It appears that the PCUSA’s Heartland Presbytery–known here as “Heartless”–is again seeking to live up to its nickname. Despite the action of last month’s General Assembly in encouraging its presbyteries to develop and use “gracious dismissal” policies, it looks like Heartless has decided to employ the truncheon yet again, this time on Colonial Presbyterian Church near Kansas City:
The [standing] administrative commission, which took over the congregation through a Heartland Committee on Ministry action on May 6, followed with a letter dated May 27, less than a week after Colonial shared its unofficial survey results at a gathering. [Those results indicated that over 90% of the 1700 member congregation wished to leave the PCUSA, with the EPC the favored destination–DF.] It informed Colonial members of its desire to keep Colonial in the PCUSA fold, refuted claims that the PCUSA does not honor Scripture and provided a warning that a legal battle over property might not go Colonial’s way.
“(Colonial) acquired property through the contributions and sacrifices of many members, past and present, all of whom adhered to the fundamental doctrines and Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessor,” the administrative commission stated. “The members of Colonial Presbyterian Church as well as its leaders and bondholders should be advised that a number of courts have ruled that local church property is held in trust for the Presbyterian Church (USA), and that Heartland Presbytery and the Administrative Commission will endeavor to ensure that all property of Colonial Presbyterian Church continues to be held in trust for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”
For months, Heartless had tried to convince Colonial to stay through an “administrative review committee,” which was involved in every aspect of the discernment process that Colonial began in January. That effort failed, as the congregation indicated through the survey that it didn’t want to stay (a vote of the congregation is scheduled for August 22). That’s when Heartless got tough, informing the congregation in a July letter that their decision counts for squat:
Declaring that the presbytery’s “first and highest priority” is the reconciliation of all members to the PCUSA and to one another, a July letter from Heartland to the Colonial congregation noted that the wishes of 91 percent of members surveyed doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.
The letter informed the congregation that, per the Book of Order, any individual congregants wishing to remain in the PCUSA would be regarded by the presbytery as the true Colonial Presbyterian Church.
I’d love to see that letter. What Heartless seems to be doing here is rigging the process so that any non-unanimous vote of a congregation desiring to leave means that the presbytery can disregard the views of the vast majority and summarily declare the minority the “true church” (despite the fact that the contributions they mentioned in the quote above are coming almost entirely from people who want to leave). And I have no doubt that they have a way to weasel around a unanimous vote, too. In any event, in complete disregard for the expressed will of the denomination’s highest authority, Heartless has once again demonstrated that it is all about the property.