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PCUSA defrocks nationally recognized renewal leader

Grace Presbytery has stripped Joseph B. Rightmyer of his ordination as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) ruling found Rightmyer guilty on eight counts related to the process that resulted in the departure of Highland Park Presbyterian Church from the denomination.

A letter from Grace presbytery reads, “The censure imposed … was removal from the ordered ministry of teaching elder. This means that he is no longer a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is no longer a teaching elder member of Grace Presbytery. This is the highest level of censure permitted by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

The allegations stem from events that transpired in the months immediately following the presbytery’s approval of Rightmyer’s service as HPPC’s Interim Pastor.

Rightmyer was found guilty of:

  • Charges 1 and 2: “the offense of advocating and facilitating a process for Highland Park Presbyterian Church to determine whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”  Shepherding the process for the church where he was serving as the Interim Pastor, the PJC ruled, was in violation of two ordination vows related to governance, polity, and furthering the peace, unity and purity of the church.
  • Charges 3, 4 and 5: “the offense of moderating the Session” of HPPC “and permitting it to vote to call a congregational meeting” on the question of denominational affiliation. The PJC ruled “this action is in violation of the Book of Order G-1.0503 which defines and limits the business that may be conducted at congregational meetings” and a violation of the aforementioned ordination vows.
  • Charges 6, 7 and 8: “the offense of moderating a congregational meeting of” HPPC “and permitting it to vote on whether to remain a member of the” PCUSA. Again, the PJC found this to be a violation of ordination vows and the Book of Order G-1.0503.

Three other charges, related to Rightmyer’s part in “permitting in the dissolving of the installed pastoral relationship” of a particular teaching elder were not sustained.

Rightmyer was ordained by the Atlanta presbytery in 1972. He served faithfully for more than 40 years as a renewal leader. From 1995 to 2004 he served as the Chief Administrative Officer of Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR). Since leaving that position Rightmyer served as the interim pastor of Westlake Hills church in Austin and then as an associate pastor of HPPC since 2008. On June 1, 2013 he became the Interim Pastor of HPPC which was already fully engaged in discerning its relationship with the PCUSA.

The Rules of Discipline allow for an appeal of the verdict to the PJC of the Synod of the Sun. But for now, the reality remains that ordained as Reverend on 7/1/1972, Joe Rightmyer was defrocked by the PCUSA on 1/7/2015.

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Carmen Fowler LaBerge