PCUSA Stated Clerk Delivers Message at Ecumenical Advocacy Weekend in D.C.


PCUSA Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, delivers the Sunday sermon at Ecumenical Advocacy Days weekend. (Photo by Rick Jones)

(By Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service). The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II is calling on Christian denominations to stand firm on social justice issues and get involved. The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) gave the Sunday morning message to the nearly 1,000 attendees in Washington, D.C.

Nelson told the group the nation is at a critical time and people are afraid.

“There is confusion in our land concerning who we are as a nation. We are found on plurality, freedom of religion. We are nation where communities is afraid to wear a head dress, Islamic groups fear of being labeled as members of ISIS,” said Nelson. “We stand in the way of those who come to this country and declare we are going to put up a wall. Yet, when we see the homeless, those who are struggling and can’t make a decent livable wage, what are we saying as a people who tolerate such madness?”

Nelson said the nation is being led by millionaires and the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history, adding that healthcare is threatened and people are still working in poverty.

“It is not easy work, plans change, things get in the way,” said Nelson. “Only a remnant generally does the work, because its not for the faint of heart, but the faithful, those who know that our lives today are not only ours but belongs to God.”

Nelson believes that in order for the nation to move forward, the individual blinders must come off.

“We need to learn to love one another again and love Jesus enough that differences don’t hurt relationships. There so many divisive factors that will stand in our way and challenge us when we get real. There’s a cross for everyone,” he said. “We need to put the cross back into Christianity. We need to regain a sense of theology of the cross. We want resurrection without facing a cross, that’s the problem with modern day churches.”


Related article: 7 Christian Leaders Arrested Protesting Trump’s Budget Proposal on Capitol Hill

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7 Christian Leaders Arrested Protesting Trump’s Budget Proposal on Capitol Hill

(By Samuel Smith, Christian Post). Seven left-leaning Christian leaders were arrested on Monday after protesting inside of a congressional office building on Capitol Hill in opposition to President Donald Trump’s “immoral” budget proposal.

The seven detainees were a part of a large group of left-leaning Mainline Protestant leaders who demonstrated outfront of the United Methodist Building on Maryland Avenue around noon on Thursday as part of the annual “Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice.”

The leaders called Trump’s budget proposal, which would cut many aid programs and increase military and border security spending, “sinful.”

After a handful of faith leaders representing the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and other organizations spoke outside the Methodist building, those gathered prayed for Congress to reject Trump’s budget proposal, saying that it “invests in war at the expense of poor and marginalized people.”

Following the prayer, dozens of participants marched a short distance to the Hart Senate Office Building.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director or the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (USA) speaks at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2017. (Photos from Twitter #ead2017).

Once inside the building, the participants who were willing to risk being arrested for civil disobedience dropped to their knees in a circle and began praying and singing spiritual songs like “Wade in the Water” and “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest.”

A Capitol Hill police officer warned the faith leaders over a bullhorn that they would be arrested if they did not halt their act of civil disobedience. After a couple minutes, a team of officers surrounded the demonstrators, apprehended them and led them away.

Among the faith leaders who were arrested were the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the executive minister of the United Church of Christ’s justice and witness ministries; Patrick Carolan, the executive director of the Franciscan Action Network; Doug Grace, the director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days; and Eli McCarthy, the director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

A press release explains that other faith leaders who were arrested are Bob Cooke, Elizabeth King and Scott Wright.

“I think [these arrests] send a strong statement,” Jimmie Hawkins, the director of PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness, told The Christian Post. “One of the issues with the Church today is it is too quiet. I think people are looking for the presence of the Church, the opinions of the Church or how we feel about different things that are happening. I think it is very good that faith leaders are putting themselves forward.”

At the public demonstration in front of the United Methodist Building, Hawkins argued that Congress should only pass a budget that “advances the public good.”

“Rather than increasing Pentagon spending, we petition Congress to increase spending for programs that provide support to people living in poverty in America and abroad, that addresses systemic racism, that exercises responsible care for the Earth. Budgets can do great good when put to the service of the poor. Or, they can do great harm,” Hawkins said. “When implemented with compassion, they can lift millions out of poverty or doom them to a life of despair. They can provide health insurance or make bankrupt those who don’t have it.”

“Christians, our faith calls us to advocate for a public policy that ensures the just allocation of resources for the common good. Our federal budget is a moral document,” Hawkins added. “It is a reflection of the values and priorities we value as a nation.”


Related articles from the PCUSA: 

Ecumenical Advocacy Days rallies churches to become more active

CPJ Training Day addresses racism, materialism and militarism

Record turnout for CPJ Training Day in Washington, D.C.


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Gustine’s Community Presbyterian Church to Close

(Posted by the GUSTINE, CALIF. — A local church will be closing its doors in coming weeks after serving the community for more than a century.

Community Presbyterian Church of Gustine will hold its final service May 7, Pastor Mark Hollingsworth confirmed.

The church was organized in 1910.

Hollingsworth, who has served the church for nearly 25 years, told Mattos Newspapers that a dwindling congregation proved to be its downfall.

“Six of our members died last year, and some people have moved away. There are just not enough people and not enough money to keep it going,” he commented. “It was a difficult decision. It is very sad.”

The Presbyterian church has long been a part of the fabric of the community, with the involvement and generosity of congregation members extending well beyond the church.

As pastor, Hollingsworth said, he viewed his mission as helping foster a church home where everybody was welcome to become part of a caring, faith-based community.

“I wanted this to be a place of grace, with people who were graceful and gracious in their lives,” he reflected. “Our folks have been so good…..grace, generosity and gratitude are things that I think are here.”

But the congregation size had reached a point where continuing was no longer feasible.

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Church web site.

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Way Forward Commission Discusses Interagency Cooperation, Structure, Next Steps

(By Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook). Members of the Way Forward Commission are beginning to turn their thoughts to what sort of changes the commission might recommend for the Presbyterian Church (USA) – not discussing any specifics yet, but considering whether the commission might be ready to start moving in that direction when it meets next at McCormick Theological Seminary May 15-17.

Commission members agreed to think in the next few weeks about what Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York and the commission’s moderator, described as “common elements” they would want included in a denominational structure based on the research they have done so far; the feedback they’ve received about what Presbyterians at the grass roots want; and their theological sense of what a church is called to be.

Commission member Jo Stewart, a ruling elder from North Carolina, put it this way: commission members should consider, in very broad terms, “if nothing existed today, what would you build?”

The commission met via video conference call April 18, discussing both its progress so far and next steps. Here are some highlights.

Limits to the Commission’s Power

The commission met for about 40 minutes in closed session with J. Herbert Nelson, the PCUSA’s stated clerk, giving as the reason for closing the meeting a discussion of personnel matters. When the meeting resumed again in open session, Hostetter said Nelson earlier had provided a written advisory opinion to a question asking him to clarify the commission’s powers.

In that opinion, Nelson wrote that the action of the 2016 General Assembly creating the commission “did limit the powers of the Commission” so that “recommendations for any missional and structural changes will be brought to the 223rd General Assembly” in 2018. (Read the full Advisory Opinion.)

Nelson’s opinion also states that recommendations from the commission involving “any amendments, replacement or setting aside of the Standing Rules of the General Assembly or the Book of Order necessary to accomplish its vision” would need approval from the 2018 General Assembly as well.

So “there is an edge to our power,” Hostetter said – meaning a limit to what the commission can do on its own.


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Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) Faithful Hope for Resurrection after Fire Burns Church

(By Rick Kauffman, Daily Times News, PA). Devoted members of the Memorial Presbyterian Church watched helplessly Monday morning as their beloved place of worship erupted in flames.

Along 3217 Chichester Ave. in Boothwyn, ladder trucks took to the skies as brave firefighters plunged into the church as black smoke poured from the shattered gothic-style arched windows that adorn the facade of the 130-year-old structure.

Pastor Robert Kaufman was in disbelief when he got a call at 8:36 a.m., saying, “Your church is on fire.”

“As I was coming here I was thinking about how we spent a week discussing the trials and troubles that Jesus went through,” Kaufman said. “Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection.”

Luckily no one was inside at the time of the fire.

Kaufman said he’ll once again be praying for a resurrection, but now in particular for the church which congregation just celebrated Easter Sunday.

“It was a reminder that the church may be in disrepair, maybe totally, we don’t know yet, but one thing we do know is that it will be resurrected,” Kaufman said.


Related article: Memorial Presbyterian Church fire under investigation

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First Presbyterian Church (PCA) Seeks Healing, Redemption for Sins Committed During Civil Rights Era

(By Kelsey Davis, Montgomery Advertiser; Alabama.) A black woman walked into First Presbyterian Church in the early 1970s, taking a seat midway up the pews. As soon as she sat down, a white woman stood up and left.

“She was not going to sit through that service with a black person sitting in the church,” Dan Reid, now 59, remembers from his youth. “I was ashamed of that white lady, to be honest with you. Ashamed of the prejudice she showed.” His father was a deacon of the once bustling congregation.

That instance was symptomatic of an attitude that plagued the church since at least 1956, when it adopted a motion decreeing, “no member of the Negro race (will) be received as a member of our Church or seated in the sanctuary for regular worship.”

People referred to it as “that church that wouldn’t let black people in.”

The one that stationed deacons outside its doors on Sundays and turned away African-Americans who wanted to worship there.

That in 1961 did nothing when violent protests of the Freedom Riders spilled into its parking lot next to the Greyhound Bus Station. Young men and women, both black and white, had boarded a bus that would stop in Montgomery in an effort to show the nation that the South still was not accepting desegregated transportation, despite what had been ordered by the courts. When they arrived, they were severely beaten.

“When that riot happened,(First Presbyterian Church) was literally right next to it. That church should have been open, and the membership of that church should have been trying to reason with the crowd to calm down. At the very least should have been providing sanctuary protection to the Freedom Riders,” said Reed DePace, pastor of First Presbyterian.

The proclamation, the sins of omission, the decades of blatant racism took a toll on the congregation.

Membership dwindled from the thousands to its current membership of 50. In 2000, when membership was around 160, First Presbyterian sold its downtown location to First Baptist, and moved east to Chantilly in Pike Road. First Baptist now uses the building to house Hope Inspired Ministries.

Where roughly 600 people once would show up for services on any given Sunday in the 60s, it is now down 30 whom regularly attend church.

DePace sees the church’s decline in membership as a direct result of the sins of their forefathers’ prejudice, a manifestation of their spiritual inheritance.

Because of this, and because they’re sorry for what happened, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church [PCA] has spent the better part of the past two years confronting that past, learning why they should repent of it and hoping for new life in light of it.


Read First Presbyterian Church’s “Our Repentance and Restoration”

Read the church’s Resolution of Repentance

View the church’s 2014 PowerPoint presentation

Visit the church web site

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Presbytery Demands $120,000 from 35-Member Church While Deciding How to Spend $1.5 Million Settlement

A 35-member church has agreed to pay Mission Presbytery $120,000 so that it could be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The First Presbyterian Church of Ingram, Texas and pastor Rev. Raymond M. Tear were dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, after the presbytery approved the settlement agreement at its March 3-4 meeting.

According to an article in the local newspaper, church leaders said “that it has been a long process to reach this point, but now has the congregation situated to not only continue its various ministries, but to be part of a growing denomination with which the congregation’s theological views are much more compatible.”

At the meeting, the Stated Clerk reported that two other churches are participating in the presbytery’s Gracious Separation Process. Both, the 45-member First Presbyterian, San Saba, and the 180-member First Presbyterian, Corpus Christi are in the resolution phase of the dismissal process.

How to Spend $1.5 Million

At the same meeting, commissioners received a report on how the Mission Presbytery would use the $1.5 million settlement it received from First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, which included investing $606,598 in the Texas Presbyterian Foundation for a “Better Together Fund.”

On Jan. 31, 2016, First-San Antonio voted to approve the settlement with Mission Presbytery to end a civil lawsuit between the two entities. The church had disaffiliated with the PCUSA on Nov. 1, 2015, and then in May, filed a petition in civil court asking it to declare whether the trust clause in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitution was valid under Texas law and if it had any legal effect on the church’s property.

The settlement ended the lawsuit and allowed the church to retain sole use, control and ownership of its name and property.

According to the report, the total settlement agreement was $1,525,000. Of that amount, $114,802 was used to pay legal expenses, and $100,000 was used to balance the 2016 operating expenses budget.

The presbytery also made a one-time grant of $125,000 to John Knox Ranch Summer Camp, a Christian camp on the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas, to help rebuild a dining hall destroyed by the 2015 Memorial Day floods. The grant part of the settlement agreement with First-San Antonio. The church matched the contribution for a combined gift of $250,000 to the camp.

The balance of the settlement – $1,185,198 – will be disbursed as follows:

To partner agencies:

  • $30,000 – General Assembly, Unrestricted
  • $30,000 – Synod of the Sun, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Austin College, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Mo Ranch Camp and Conference Center, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Pan American School, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Schreiner University, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Trinity University, Campus Ministry

To presbytery committees and regions:

Establish and equip congregations and sessions to carry out their missions:

  • Church Development and Evangelism, $119,000
  • General Council, $1,200
  • Each Geographic Region, $2,000 (Austin, Corpus Christi, Hill Country, San Antonio, Valley, and Victoria – totaling $12,000)
  • Nominations Committee, $1,200
  • Personnel Committee, $1,200
  • Technology Task Force, $48,000

Recruit, receive, ordain, develop and care for those called to serve in the church:

  • Committee on Ministry, $12,000
  • Committee on Preparation for Ministry, $12,000
  • Committee on Representation, $1,200
  • Education and Congregational Nurture Committee, $30,000
  • Pastoral Care Committee, $12,000

Enable mission and witness to the Gospel that congregations cannot accomplish alone:

  • John Knox Ranch, $36,000
  • Mission Outreach and Justice Committee, $36,000
  • Presbyterian Women Coordinating Team, $12,000
  • Youth Connections Committee, $12,000

Steward our resources faithfully and generously:

  • Fiscal Oversight Committee, $1,200
  • HM King Memorial Fund Trustees, $1,200
  • Stewardship Committee, $1,200
  • Trustees, $1,200

The remaining $606,598 will be invested into the Texas Presbyterian Foundation and named the “Better Together Fund.” The fund will be used to further the presbytery’s mission and will be overseen by its General Council. Presbytery committees, groups and congregations will be able to request funding from the account.

In past dismissals approved by Mission Presbytery:

  • Edna Presbyterian Church of Edna, TX, had to pay $80,108.60 to be dismissed with property to the EPC.
  • Faith Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, TX was required to give 10 percent of the proceeds of the sale of church’s property to be dismissed to the EPC
  • El Principe de Paz, in Merceds TX, Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani in San Benito, TX, and San Pablo in Brownsville, TX, all voted to leave the denomination and renounced jurisdiction of the PCUSA in early 2012. Mission Presbytery evicted all three from their property instructing the churches to turn in their church keys “no later than Friday, February 16, 2012.”
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Resurrection of Dilapidated Farmhouse Serves as Symbol of Rebirth for Oldest Congregation in Leawood

(By Jay Senter, Shawnee Mission Post, Kansas). The old farmhouse wasn’t in great shape.

With a sagging roof and aging innards, the 1930s structure seemed fated for a bulldozer, an attractive target for a teardown-rebuild project given its setting on a two-acre lot in north Leawood.

Instead, the “Mustard Seed House,” as its proprietors have now dubbed it in reference to a biblical parable, has become the symbol of rebirth for a northeast Johnson County church that was on the verge of closing just a few years earlier.

At the start of 2009, both Ryan Kapple and Curt and Rachel Petersen were still near the start of new chapters in their lives. The Petersen’s had just moved back to Johnson County, where Curt grew up, from D.C., where he had been practicing law the past few years. Kapple had taken over as the senior pastor of Leawood Presbyterian, the oldest church in the city, in late 2007.

Curt credited Kapple with setting him on a path to success back in his high school days, when Kapple was the youth pastor at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo.

“That’s kind of where my life was changed,” Petersen said. “To this day, he’s had more impact on my life than anybody.”

When the Petersens relocated to Johnson County, Curt and Rachel were eager to reconnect with Kapple. They started attending services at Leawood Presbyterian [Presbyterian Church (USA)] — where the pews were sparsely populated. Prior to Kapple’s arrival, Leawood Presbyterian’s congregation had dwindled to just a handful of members. The pastor set about trying to inject new life and energy into the church, but with so few congregants, finances were tight.

So when Curt heard that the owner of the house directly to the west of the church on 83rd Street was interested in selling, it presented a conundrum: The strategic value of the property to a church without a parsonage or much meeting space was difficult to overstate, but the price tag was daunting for such a small congregation to take on.

“Two acres in Leawood next to the church? I went nuts,” Curt said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to find a way to buy this.’”


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Updated: Kentucky PCUSA Congregation Being Kicked Out of Church Building After Rift Over Marriage Definition

(By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post). A congregation in Kentucky could soon be evicted from its church building by its regional Presbyterian Church (USA) governing body after the congregation voiced disapproval with the denomination’s decision to recognize and allow gay marriage.

The Presbytery of Western Kentucky has given First Presbyterian Church of Calvert City until April 19 to vacate its church building.

Paul Ambler, clerk of session and husband of the church’s pastor, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the congregation received a notice to vacate the building, which is owned by the presbytery, last week.

The notice, sent on behalf of the presbytery by a local lawyer, comes after the small congregation voted in July 2015 to pursue and negotiate with the presbytery for a gracious dismissal from the PCUSA because they disagreed with an amendment adopted by the denomination in March 2015 defining marriage as a “commitment between two people.”

“We voted on July 26, 2015, and there [were] two members of presbytery there,” Ambler explained. “They told us in that meeting that there were three congregations [that] had already gone through the gracious dismissal process within the presbytery. So, we would actually be the fourth.”

“We were going back and forth for quite a while,” he continued. “We would actually like to take possession of the building and give them money, basically a buy-back agreement. We were negotiating back and forth with presbytery representatives.”

Although Ambler said the congregation never formally submitted a request to be dismissed from the PCUSA, the congregation was informed last November that the presbytery had officially dismissed it from the denomination.

From November until last week when it received the notification to vacate its building on Evergreen Street, the congregation was acting on the assumption that it was going to be allowed to stay in the church building, Ambler said.


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Wife of Imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson Receives Personal Letter from Vice President Pence

(By CeCe Hal, American Center for Law and Justice). On the heels of Pastor Andrew Brunson’s wife personal meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concerning the wrongful imprisonment of her husband, she received a personal letter from Vice President Pence assuring that “Andrew’s case remains a top priority of the U.S. government….”

In the letter, Vice President Pence wrote, “I can assure you both that the State Department and this White House, under President Trump’s leadership, consider Andrew’s release and reunification with you and your three children extremely important.”

Among other things, Vice President Pence stated he has taken a “deep, personal interest” in Pastor Andrew’s freedom and that he will continue to and has “personally discussed [Pastor Andrew’s] detention with senior Turkish officials.”

With last week marking six months that Pastor Brunson has been unjustly held in Turkey, this assurance by the United States’ government that his case is a priority is very encouraging.  Especially, as the case may be finally moving forward.

Pastor Andrew languishes in a Turkish prison, falsely charged with national security related charges – a common charge leveled to persecute Christians. After 23 years of peacefully and faithfully serving the people of Turkey with no incident, this Christian Pastor has now been wrongfully imprisoned for more than six months, separated from his wife and children, with no evidence having been presented against him.

We are very grateful for Vice President Pence’s concern and encouragement and will continue to aggressively advocate across the globe for the immediate release of Pastor Andrew.  Please join our efforts by signing and sharing our petition demanding the same.

Visit the web page.

Listen to Carmen’s interview on The Reconnect with Senator James Lankford (R-OK), which includes discussion of Andrew Brunson.

Visit the Evangelical Presbyterian Church web site for more information/resources.

Related article: Sister of American Pastor Jailed in Turkey: ‘We Believe God is with Him’

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