According to the Layman Online, the Heartland Presbytery (Kansas) has turned down the requests of two churches to discuss leaving the PCUSA. One, Hillsdale Church, voted 77-5 back in June to ask to be dismissed to the New Wineskins/EPC transitional presbytery. The other, First Church (Paola), voted 200-81 in June to ask for dismissal directly into the EPC.
Hillsdale was told they couldn’t be dismissed into a transitional presbytery. Other presbyteries have neither been so legalistic nor so willing to get into the internal affairs of the EPC. But it’s the Paola situation that is really egregious:
In the Paola case, the administrative commission wrote in its report that, “After careful consideration of the facts and provisions of the Book of Order that are applicable, it is the decision of the administrative commission that the request of First Presbyterian Church … be denied.”
The administrative commission also warned First Presbyterian Church in its report about the congregation’s property, writing:
“The administrative commission also reiterates to First Presbyterian Church of Paola, its session and its pastors that pursuant to the provisions of the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA), they are prohibited from selling, leasing or otherwise transferring property held in the name of FPC Paola to any other person, organization or entity without the consent of the presbytery or this commission, and with regard to funds of FPC Paola in financial institutions, and with regard to personal property of FPC Paola, the use of such funds and property should be limited to the ongoing ministries and programs of FPC Paola, as a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”
The presbytery also was informed that, “at a later date,” the administrative committee will “provide additional written details concerning its decision.”
You can see the letter the presbytery wrote to the session here. As you can see, it is abrupt and uncommunicative, stating that it will let the congregation know later (whenever that is) about the reasons for its decision. The reason, however, I think, is pretty clear from the longest paragraph in the letter. The administrative commission might just as well have written to the church and said, “We don’t care what you do, just leave the property and assets behind.”
In a letter posted here, signed by the Clerk Pro-Tem of the Paola session, Stacy Boan, the session explained the non-listening process by which the AC arrived at its decision:
“The Heartland Presbytery administrative commission met with the elders (session) of First Presbyterian Church on Sunday night, Sept. 9. We had hoped this meeting, our first face-to-face contact, would be a time to share the details of our current ministry and heart for Christ, to ask and answer questions about our mission, ministry goals and reasons for seeking dismissal to the EPC. We hoped to spend time considering the needs of all the members of the church in light of the understandable duties of the presbytery. Instead, we discovered that the administrative commission had already made up their mind – they had already reached a decision and had come to meet with us to tell us what they had decided.
“You read this correctly – the administrative commission had made its decision prior to meeting even once with the session of First Presbyterian Church. … We are very disappointed that the session and the great majority of members were not given the same consideration as those within our church who want to stay PCUSA. In fact, though not meeting with us, the commission found time to conduct a separate worship service for members who wish to stay and met with them numerous times. One such meeting aided in the production of an official accusation by a small group of church members against our pastor. Pastor Kirk will gladly answer them, but is chagrined that the commission has helped members take such a course. We are equally dismayed that, despite our invitations, the committee would not meet with us in their deliberations.
“Further, in Sunday’s meeting, we realized that the commission had based its decision on understandings, opinions and information that, had they met with us earlier, could have easily been corrected. It seems they based their decision on meeting with those who wanted to stay, private investigation and by reading 2,600 pages of documents the session supplied at their request.”
I don’t know what was in those 2600 pages, of course, but the idea that you could make a decision about a matter as important as this without ever once talking to the people who made the request strikes me as simply unChristian. But then again, if your mind is made up before you start deliberating, why not skip the confrontational stuff and cut right to the chase? Once again, the White Queen–”verdict first, then trial!”–wins the day.