One of my correspondents has sent word of an extraordinary decision by the PCUSA Synod of the Sun regarding the Presbytery of South Louisiana. That decision essentials suspends the right of the presbytery to make decisions about whether churches may be dismissed to another denomination with their property, which means, as I read it, that the provision of the PCUSA Book of Order that allows presbyteries to do just that has been usurped by the Synod through its appointment of an administrative commission. Here’s the entire text of the letter:
In response to the April 8, 2008, letter from pastors and elders in the Presbytery of South Louisiana to Synod Executive Fletcher and to the April 22, 2008, letter from the Council of the Presbytery of South Louisiana, the Synod of the Sun approves the establishment of an Administrative Commission under the general provisions of G-9.0500.
A commission is empowered to consider and conclude matters referred to it by a governing body. The appointing body shall state specifically the scope of power given to a commission. A commission shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to its governing body to be incorporated in its minutes and to be regarded as the actions of the governing body itself. (G-9,00502)
The decision of an administrative commission shall be the action of the appointing governing body from the time of its completion by the commission and the announcement, where relevant, of the action to parties affected by it. Such decision shall be transmitted in writing to the stated clerk f the governing body, who shall report it to the governing body at its next meeting. A governing body may rescind or amend an action of an administrative commission in the same way actions of the governing body may be modified. (G-9.0505).
This commission, by the review of records and by whatever face-to-face conversations the commission deems helpful, shall determine the validity of the presbytery’s procedures and decisions (past, present, and future) regarding various congregations and their properties. All pending and future decisions regarding property in the Presbytery of South Louisiana shall require the approval of the commission. This commission also shall listen to other expressions of concern and/or dissatisfaction with presbytery leadership and make suggestions as to ways the presbytery can move toward a fuller expression of the ministry of Christ’s church.
This commission shall make either an “in progress” or a final report to the adjourned meeting of the Synod, October 24, 2008, and at each stated meeting thereafter until the work is completed.
I could be wrong, of course, but I suspect that the Synod would not have taken such a provocative, indeed potentially destructive, course of action without approval from Louisville. As it is, they have encouraged an entire presbytery to consider itself disciplined by higher authority simply for allowing churches to do what they are constitutionally permitted to do. They’ve also, not incidentally, confirmed what lots of observers including me have thought all along, which is that for much of the PCUSA’s leadership, it is all about the property, and little if anything else.
One other thought. If I understand Presbyterian polity, this strikes at the heart of it. In Presbyterian polity, the presbytery, not the denomination, is the basic unit of governance, which is why decisions such as forming and dissolving churches, ordaining ministers and approving pastoral calls is vested in the presbytery. This action runs utterly contrary to that approach to church governance. This is a dark day for the Presbyterian Church (USA).