Assembly approves dissolution of Hanmi Presbytery


Mark Hong, overture advocate

DETROIT, Mich. — The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly upheld a recommendation made by the Mid-Councils Issue Committee to dissolve the Hanmi Presbytery  in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii.

After the committee voted 63-4 earlier in the week to pass the recommendation on to the full assembly, commissioners affirmed the dissolution by a vote of 529-44 during Friday morning’s plenary session at the Cobo Center.

The overture from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii (Business Item 05-07) asked the assembly to dissolve the Korean presbytery, and allow the synod to oversee the transfer of Hanmi congregations and teaching elders to geographic presbyteries based upon the geographic presbyteries’ individual criteria, or to supervise the gracious dismissal to another Reformed body of any Hanmi Presbytery congregations that refuse to or cannot meet those geographic presbytery criteria, all to be accomplished before Dec. 31, 2014.

Courtenay Willcox, moderator for the Mid-Councils Issue Committee, noted that an Administrative Commission (AC) has been working with the presbytery for the last 15 years on irregularities with its governance, finances and leadership, spending $2 million in litigation fees alone.


Doska Ross, executive for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii

“While this is a painful decision, the committee came to the conclusion that it would be best to transfer these congregations to the geographic boundaries in which they are located. It is action taken to protect the interests of the PCUSA,” Willcox explained.

Doska Ross, executive for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, said there have been dozens of complaints from the presbytery  over the years, with 10 of those reaching the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC), but there has been no way to stem the tide of conflict surrounding Hanmi, one of the four Korean-speaking presbyteries within the denomination.

“No matter how much time and energy we spend, the conflict and power struggles continue,” she said. “It’s time that stops. We need to bring the gifts of these congregations into the larger body. The presbytery does not benefit from being involved in conflict and power struggles.”

Commissioner Tom Dykhuizen, of Los Ranchos Presbytery, asked about the number of congregations that would be affected by the dissolution. Ross said Hanmi records indicate 23 churches, but synod numbers reflect 20 that are chartered. There are about two dozen Korean congregations in the geographic presbyteries of the synod already.

Mark Hong, overture advocate, indicated that there are 369 Korean-speaking congregations in the PCUSA, and 129 of them are in the Hanmi presbyteries. The rest are part of geographic presbyteries and are “vibrant, doing missions and doing very well.”

Speaking against dissolution, Hu-Nam Nam of Eastern Korean Presbytery, said the action would go against the 221st GA’s them of “Abound in Hope.” million

“This is not working together with our sisters and brothers,” she said.

But Jack Shelver, of San Diego Presbytery and the former treasurer for the synod, offered financial data to back up Ross’ assertions.

“When I was treasurer we wrote checks in excess of $4 million ($2 million was recouped through settlements),” Shelver said. “I submit the time has come for churches in the Hanmi Presbytery to join the geographic presbyteries in our synod.”

Willcox said action to dissolve the presbytery also answered the request to delay action on the matter as proposed in Business Item 05-05. She recommended disapproval of the motion to delay, which commissioners approved with a hearty voice vote.

Commissioners then rose and gave a round of applause in appreciation and love for the service of their brothers and sisters from Hanmi Presbytery.

In another matter related to Korean congregations, the General Assembly gave approval through its consent agenda earlier in the week to form a task force to study how Korean-speaking churches can develop into healthy members of the PCUSA  (Business Item 05-06). The Mid-Councils Issue Committee approved the measure by a 58-0 vote.

The task force will be comprised of eight members appointed by the moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014), in consultation with Korean-American church leaders, to meet in two face-to-face meetings, over two years, with a consultant, and it should report its study to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).

It includes a cost estimate of $20,000 with a fourth of that pledged by the non-geographic Korean presbyteries.