Property Issue Getting Ugly in Western PA

Presbytery has plan to resolve Peters property issues
Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Washington Presbytery has put forth a plan to try to resolve property issues with a Peters church that voted Sunday to break ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA), but its leaders say they will litigate ownership in civil court if forced to.

At Tuesday night’s special meeting in Eighty-Four, tremendous sympathy was expressed for the minority at Peters Creek Presbyterian Church who had opposed the break and who are now seeking to be declared “the true church” in the dispute. The meeting ended with the 80 ministers and elders gathered around a half dozen representatives of the minority, laying hands on them in prayer and singing Amazing Grace.

The Rev. David Bleivik, the general presbyter, said that if a court battle became necessary there was a possibility of financial assistance from both national headquarters and the regional synod.

“On every level we have sought to avoid legal action in accordance with [the biblical book of] Corinthians . . . . But if we are forced to defend the just side of this, we will prevail. I have no doubt,” he said.

“I have a deep place in my heart for the loyal minority because of what they have been through and how they have been treated.” Others at the meeting harshly criticized the conduct of Peters Creek leadership toward the minority.

Ray Peterson, an elder who is spokesman for the majority at Peters Creek, said later that whatever the presbytery said or proposed was irrelevant, since his congregation was no longer part of that denomination. He has previously expressed confidence that the majority from the church will receive a fairer, faster hearing in civil court than from the presbytery. The congregation took two votes, one 273-86 and on Sunday 207-26 to leave the PCUSA and affiliate with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“The reason we disaffiliated from the PCUSA is so we did not have to contend with specious motions and initiatives from the Washington Presbytery,” Mr. Peterson said.


More details in tomorrow’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

First published on November 7, 2007 at 11:38 am

Denominational News

Presbytery lets Mt. Lebanon church leave, with property
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Almost six months to the day after voting to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), Beverly Heights Church in Mt. Lebanon was granted its dismissal today by the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

The Presbytery’s 174-73 vote, with two abstentions, means Beverly Heights will move its 400-member congregation, along with its buildings and grounds, to the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

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.

Backyard News

Presbyterians agree on split process

Washington Presbytery plan termed ‘a way of doing church together’

Thursday, July 12, 2007

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Washington Presbytery has adopted a plan that could allow congregations that leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for another Presbyterian denomination to keep their property, but it is unclear if that will affect a Peters church that is already in a more contentious process with the presbytery.

The vote was 56-18 Tuesday night at Chartiers Hill Presbyterian Church, North Strabane, to require at least four months of formal discussion between a “pastoral team” appointed by the presbytery and a congregation that proposes leaving. The congregation must also propose a mission plan for how it will continue serving its community and make pastoral provision for any members who choose to stay with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At that juncture, if at least half of the church’s active members attend a meeting at which 75 percent of them vote to leave, the pastoral team will recommend to the presbytery that they be allowed to do so and keep their property, which church law says would otherwise stay with the congregation. The final decision is up to the presbytery.

A lengthy debate Tuesday centered on whether the presbytery had a right to devise its own separation plan instead of appointing a powerful “administrative commission,” the denomination’s constitutional provision for dealing with such congregations. Most congregations fear administrative commissions because of their authority to replace the pastor and the lay governing board of the church.

The Rev. Linda Jaberg, chairman of the presbytery’s council, said the plan was an effort to “flesh out a new way of doing church together, to be more pastoral and to listen to each other.”

Unlike a similar plan in Pittsburgh Presbytery, Washington’s does not require the departing congregation to leave some money with the presbytery, although the plan’s sponsors said it doesn’t prevent the presbytery from making that requirement.

Both plans have resulted from efforts of some conservative congregations in the denomination to leave for the smaller Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Two churches in Pittsburgh Presbytery have already voted to do so, although the presbytery has not yet taken final action on them.

Because no plan for Washington Presbytery was in place on May 6, when the lay governing board of Peters Creek Presbyterian Church called for a congregational vote on moving to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the presbytery appointed an administrative commission.

Peters Creek then obtained a temporary injunction from Washington County Common Pleas Court, forbidding the commission from seizing control of the church.

The congregation has not yet voted on whether to leave the denomination.

The Rev. Richard Noftzger, chairman of the group that wrote the separation plan and of the administrative commission for Peters Creek, said the commission has met with representatives of the church.

It was “an honest and sincere exchange” about how the congregation came to consider leaving, he said.

He said the new plan was “a separate issue” from Peters Creek because the church initiated its effort prior to the plan’s adoption. The document may “provide some guidance and insight, but it is not binding” with regard to Peters Creek, he said.

Ray Peterson, a Peters Creek elder and designated spokesman for the congregation, would not comment on the presbytery’s plan or how it might affect his congregation.

The Rev. Jeffrey Kisner, professor of biblical and ministry studies at Waynesburg College, was one of several opponents. He said the Presbyterian Church (USA) constitution intended administrative commissions to deal with such situations. His effort to amend the document to require an administrative commission for any negotiation was defeated, as was an effort to change the 75 percent congregational vote to a simple majority.

The Rev. David Bleivik, executive presbyter of Washington Presbytery, said the top expert on church law at Presbyterian Church (USA) headquarters had reviewed the plan and deemed it acceptable “as long as it’s not a guarantee that someone can leave.”

“What is required by the constitution is that the presbytery makes the final decision,” he said.


(Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416. )

The Battle Has Begun

I received this e-mail tonight-not sure why-about the situation at Kirk of The Hills.

I do not know if you have been following the events at Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa. A few weeks ago they chose to leave the PCUSA. Tom Gray is their pastor and he has maintained a blog detailing the process.
Tom Gray just posted on his blog an alert to his members. It is pasted below. Now is the time to show your support for Kirk of the Hills by going to the website and write your comments of support as they undergo coercive actions by the denomination.
Here is the url for Tom Gray’s blog. It is easy to leave a comment. Just click on comment at the end. Click other to type in your name. http://tomgrayofthekirk.blogspot.com/

*ALERT* to all Kirk Members

Our clerk of our board of elders just played a message on her answering machine from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery. They have informed her that the presbytery is sending a supply pastor to preach tomorrow, and a someone else to moderate the congregational meeting on Wednesday.

This has happened before, a part of the “game plan” of the PCUSA. The link that follows has pictures and a video of what happened in a Torrance, California, church a little over a year ago. The denomination came in and pushed their way into the pulpit, creating chaos for a brief moment in worship. We will not allow that to happen.

Moderator Ufford-Chase, minority group disrupts worship service –
7/56/05

The PCUSA believes only what they wish to. They recognize that Wayne and I resigned from the denomination, but they refuse to recognize that the Kirk has also withdrawn and, in the process, re-hired us as co-pastors. They are coming to “rescue” a church that doesn’t want it.

Wayne and I will be in the pulput tomorrow. This step on the part of the presbytery, since we are no longer a PCUSA church, is intrusive, arrogant, and illegal.
A LAST-MINUTE ADDITION,

I just read the following letter from a PCUSA pastor (retired) writing Presbyweb. Ed is a good guy, and I appreciate the heads-up.

Letters
August 26, 2006

Dear Editor:

I have just gotten off the phone with someone who had been in conversation with Synod personnel regarding the withdrawal of Kirk of the Hills. He was telling me how the Synod and Presbytery planned to use denominational lawyers to fight The Kirk “tooth and toe nail” for the church property.

Then I read Vernon Broyles piece “The bottom line for peace.” It reminded me of what my old dad used to tell me: “Son, do what I say. Don’t do what I do.”

I watch and wonder… can we, will we, treat our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ who disagree with us with the same command of Jesus to turn the other cheek? To love? To forgive? Or is what we profess we want for the warring parties of the Middle East unavailable for Christian friends who feel led to go in another direction? Will the PCUSA demonstrate grace and forgiveness by turning the other cheek?

I doubt I’ll live that long!

Rev. Dr. Edwin [Ed] Bernard, HR
Hugo, Oklahoma

Keep praying–keep the faith,
Tom