Denominational News

Staying and ‘fighting for reform is not a viable option’
Largest congregation in Presbytery of South Louisiana
schedules vote to disaffiliate from PCUSA, join EPC

By Craig M. Kibler
Staff Writer

The Layman Online
Friday, September 28, 2007


Saying that “remaining in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and fighting for reform is not a viable option,” the largest congregation in the Presbytery of South Louisiana has scheduled a meeting next month to “terminate its voluntary affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and petition for voluntary affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, at the “unanimous recommendation of the session’s denominational affairs committee and the unanimous recommendation of the session,” has scheduled a congregational vote on the issue at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.

The congregation has 1,592 members, according to official denominational statistics, compared to the average PCUSA congregation’s 209 members. The Presbytery of South Louisiana is comprised of 67 congregations in the southern part of the state, including New Orleans.

In a letter to members of the congregation posted Sept. 25 on the church’s Web site, the session wrote that, within the PCUSA, “the tolerance of a variety of theological viewpoints has led to theological pluralism. It was noted that after the passage of the PUP report, discipline is less likely. The PCUSA is declining and has a limited life span. Reform has no real chance of success.”

The affiliation issue, and not church property, is the sole purpose of the vote. A year ago, the Presbytery of South Louisiana declared that First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, and not the presbytery or the PCUSA, owns the congregation’s property.

In a 55-13 vote Nov. 4, 2006, the presbytery agreed to a stipulated judgment that said First Presbyterian Church “holds all property titled in its name in full, complete and unfettered ownership” and that neither the presbytery “nor any person, entity, administrative unit, agency, commission, committee or governing body action on behalf of the Presbytery of South Louisiana or in its stead, or claiming by, through or under the Presbytery of South Louisiana, has any right, title or interest in or to the Property, whether in trust or otherwise, nor any right to determine control, directly or indirectly, the use or ownership of the property.”

The session said in the letter that the congregation’s “affiliation with the EPC is the most desirable option within the Presbyterian Church. The theological foundations of the EPC are sound, complete and embody the traditional and fundamental beliefs of the Presbyterian Church that we love. The [denominational affairs] committee acknowledges that any differences in polity could be identified and resolved within the five years of membership in the transitional presbytery.

While saying that separation from the PCUSA “will not be without consequences or pain,” the committee recommendation includes “continued, but limited financial support” to the presbytery.

In summation, the letter states that the “realization of our fullest potential as a church is through discontinuance of our affiliation with the PCUSA and voluntarily seeking affiliation with the EPC. Discontinuing affiliation will free our church from past ineffective efforts to reform the PCUSA. Affiliation with the EPC offers a more effective use of our resources, talent and energies in pursuing our shared vision of bringing the Gospel to the entire world.”

The complete text of the session’s letter to the congregation is as follows:

“Dear Members of First Presbyterian Church:

“As you know, for many months now, we have been considering the question of our denominational affiliation. The denominational affairs committee has issued their final report. After more than half a year of prayerful deliberations, dozens of interviews with church members, PCUSA officials, EPC representatives and pastors across the country, the committee brought to the session a unanimous recommendation: We are called to end our affiliation with the PCUSA and realign with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“The board of trustees in calling for a meeting of the corporation has unanimously endorsed this recommendation. And, after two weeks of prayerfully considering the report, the session has now unanimously endorsed it. All four installed pastors have enthusiastically concurred. The final decision now rests with the congregation at the meeting called for 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 28.

“The formal calls for the meetings are enclosed. Also, a summary of the conclusions reached by the committee is included. Further notes from the committee are available on the literature tables or our Web site.

“For many of us, the decision on Oct. 28 will be a joyful one, as we consider embracing a future where our cherished beliefs are nurtured and cherished, rather than placed in jeopardy, by the larger church of which we are a part. For others of us, this decision may be painful and even seem like a potential departure from our heritage and history.

“Please understand that, whatever the congregation’s decision, several things will remain constant:

  • “We will remain Presbyterian. Both the PCUSA and the EPC have roots in historic American Presbyterianism as expressed through both the old southern and northern branches.
  • “We will remain in relationship with Presbyterian churches in the Presbytery of South Louisiana. Though moving to the EPC would mean that we are no longer formally under the jurisdiction of the presbytery, our ties of friendship would continue. The session is recommending that we continue financial support of the presbytery in the near future. Moreover, Gerrit has had a personal meeting with Presbytery Executive Alan Cutter. He has been assured that the presbytery desires to bless us in whichever future God has called us, and he has assured Alan that we desire to continue in friendship and shared ministry wherever possible. We will invite representatives of the presbytery to our meeting.
  • “We will continue to be a church with clear, distinctive theological beliefs which feels called toward evangelism and mission, always seeking to be outward focused.
  • “We will continue to be a warm, accepting congregation flinging wide our doors to invite others to share our fellowship and worship. We will ever remember that the church is a hospital for sinners. Because we know what it means to have been lost, we can tenderly offer a savior to others.

We have four forums for consideration scheduled over the next month:

  • Sunday, Sept 30: Combined Sunday School, 10:15 in Sanctuary: “Hearing from our Peers” Alan Cutter and Russ Stevenson speaking.
  • Monday, Oct 1: 10:30-Noon. “What Would Life be Like in the EPC?” Bob Vincent (pastor, Grace EPC, Alexandria)
  • Sunday, Oct 15: Combined Sunday School, 10:15 in Sanctuary: “Hearing from the EPC” Jeff Jeremiah (Stated Clerk, EPC) and John Adamson (elder, 2nd Pres Memphis). ?
  • Tuesday, Oct 16: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Open Forum, Reception Room.

“Please mark these dates, and especially Oct. 28, on your calendar. Join your elders in praying for God’s guidance and the church’s peace in these coming weeks.”

“Sincerely,

Mary Ann Harmon
Clerk of Session

Gerrit Dawson
Moderator of Session

Eugene Owen
President of Trustees

Notice of Congregational Meeting
“The session of First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge has called a special meeting of the congregation, to be held in the sanctuary on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007, starting at 9 a.m. The purpose of this congregational meeting is to consider and decide whether the congregation shall or shall not adopt the unanimous recommendation of the session’s denominational affairs committee, and the unanimous recommendation of the session, that First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge, terminate its voluntary affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and petition for voluntary affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and to consider such other actions as may be appropriate, if any, in respect of the congregation’s decision on the same.

Notice of Corporation Meeting
“The board of trustees of First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge has called a special meeting of the members of the Corporation (all persons listed as a member on the active rolls of the congregation of the church), to be held in the sanctuary on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007, to begin immediately following adjournment of the special meeting of the congregation noticed for the same date. The purpose of this corporate meeting is to: amend the articles of incorporation to conform the method used for mailing notice of corporate meetings to the method used for mailing church bulletins, thereby reducing costs; clarify the quorum requirement; and take such other actions as may be appropriate, if any, in respect of any action taken at the meeting of the congregation noticed for the same date thereof.

Denominational Affairs Committee Conclusions and Recommendations

1. “The question demands timely resolution. The committee believes that postponing a decision would prolong confusion and unrest in FPCBR, and the level of involvement of our ministers behooves us to see resolution to the question now.
2. “Remaining in the PCUSA and fighting for reform is not a viable option. The tolerance of a variety of theological viewpoints has lead to theological pluralism. It was noted that after the passage of the PUP report, discipline is less likely. The PCUSA is declining and has a limited life span. Reform has no real chance of success.
3. “FPCBR’s Affiliation with the EPC is the most desirable option within the Presbyterian Church. The theological foundations of the EPC are sound, complete and embody the traditional and fundamental beliefs of the Presbyterian Church that we love. The committee acknowledges that any differences in polity could be identified and resolved within the five years of membership in the transitional presbytery.
4. “Separation from the PCUSA will not be without consequences or pain. The decision is not going to be easy, and it will not be made without financial consequences. Separation will not be painless, and the committee recommends continued, but limited financial support to the Presbytery of South Louisiana.
5. “Realization of our fullest potential as a church is through discontinuance of our affiliation with the PCUSA and voluntarily seeking affiliation with the EPC. Discontinuing affiliation will free our church from past ineffective efforts to reform the PCUSA. Affiliation with the EPC offers a more effective use of our resources, talent and energies in pursuing our shared vision of bringing the Gospel to the entire world.

Therefore:

1. “Subject to an affirmative vote of the congregation (adopted by a majority of not less than two-thirds of those members present and voting), the committee recommends that the FPCBR notify the Presbytery of South Louisiana that we are terminating our voluntary association with the PCUSA. At the same time, we will advise the PSL of our conditional intentions of continuing financial support for a limited period in the future as described in detail elsewhere.
2. “Subject to the same affirming vote adopted by same majority as above, the committee recommends that FPCBR apply to the EPC for admission to the non-geographical presbytery.”

Submitted to Session Sept. 10, 2007

Craig M. Kibler is the Director of Publications/Executive Editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. He can be reached at cmkibler@layman.org.

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