Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Our Presbytery Policy – The Hammer!

Here are some more pics of my dahlias…

Here is a copy of our Presbytery’s policy concerning church and pastors that are thinking of leaving the PCUSA…

Presbytery of Olympia
May 15, 2008

A Process of Working with Congregations Considering Withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Spiritual discernment is a focused effort to sort out the will of God, distinguishing God’s Spirit from other spirits that may be influencing us, such as the spirit of tradition, or anger, loyalty, self-will or control. Discernment requires intentional prayer, careful study, and deep listening to God and to each other.

Hear the words of St. Paul: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-5)

We, members of the Presbytery of Olympia, will seek to honor the Scripture through respectful process and open dialogue. The premise upon which our process is built is that when we approach discernment together with intentionality and sincerity, the will of God and the way of Love will be revealed.

Discerning God’s Leading Together guides congregations and the Presbytery, working in partnership, toward answering the questions, “Is God leading this particular congregation to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?” And if so, “how can that be accomplished in a way that honors Christ and strengthens both the congregation and the Presbytery?”

The ultimate goal of the Presbytery will be to discern whether reconciliation and continued relationship are possible. It is clear that in times of great turmoil and disagreement, some may perceive withdrawal as imperative and God’s will for them. The following process outlines the steps we will use as a presbytery to respond to situations where our congregations, or leaders within are considering withdrawal from the PC(U.S.A.).

We will seek to respect both freedom of conscience and the essentials of Reformed Faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the “Form of Government”, subject always to Scripture and the movement of the Spirit. We will work in good faith toward a mutually agreeable solution, but ultimately the decision reached through this process should reflect what would best serve not ourselves, but the cause of Christ.


When the leadership of the presbytery becomes aware, either through formal congregational action or through informal contacts with church leaders or members, that a congregation is in serious disagreement with the governance of the denomination, the General Presbyter, Committee on Ministry Chairperson, and Presbytery Moderator will offer a pastoral visit by a Response Team. It is assumed that before this process begins the General Presbyter will have had conversation with the pastor.

The Response Team shall consist of one Council member, one person appointed by the Committee on Ministry (COM), a member-at-large of the Presbytery, and the General Presbyter. The purpose of this team is to engage either the session, or if necessary the congregation, or the congregation as a whole (as circumstances dictate), in a time of prayer and conversation aimed at understanding the “heart of the matter” – meaning the nature of the conflict and what Gospel values are at play -- and to identify possible steps toward reconciliation. Before meeting with the church session for the first time, team members should study “Guidelines for Communal Discernment” by Rev. V. Curtiss. Team members may be added depending on the scope of the effort, e.g., meeting with several small groups will require a bigger team than meeting with the session only.

• the nature of discernment
• rooting the identified issues in Scripture and our Reformed Tradition
• exploration of church polity including Book of Order provision that a congregation’s property belongs to the whole church
• exploration of constitutional ways of influencing the polity of the PC(U.S.A.)
• options before the congregation
• strategies for listening to any clearly identified factions within the congregation
• reflecting on Scripture together and praying

If the team determines that progress can be made toward reconciliation through continued dialogue, the team will make recommendations to the Council for conducting such dialogue. The team report and recommendations will be provided to the Council within one month of the initial visit and will outline any planned next steps (such as the above) to be undertaken in partnership with the leadership of the congregation, including an expected time line for the completion of the planned process. The process and time line should not exceed 120 days. If this team effort leads to resolution of the situation, no further action is required and to God be the glory!

In the event that steps toward separation from the denomination appear to be in process, the Response Team shall report its evaluation of the current situation to both the Council and the Committee on Ministry as soon as possible. The Moderator and Vice Moderator of Council, the Stated Clerk, and the Chair of the Committee on Ministry, will meet with the Response Team to determine if a recommendation should be made to Council that an Administrative Commission should be elected by the presbytery, and recommend appropriate action [Ref. Book of Order,]


When any congregation, in partnership with the Presbytery, has not been able to resolve issues using the Response Team phase of Discerning God’s Leading Together, an Administrative Commission (AC) shall be formed by vote of the Presbytery.

If at any time the Response Team determines that the move toward separation/withdrawal is the work of a special interest group and not representative of the congregation, the team, on notice to Council, will immediately request that the Moderator of the presbytery and Stated Clerk nominate an AC as soon as possible.

If the leadership of the congregation refuses an initial Response Team visit an AC will be nominated by the Moderator of the Presbytery and Stated Clerk and elected by the presbytery as soon as possible.

If an AC is to be recommended to Presbytery, this decision will be communicated to the congregation concerned immediately, by letter from the Moderator to every member, and the nominees to the commission will be appointed within 15 days of that notification.

The AC is guided by the presbytery-approved commission outlining specific duties and authorities for a particular situation. The AC shall keep the presbytery informed of actions taken, and shall make recommendations directly to presbytery for any actions that require presbytery approval.

When an AC is required for this process, the Moderator of the Presbytery, the General Presbyter, the Committee on Ministry chairperson and the Stated Clerk shall nominate seven people to be elected by the presbytery. Members of the AC may include individuals with special skills, training or experience in mediation and negotiation. At least three members of the AC, so nominated and elected, shall be minister-members of the presbytery, and at least three shall be elders from different churches in the presbytery and be representative of the presbytery as a whole; the seventh member of the AC may be either a minister or elder [G-9.0504b (3)] Members of the Response Team may be considered for the AC. After election members of the AC will be trained by a team of the Stated Clerk, General Presbyter, and a representative of the Committee on Ministry.

ELECTION: The proposed membership and commission of this group shall be reported to the presbytery in the form of a written motion for approval and election.

STAFF SUPPORT: The AC shall be staffed by the Stated Clerk of the presbytery.

FINAL REPORT: The presbytery shall receive the final report of the AC, act on any remaining recommendations, and dismiss the AC at the completion of its work.

General Rules: The following general rules apply to the selection and election of an AC:

o An AC elected for this purpose shall not include these persons: The Stated Clerk, General Presbyter, Moderator, Vice Moderator, Moderatorial Intern, Chair of COM, or any member of the Permanent Judicial Commission.
o The presbytery may delegate to Council the authority to add, remove or replace members of an AC when it is apparent that some members(s) need relief or in order to bring in persons with new skills or gifts to the process. Such a replacement shall be reported to the presbytery. The presbytery may delegate to Council authority to grant permission to an AC to contact outside authorities for temporary consultation with the AC on specific matters.
o Quorum of AC shall be a majority of its elected and appointed members, unless the presbytery fixes a quorum at a higher number.
o The AC will have full authority of the presbytery to execute the limited powers granted by the presbytery (G-9.0502).

Initially the AC should study “Guidelines for Communal Discernment” authored by Rev. Victoria G. Curtiss. Using this tool, and studying the situation in the congregation, its task will be to gather facts, seek discernment in partnership with the congregation, and recommend appropriate action to Council and/or the Presbytery. It may be given certain constitutional authority such as:

1. to request records of the session (G-12.0102n, G-12.0304, G.13.0103k,n) (G-9.0408) “If a higher governing body learns at any time of any irregularity or delinquency by a lower governing body, it may require the governing body to produce any records and take appropriate action;”
2. to look at whatever records may be relevant (i.e., how money is held, title to property, insurance documents, mortgages or other loan documents, corporate officers, corporate articles, bylaws, charters – especially changes in any of these). The AC will be careful to look for recent changes or modifications to articles of incorporation, bylaws, or deeds. The presbytery is entitled to see such changes in legal documents (G-9.0408);
3. to determine, after reviewing the proceedings of the lower governing body or from any other information as may come to its attention, whether,
a.. the proceedings have been faithful to the mission of the whole church (G-9.0409a);
b. the lawful injunctions of a higher governing body have been obeyed (G-9.0409a);
4. to give directives (G-9.0410) on behalf of the presbytery;
a. “It is ordinarily sufficient for the higher governing body to record in its own proceedings, and in those under review, its approval, disapproval, or correction. If necessary, the higher governing body may direct the lower governing body to reconsider and correct an irregularity or cure a delinquency” (G.9.0410);
b. The type of directive will depend on the issues (examples: refrain from calling a congregational meeting, transferring assets, encumbering property, elect new officers, etc.);
5. to recommend whether the AC should return to Presbytery for authorization of additional powers;
6. to determine whether a schism exists within the congregation;
7. to determine which members represent the continuing church;
8. to make recommendations to the presbytery to dissolve pastoral relationships, or when requisite authority given by the presbytery, to dissolve pastoral relationships;
9. to assume original jurisdiction in any case it determines the session is unable or unwilling to manage wisely the affairs of its church;
10. to freeze the assets of the church (real and liquid);
11. to determine if and when a meeting of the congregation is appropriate for the purpose of voting to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.);
12. to call that congregational meeting, and provide the moderator and clerk for that meeting;
13. to report results of congregational vote to Council;
14. to authorize oversight of the church, its ministry and its property to a viable faction of the congregation that has been identified as the continuing church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); or, if no “viable faction” will be continuing, to assist current and former members of the congregation who wish to remain members of the PC(U.S.A.) with membership transfer to another congregation or New Church Development; and
15. to propose to the presbytery the recommendation for the disposition of the property held by or for the church, and the assumption of the liabilities of the church, in the event there is no viable faction of the congregation that has been identified as the continuing church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This will be done in ways that honor Jesus Christ, the PCUA and the newly constituted congregation.

A. COMMUNICATION: The AC shall keep all concerned parties informed.
1. Send a letter to session outlining task and process (wording should be measured and clear).
2. Send a letter to all members of the congregation outlining the task and process (measured, non-threatening, explanatory).
3. The team shall have “one-on-one” conversation(s) with the pastor.
4. Communicate often with the Council through the Council Moderator.

B. DURATION OF WORK: It is expected that the AC will ordinarily complete its work within one year, making reports to the Council and the Committee on Ministry, and ultimately to the Presbytery for vote. If the congregation has been determined to be of one mind (no significant conflict of factions within the church), the AC may allow a congregational vote and negotiate mutually agreed upon terms of withdrawal. Final disposition shall not be ratified before six months has elapsed from the start of the Response Team process. If the AC determines there is significant conflict within the congregation, they should assume original jurisdiction.

Questions to ask once a TENTATIVE agreement has been reached include:
Is there a new sense of hope and vision?
Is there consolation or desolation in the decision?
Is there resonance with God’s Spirit?

If these questions produce further concern the decision is revisited.

Terms of the agreement would be presented for vote to the Presbytery at either a stated or specially called meeting.

Should a particular congregation and the Presbytery of Olympia discern together that the best course of action should be that the congregation withdraw from the PC(U.S.A.), and once the details of the separation agreement are decided, ratified by the Presbytery and settled, a service of worship will be held to celebrate our common life in Christ and pray for the well-being and effectiveness of both the congregation and the Presbytery. The service will be jointly planned by a planning team comprised of three people appointed by the Council of the Presbytery and three people appointed by the Session of the church. All congregations of the Presbytery of Olympia shall be invited.

* * * *

There are some major flaws with this policy! Today I will focus on “We, members of the Presbytery of Olympia, will seek to honor the Scripture through respectful process and open dialogue.”

There can be no open discussions about the topics facing our congregations and denomination by sessions or pastors when the policy document explicitly states that a “Response Team” will pay a visit to a church or pastor if the leadership of the presbytery becomes aware that congregation or pastor has serious disagreement with the governance of the denomination. How is that for openness!

Our Presbytery is having a special presbytery meeting to talk about the proposed amendments to the Book of Order. The purpose of this meeting is to talk and listen—no vote will be taken. How can I openly discuss the ramifications of the amendments when there is the threat of a Response Team paying me a visit! One church session requested that the Presbytery be set aside the policy so that open conversations could take place. General Council knew that this proposal was going to be presented to the presbytery at the meeting this past week. As soon as the motion was made to set aside the policy a motion was immediately made to take up the motion at the next Presbytery meeting! That motion was made so quickly that one second could not have elapsed! Boy did the you-know-what hit the fan!!!! For almost 40 minutes there were motions, substitute motions, friendly amendments to the motions and so on. Commissioners were frustrated beyond belief. In the end, it was decided to “stay” the enforcement of the policy until the next regular presbytery meeting. As soon as it passed, another pastor turned to me and said, “I am sure that when the stay of enforcement is over that they will forget everything you said at the special meeting!” How convenient! The presbytery will not enforce the policy until after I have an opportunity to air my frustrations with the PCUSA and then I am to “trust” that they will forget everything that I just said. I am supposed to trust that I won’t have a Response Team breathing down my neck. So much for open dialogue!!


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