail within the last two hours. I am ashamed of my presbytery leadership. Since when does the group who does not vote count for an additional problem to those considering whose shall be the property in a dispute. For instance when Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church voted to leave, they had a membership of 2,286 members and 1,218 voted. Roseville had 1, 143 and 760 members voted. Those non-voting members did not count. (I have added a video at the bottom.)

Administrative Commission for Fremont Presbyterian Church

Purpose: Pursuant to the request from the Committee on Ministry, I, Anna Niemann Perrine, in my capacity as moderator of the Presbytery of Sacramento, call a special meeting of the Presbytery of Sacramento for Monday, January 9, at 7:00 pm at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church, 5839 Dewey Drive, Citrus Heights, CA, for the purpose of acting on the following motion regarding Fremont Presbyterian Church.

Motion: That, pursuant to Book of Order G-3.0109, the Presbytery of Sacramento appoint an Administrative Commission to visit Fremont Presbyterian Church and inquire into an apparent schism within the membership of that congregation. The Commission shall consist of six or more members, equally divided between teaching elders and ruling elders, appointed by the Moderator in consultation with the chairpersons of the Committee on Ministry, the Stated Clerk, the recently retired Interim Stated Clerk, and the Transitional Presbyter. No two members of the Commission shall belong to the same congregation.

Specifically, the Commission shall inquire into, report on and make recommendations with respect to the following questions within the meaning of Book of Order G-4.0207 (Property of Congregation in Schism) so that the Presbytery can make the determination required by G-4.0207:

1. Whether there is a schism within the membership of that congregation, and if so;

2. Whether a reconciliation of the factions or a division of the factions into separate congregations within
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be effected, and if not;

3. If one of the factions is entitled to the property because it is identified by the presbytery as the true
church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Commission shall, before making its final report and recommendations on these questions, afford to all
persons affected by its decision fair notice and an opportunity to be heard on matters at issue.

The Commission shall have access to such records and documents (whether in written or electronic form), as it, in its judgment needs to review in order to make its recommendations.

The Commission shall make a report, whether interim or final, to the Presbytery at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

Rationale: COM has concluded there are threshold questions which must be resolved by the Presbytery of Sacramento before there are any negotiations with representatives of the leaders and members of Fremont Presbyterian Church who wish to affiliate with another denomination. In the past, our Presbytery has dealt with schisms between an entire (or virtually entire) congregation and the PC(USA).

By contrast, in the case of Fremont, there appears to be a schism within that congregation between two identifiable and large groups of Presbyterians, one of which has voted to leave the PC(USA) and become a congregation within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) and one of which voted against leaving the PC(USA). In addition, there is a third group -- which is reportedly nearly as large as the first two groups
combined, if not larger -- which has not voted one way the other.

The Book of Order specifies in G-4.0202 that its provisions "prescribing the manner in which decisions are made, reviewed, and corrected . . . are applicable to all matters pertaining to property." G-4.0207, Property of Congregation in Schism, provides.

The relationship to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of a congregation can be severed only by constitutional action on the part of the presbytery (G-3.0303b). If there is a schism within the membership of a congregation and the presbytery is unable to effect a reconciliation or a division into separate congregations within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the presbytery shall1 determine if one of the factions is entitled to the property because it is identified by the presbytery as the true church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This determination does not depend upon which faction received the majority vote within the congregation at the time of the schism.

The Guidelines for Churches Considering Seeking Dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the COM Handbook do not address as situation such as we face here. Instead, they appear to presuppose a reconciliation or a decision by an entire congregation or the functional equivalent thereof to seek such dismissal. The Guidelines make no reference to making the determinations required by G-4.0207 when there is a divided congregation such as appears to be the case with Fremont. Indeed, the phrase "the true church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)" appears nowhere in these Guidelines.

COM concluded that (1) negotiations regarding property and other issues with the representatives of the members, elders and pastors at Fremont who wish to leave the PC(USA) and affiliate with the EPC should not occur before the determinations required by Book of Order G-4.0207 are made by Presbytery and that (2) a "team" appointed by COM pursuant to the Guidelines is not the appropriate body to assist and advise Presbytery with respect to these determinations. The results of such "team" negotiations would probably be
subject to a proceeding2 before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific, and perhaps the PJC of the General Assembly. Years might pass before a resolution of the threshold questions, during which hundreds of Presbyterians would remain in limbo.

G-4.0207 is silent as to how a particular presbytery is to determine whether a particular faction should be identified as the true church within the PCUSA, but it mandates that such a determination be made. COM believes that a broadly-based administrative commission including representatives from at least six different congregations is the most appropriate tool to assist Presbytery in making the required determinations.

1 The Preface to the Book of Order provides: "In this Book of Order (1) SHALL and IS TO BE/ARE TO BE signify practice that is mandated, . . . ."

2 Including, without limitation, a request for stay, appeal, remedial action or other recourse.

I have added a video of Pastor Don Baird baptizing young people at Fremont.

Baptisms from Fremont Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

I was hoping that switching from a pcusa church to an (about-to-be)epc church would eliminate the denominational garbage going on, but it looks like I've transferred to a church that is about to be tortured because of the greediness of the presbytery leadership. What an unfortunate nightmare. I guess the leadership at Fremont should call some serious prayer meetings and maybe more. DTM

Anonymous said...

It's a divorce. What did you expect?

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous 2 I know who anon 1 is, I don't know who you are except you are from Sacramento, please do not write here again unless you put your name.

Pat & Patti Watters said...

So tragically sad how far we've strayed from the Cross and Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Clearly there are some within the congregation who can't abide by the decision, and are now going to use every parliamentary and political procedure they can to get their way.

Mike Nevin

Viola Larson said...

But their assumptions are wrong. One is that some people who voted to leave will change their mind. Another is that those who did not vote will go with those who do not care about the authority of scripture, Christology and view unbiblical sexual immorality as okay- but most of those people are new to Presbyterianism and simply like the programs and faith values of Fremont. They will not stay for immorality.

Anonymous said...

The problem we have is in #3 above. "The true church within the PC(USA)" The true church has realized that there is no future in the pPC(USA),

Liberalism is parasitic. Liberals never built a congregation or denomination, they feed on the fortune built by faithful women and men. The heretics in the PC(USA) cannot allow faithful congregations to leave, they need the per capita dollars that fund their pet projects.

Rev. Michael Neubert, PSEI

Mac said...

Is this just the leadership of Sacramento Presbytery covering its 6 o'clock to prevent one disgruntled pastor from getting Louisville and the synod from once again usurping the presbytery's function? How will 165 members support and maintain a plant and program that, apparently, needed nearly 1500 members to do the job. The PC(USA0 is good at keeping--or trying to keep--buildings, but the members will still vote with their feet. Witness the experience of Lighthouse Pres in Paola, Kansas.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

Cindy said...

I believe we should try to remember that all parties are trying to follow God and God's plan for Fremont. We are also all brothers and sisters in Christ and while we divide ourselves into different denominations now, we will one day be together as God's children in God's Kingdom.

Viola Larson said...

Cindy those are wise thoughts. But none the less Jesus still calls us to stand for him and his purpose in this world. His word is to have authority over us and it is only in his cross, his death and life, that we will gain that heaven or peace here.

I didn't know you blogged. That's great, keep going!

Barbara Red-Horse said...

Cindy, I know this change is heartbreaking to you because of the commitment you have made to PCUSA. I believe that you are sincerely seeking God's will within that framework. Unfortunately, the recent actions of the Presbytery seem to have done more to create and encourage schism than to seek resolution or graciously allow a dissenting congregation to be dismissed from the PCUSA (as the book of order directs). The timing for establishing an adminstrative commission raises yet more questions as do the specifics included in the call for same.

John McNeese said...


Cindy does have wise thoughts. However, your compliments always come with a "but." it is beyond me why you want to remain in a church that does "not care about the authority of scripture, Christology and view unbiblical sexual immorality as okay."

If I were the presbytery, I would let majority have the building and take a cash settlement (a percentage of the yes to no vote) and the faithful remnant and start a new church development across the street.  Unfortunately there are those on both sides who have an unhealthy attachment to a building, believing it is the church

Viola Larson said...

John you changed my name: ) Will maybe cattycorner to the church since the Masonic Mason's Temple is straight across.

John McNeese said...

Sorry Viola. A cut and paste error. Cattycorner it is.

Presbyman said...

I think John's idea about division of assets has merit. If I were in Sacramento Presbytery I could vote for that.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Unknown said...

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 1-3

Scripture speaks for itself-
Brian Dougherty

Viola Larson said...

John & John,
I do have a thought on what you both think is a good idea. Sure Fremont will probably be giving money to the Presbytery. But your suggestion about the minority having a church across the street is silly. Yes perhaps another church in the area but not that close. Here is the reason why.

To accommodate people living close, yes. But most of the people who go to Fremont and do not want to leave the PCUSA do not live that close. Sure some do, but not many. What those Fremonters and many in the Presbytery want is a large Church with all those programs, (Fremont even kept the neighborhood swimming pool open two summers ago), alongside the belief that it doesn’t so much matter about Christology, the uniqueness of Jesus, the authority of Scripture or the rightness of biblical sexuality. When they lose Fremont they lose a sense of legitimacy. At least that is my take on it. (I think that is happening across the denomination.)

There are some people who wanted to wait and see what the FOP would provide, but on the whole most people who stood up and spoke at the public forums wanted the ordination of gays and lesbians. Their arguments for LGBT ordination were more constant than the evangelical’s disagreement. The Evangelicals often talked about the authority of Scripture and the universalism of the Book of Order.

The reality is that Fremont is a Reformed body who does ordain women. They are and will evangelize the area with both the word and good works. If the Presbytery is true to its own calling they will recognize the ministry of Fremont and respect it rather than trying to tear it apart.

Presbyman said...


I should have expressed my own opinion more precisely. I think John McNeese's suggestion about dividing assets make sense. OTOH, locating the minority "church" right nearby would be a poor idea. The last church I pastored had a situation like that and it was a very difficult call for me (the split in that case was not due to theology but just plain old wilfullness and selfishness. People were determined to have their own way no matter what the consequences. Argh!)

Bless you,

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Presbyman said...

BTW, Viola, do you think a noticeable number of the minority votes belong to people who would be willing to stay in the congregation after it departs to the EPC? It would have been good if that was listed as an option on the ballot (i.e., "No, I do not vote to leave but will remain in the congregation anyway" vs. "No, I do not vote to leave and will not follow the congregation into another denomination."

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Alan said...

Viola said, "If the Presbytery is true to its own calling they will recognize the ministry of Fremont and respect it rather than trying to tear it apart". I would pray that would be true, but my experience with the fallen nature of humanity is that presbyteries, like people tend to seek that which makes them happy regardless of the truth.

Mac said...

When our congregation voted to leave the PC(USA), we had a number of members who could not attend the meeting. About 90% of them signed letters of intent which stated that they were familiar with the issues and, if present, they would have voted to disaffiliate. (They were offered both options--stay or leave.) While those members were not included in the vote, they did silence those in the presbytery who argued that absentees should be counted as in favor of staying. We had three no votes--two who had just transferred from a neighboring PC(USA) church and who returned there. The third was in his usual pew and teaching his Sunday School class the next Sunday.

Mac said...

Sorry, forgot my name.

BTW, no one signed a LOI saying they would have voted to stay.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

Cindy said...

What is painful about this split is the attacking and distrusting words used to address the different sides of this issue. We are all Christians, those who will stay and those who will leave. We need to be mindful of how we are representing Christians and Christianity.

Viola Larson said...

Cindy in a way you did not intend(I don't think) you have stated exactly why Fremont is leaving the PCUSA. "We need to be mindful of how we are representing Christians and Christianity."

Viola Larson said...

Mac, I don't think it was possible to offer those options, however, I do think that many people who did not want to leave the PCUSA will stay at Fremont after they become EPC.

Cindy said...

I believe the group that will represent Christians and Christianity in the EPC as well as those who will represent Christians and Christianity in the PCUSA will both represent Christians and Christianity better if they don't give each other black eyes as we separate.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Craig said...

"This majority, however is not entitled by law to the Fremont properties or assets--as they clearly belong to the national denomination, not to any specific church. This is indisputable."

Actually, the best you could say is that the case law is inconclusive. At least two Missouri courts have found that a "trust clause" does not exist and that the property belongs to the congregation. So, it would seem that at least two courts would disagree with your assertion that it is indisputable.

Craig N.
Twin Cities, MN

Viola Larson said...

You write:

"Fremont, as part of the PCUSA, has long belonged to the denomination, subscribed to its theological tenets--and agreed to the strictures and structures of authority that govern the denomination."

Fremont has not always been PCUSA because the PCUSA is not that old. The theological tenets of this particular arm of Presbyterianism have changed over time and it just happens that those who began Fremont would undoubtedly not themselves agree with the PCUSA today. One could argue that they would be leaving too. But that is neither here nor there.

It is obvious to me that you have not been to Fremont for many years, maybe you were a baby, I am not sure. Any way there is much that is new at Fremont and the Congregation that is there now helped pay for that.

But you seem to be mostly aiming at Pastor Baird. So perhaps you are unaware of just how much he is giving up to leave the PCUSA. His grandfather was once Moderator of the General Assembly, his father a pastor, his son is a pastor, a building at SF Theological Seminary is named after, I think, it is his grandmother. He sat on the board of San Francisco Theological Seminary for quite some time.

I sat with Pastor Baird for a few moments at the last General Assembly. He told me he would never come back to GA-he has gone to every one of them since he has been a pastor at Fremont. That is how disappointed the orthodox are at the way they have been treated at GA and in Presbytery.

And to go further, I don’t think that Pastor Baird would have left, if it was not for the Session who truly felt it was God’s call to Fremont. A lot of people, including you, have used this event to bad mouth the church’s pastor. That is utterly unchristian and unbiblical.

It seems to me that you are interested in Presbyterian polity but what about the Christian faith. Since your father was a pastor, where do you stand- are you a Christian. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there a prayer that we could pray for you?

Mac said...

Kevin wrote: "This majority, however is not entitled by law to the Fremont properties or assets--as they clearly belong to the national denomination, not to any specific church. This is indisputable."

Actually, it is quite disputable. For states and commonwealths that apply the neutral principles doctrine, the older a congregation is (or more prudent a new congregation has been in drafting its documents), the more likely it is that there is no trust. Our congregation bought its land from William Penn's sons in the early 1700s and was incorporated in 1786, before there was a PCUSA.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a neutral principles jurisdiction, says there is no trust--although we did pay a small ransom to leave the PC(USA). It was equal to the cost of about one week's worth of litigation.

More importantly, in those states that use trust law to make the determination, the idea that the beneficiary of a trust may unilaterally create one is viewed as absurd. Otherwise, no matter how Kevin acquired his properties, I can simply declare that he holds them, nonetheless, for my benefit.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

Barbara Long Red-Horse said...

A little clarification. The recommendation that Fremont request dismissal to the Evangical Presbyterian Church came from the session, not our pastor, The Rev. Dr. Baird. It was a long thought through and prayed over decision and a unanimous decision by the elders. Regarding property status, the current standard that congregations do not own their property was established in the early 1980's in the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America after a cluster of congregations left to form the EPC. Not clear on if it was done to be punitive or to merely make it more difficult for congregations to follow their beliefs and leave the demonination. Either way, it is not a gesture of good faith and does not support the book of order injunction to follow conscience. This change in standards came long after the Fremont Congregation was formed and even after the current church plant was built. I can't speak for all the buildings, but the ones that have been added in the last 20 years have been financed solely by the congregation. Why the denomination ever agreed to a standard in which those who finance, build and maintain a property would then hand it over in order to leave is a little incomprehensible. It may not be surprising that said denomination has been in decline ever since. Kevin, I am sorry that you seem so bitter about these changes. I recall your father, Gene, from my involvement in Presbytery in the late 70s-early 80's. He seemed a kind and thoughtful man.