Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Corporation and the Presbytery

Everyone in Presbyterian circles has heard of “renegade” congregations being “taken over” by their Presbytery.

It was many years ago and I was attending my first Presbytery meeting following my ordination. During the Committee on Ministry section of the meeting it was reported that an administrative commission had gone to a particular church, disbanded the session and started procedures to fire the pastor. You see, this church had refused to ordain women elders and deacons.

Kirk of the Hills, in Tulsa, Okalahoma, is in the process of leaving the PCUSA. The session has voted to leave the PCUSA and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A congregational meeting has been called for the church to vote on that action. The pastors have renounced jurisdiction of the PCUSA. Kirk has done something that is brilliant! The Trustees of the Kirk of the Hills Corporation has hired the pastors to lead the corporation and the congregation that is no longer a part of the PCUSA!

Why was this a brilliant move? Most local churches are not-for-profit corporations in the state where they are located. The corporation elects trustees to run the corporation. The Presbytery is not a voting member of the corporation! They have no jurisdiction over a separate corporation! (I am not a lawyer, so this is not an official legal position.)

At the end of each year my wife and I get a statement of our giving record from the church. We are able to deduct this amount from our taxable income because we have given it to a not-for-profit corporation. People give to the United Way and can deduct it from their taxable income because the United Way is a not-for-profit corporation. Locally, people give to the Associated Ministries of Pierce County. They can deduct their giving from their taxable income because the Associated Ministries of Pierce County is a not-for-profit corporation. The same could be said for the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Green Peace, the Republican or Democratic parties, etc. (Note: I am not an accountant or lawyer so check with your tax advisor to get tax and legal advice.) Can the PCUSA go in and take over the United Way? Of course not, the United Way is a separate not-for-profit corporation. Can the PCUSA take over Habitat for Humanity? Can they take over the Red Cross?

This move raises some important questions. Does the corporation own the property or does the “church” own the property? (It would seem that if the corporation owns the property then as long as the corporation keeps functioning the corporation would be able to maintain ownership of the property.) Does the corporation “own” the corporation assets? (If so, it would seem that the Presbytery has no legal standing to come in and take control of the bank accounts and investments.) Corporations can hire and fire.

The Kirk of the Hills actions may be a defining point in the history of the PCUSA.


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