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Presbyterian Scholars Conference: What Happens When Mainliners Sit at Table with Split P’s?

(By Chuck Wiggins, The Presbyterian Outlook). “I often wonder what kind of shape the Presbyterian Church would be in today if the Orthodox Presbyterians, the PCA, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO had not departed,” mused Joseph D. Small, former Presbyterian Church (USA.) Theology & Worship director.

Those particularly thought provoking words came during the recent Presbyterian Scholars Conference held October 18-19 at Wheaton College in Illinois.

A glimpse of that musing was evident as 30 scholars from various streams of the Presbyterian enterprise gathered to offer papers and exchange remarks on “the future of American Presbyterianism.”

From my perspective, the spirit and the tenor of the conference with scholars from the PC(USA), OPC, EPC, and ECO under one roof during both the lectures and at table during meals was — how shall I say it — downright genial.

Headlining a list of outstanding scholars besides Small, included Bradley Longfield of University of Dubuque Theological Seminary; OPC historian extraordinaire and Hillsdale College professor Darryl Hart; and George Marsden, distinguished professor from Notre Dame University and arguably the premier historian of American church history.

Perhaps the highlight of the conference was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Longfield’s groundbreaking work, “The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists & Moderates.” Longfield’s award-winning book has been widely regarded by Presbyterians of all theological stripes as an even-handed analysis of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s and 1930s and their aftermath. (In my opinion, previous historical narratives by mainline P’s have largely tended to dismiss departing conservatives as simplistic cranks; while the “split P’s” have approached their forbears uncritically with a kind of surreal, hagiographic reverence.)

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Trump Receives Standing Ovation from Churchgoers at PCUSA Church

(By Kevin Sheehan, The New York Post). Worshippers at a New Jersey church cheered Donald Trump on Sunday, telling the president-elect to “follow his heart.”

Trump arrived at Lamington Presbyterian Church in Bedminster Township for services at 10 a.m. and left to enthusiastic applause at 11:15 a.m.

The church is just two miles from The Donald’s Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, where the president-elect was set to interview cabinet candidates.

Congregant Jim Tiesi, 66, shook Trump’s hand and told him the nation has his back.

“I just told him that I hope he understands the country supports him and not to be distracted by the noise,” said Tiesei, likely one of the 47 percent voters who backed Trump. “He told me, `Thank you.’

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PCUSA Official Spreads Divisive Post-Election Discourse

(By Peter Johnson, Juicy Ecumenism.) The newly selected Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. J Herbert Nelson II, recently released a statement about the presidential election entitled, “When Incivility Becomes the Norm.

Nelson characterized his missive as a “response to the violence on America’s streets after the election of Mr. Donald Trump as President–Elect of the United States of America.” One might think, upon reading this introduction, that the venerable Reverend Doctor would be making an appeal for peace and calm. After all, peaceful protests are a proud legacy of the church, while violence and riots are generally discouraged by Christians.

Unfortunately, Rev. Dr. Nelson failed to discourage the violent protests even once in his 2000+ word letter (replete with seven footnotes). Instead, he declared his hope that the protests would pave the way for a particular public policy agenda that he favors.

He concedes that “President-Elect Trump is our newly elected leader,” but also characterizes the election as undemocratic and rigged by corporate interests. He also exhorts churches to undermine a not-yet-formulated immigration policy of the President-elect by harboring deportees in their “basements.”

The only instances where Rev. Dr. Nelson explicitly mentions violence is when he links Trump to an imagined future violence: “pain, suffering, and yes, death, which will be wrought by the promised policies of the incoming administration.”

At the heart of the letter is Rev. Dr. Nelson’s vision for “coalition building and community organizing, [where] we have an opportunity to create a vision of shared prosperity, safety, dignity, and justice that is truly inclusive and compelling to a broad base.”

The irony is completely lost on the PCUSA leader that a church that fails to be compelling to its own congregants—as evidenced by the steady exodus from the denomination—is now dispensing advice on how to grow a winning constituent base in politics. The denomination is becoming a parody of itself.

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Will D.C. Presbyterian Churches Invite Donald Trump to Come Worship?

(By Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post.) Every four or eight years, after the nation goes through the ritual of picking a president, some of Washington’s churches go through another ritual — getting a president to pick them.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton came to town in 1993, preachers from Baptist (his denomination) and Methodist (hers) churches across town picked up their phones and their pens to invite the new first couple to their pews. After hearing from at least half a dozen congregations, the Clintons picked Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW, where they became active members.

George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, opted for the convenience of St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across from the White House. Ministers from numerous denominations tried to woo the Obamas, but the first family never picked one church, instead visiting many churches over the course of their eight years in the White House.

And now it’s time to ask: Will President Trump go to church in Washington?

It may not be likely. Trump has previously been affiliated with Presbyterian churches, and he identifies as a mainline Protestant, but he is not a regular churchgoer. …

… The response from most of these churches was essentially: Trump will be very welcome, if he thinks a church like this is his cup of tea.

  • Capitol Hill Presbyterian’s Rev. Scott Wilson: “Our doors are open to everyone to worship with us and listen to the words of Jesus on love and compassion. Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church is a welcoming and inclusive church, and our doors are always open to anyone who wishes to join us in our community exploring faith, joyfully sustained by the love of God, caring about each other, and the needs of a broken world.”
  • Fifteenth Street Presbyterian’s Rev. Robert Bell: “I think Mr Trump would be welcome at any Presbyterian Church USA in the city. I know he, like everyone is, would be welcome at ours. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy that finds the gospel challenging and meaningful or likes to rub elbows with a diverse group, not all [of whom] are materially successful. But God works in mysterious ways.”
  • Georgetown Presbyterian’s Rev. Camille Cook Murray: “We have not reached out to Donald Trump. Our congregation is a politically diverse church, unified by our common faith in Jesus Christ. … Our community is open and welcome to all so yes, if Donald felt called to join our church then he would be welcome.”
  • National Presbyterian’s Rev. David Renwick: “National Presbyterian has a long legacy of serving presidents, appointed officials, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, as well as those who serve our nation in both military and civilian capacities. This is clearly a tradition we want to honor and carry forward — and therefore we warmly welcome our president-elect to join with us in worship. … With regard to membership — membership is open to any person who knows their need of a savior, who places their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, and who commits to be faithful in worshiping and serving God together.”
  • New York Avenue Presbyterian’s Rev. Robert Gench: “We would, of course, invite the President-Elect to worship with us.  Our logo declares that we are a ‘just-seeking and inclusive church,’ so we welcome people from varied points of view, race, and sexual orientation.”

Bell and Gench said they would probably send Trump a letter to welcome him in writing.

To read the entire Washington Post article, click here.

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Blackhawk Presbyterians for Fidelity Launched

(Press Release from BPF) “Blackhawk Presbyterians for Fidelity” (BPF) was launched on November 11, 2016 in Rockford, Illinois during a gathering of representatives from part of the remnant in the Presbyterian Church (USA) praying and laboring to be faithful to over 2,000 years of Biblical, confessional, constitutional, historical, traditional and common sense Christianity.

BPF is a para-denominational mission like many others including teaching and ruling elders maintaining credentials in the PCUSA.

It is a significant movement recognizing the inertia of a denomination increasingly and irretrievably apostate under current management and the necessity of identifying, encouraging and equipping faithful sisters and brothers for worship, work and witness.

The mission will encourage PCUSA churches, clergy, elders, and membership to remain faithfully and network with others praying and laboring to remain faithfully.

“Praying and working together to make Blackhawk Presbytery faithful again,” BPF will meet at least semi-annually with representatives of remnant churches within the bounds of Blackhawk Presbytery for worship, encouragement and equipping.

Initially, the missionary movement will concentrate on three opportunities:

  1. Identifying churches and clergy within the bounds of Blackhawk Presbytery who are remaining faithfully for encouragement and equipping to evangelize and disciple the unchurched within their reach;
  2. Pastoral, financial, educational and polity assistance to churches and clergy remaining faithfully; and
  3. Regular youth gatherings at Stronghold Camp and Retreat Center in Oregon, Illinois.

BPF embrace all of their ordination promises; including attending stated meetings of Blackhawk Presbytery and will participate as consciences captive to over 2,000 years of Biblical, confessional, constitutional, historical, traditional and common sense Christianity.

Co-Moderators are Jeff Barrett (Genesis Community Church, Montgomery) and Bill Ward (Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rockford).

Clerk is Jeff Borgerson (First Presbyterian Church, Harvard).

Treasurer is Doug Forsberg (First Presbyterian Church, Rochelle).

Pastor to pastors is Bob Kopp (First Presbyterian Church, Belvidere).

Churches and clergy interested in networking with BPF should contact Clerk Borgerson at berzerkerborg@aol.com

 

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Grand Canyon Presbytery Dismisses 5 Churches to ECO

At an Oct. 1 special called meeting, the Presbytery of Grand Canyon dismissed five of its churches to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

The five churches dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) represented a total of 1,372* members and paid the presbytery a total of $566,104.24 in settlement agreements. The churches include:

Grand Canyon Presbytery

Membership numbers were taken from the PCUSA’s statistical snapshots of congregations for the calendar year 2013.

Christ Presbyterian Church

According to the settlement agreement, the 468-member church agreed to pay the presbytery $173,964 to be dismissed. Those costs included:

  • $3,000 – Appraisal cost
  • $1,000 – Cost for commission operations (approx.)
  • $1,500 – Cost for copying all of church documents for historical records – all records concerning membership records, session minutes, lists of officers/pastors, all legal transactions, etc. (approx.)
  • $1,000 – Cost for transfer property ownership to Christ Presbyterian Church (Est)
  • $16,116 – Per capita for 2016
  • $17,008 – Per-capita reimbursement for 3 forgiven years (1990’s)
  • $30,000 – Reimbursement of funds previously given to help call a pastor
  • $104,340 – The value of the PCUSA’s portion of the property valuation based on the equity value of the property (10 percent, A biblical tithe), which may be paid in yearly payments for five years in the amount of $20,868 each year.

Since 2010, both the session and members of Christ Presbyterian began showing more concern about the theological positions of the PCUSA, and according to the settlement agreement, “worked to gain greater understanding of those views and how they fit with those held at Christ Church.”

In 2015, the church held town hall meetings, then took a straw poll which indicated that 94 percent of the congregation agreed with the decision to seek dismissal from the denomination. An Administrative Commission from the presbytery then began working with the church, first meeting with the pastor and session, both individually and together. The following concerns were expressed by both:

  • Failure of the church to specify the Essential Tenets of the faith
  • The redefinition of marriage and the Authoritative Interpretation to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in PCUSA
  • Vagueness about the authority of Scripture and its importance in its theology
  • Issues related to the divinity of Christ and to the GA refusal to acknowledge the “singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
  • GA decisions to replace the fidelity-and-chastity language of the Book of Order to allow “scruples” and in effect create “local option”
  • The issue of being fearful that in the event of the pastor’s departure/retirement, that they would not be able to find a pastor that fit the evangelical position of their congregation under the PCUSA system.

The Administrative Commission also held 11 small group meetings with church members. According to the agreement “All in all, with the meetings and a large number of surveys returned to us, we heard from over 194 members of the church concerning their dismissal. From those, we learned that 186 want to leave and 8 want to stay or are undecided.”

Community Presbyterian Church

The 275-member Community Presbyterian Church must pay the presbytery a one-time payment of $60,000 to be dismissed from the PCUSA to ECO. Those costs include:

  • $3,500 – Cost of the property appraisal by Valbridge Property Advisors/ MJN Enterprises, Inc.
  • $1,278.37 – Administrative Commission expenses to date, including cost of mailings to CPC members and worshiping visitors in connection with the request by the session to be dismissed from the PCUSA.
  • $750 – Cost of copying records for the presbytery, Community Presbyterian Church and the PCUSA as required.
  • $1,000 – Estimated cost of property title transfer to Community Presbyterian Church upon final settlement of dismissal.
  • $53,471.63 – Final consideration to the Presbytery of the Grand Canyon for property

The church’s session sent a letter to the presbytery on Oct. 15, 2015 asking to be dismissed from the PCUSA.  According to the settlement agreement, the decision was “based on the theological drift between the progressive adherents of the PCUSA and the Bible-based traditional believers. They felt that the PCUSA has ‘…. left us in many areas where there was agreement in the 1983 merger of the UPC and the PCUSA.’ The session listed the following areas that they believe are not in alignment with the current PCUSA denomination teachings: The authority of scripture; the Lordship of Jesus Christ; current support of Israel and the Jewish people; Christian ethics; what it means to be Reformed; mission; unity in the Universal Church; sanctity of marriage, and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

On May 16-17, 2016 the presbytery’s administrative commission meet with the church staff, the session and in small group settings, members of the church. “It was the feeling of the commission that the majority of those attending these small group meetings favored dismissal from the PCUSA in order to join the ECO,” stated the agreement.

A survey on the issue of dismissal was mailed to church members. Of the 160 surveys mailed, 132 were returned, showing that 120 or 90.9 percent were in favor of being dismissed to ECO; 3 or 2.3 percent wished to remain in the PCUSA and 9 (6.8 percent) were undecided.

Negotiations began between the church and AC and the agreement stated that the final financial settlement “will allow this Christian community to have a viable, ongoing program (mission work, scholarships, and facility upkeep), while keeping expense consistent with the contributions of their membership. The proposed settlement also recognizes that since the inception of this congregation, they have been faithful in sending per-capita and denomination monies as required, even as they entered a several-year period of discernment to remain in the PCUSA.”

First Presbyterian Church

The settlement agreement between the 162-member First Presbyterian Church of Wickenburg, Ariz., and Grand Canyon Presbytery stipulates that the church pay the presbytery $70,778.24 to be dismissed to ECO. The amount can be paid in yearly installments of no less than $10,111.18 per year for seven years. Those costs include:

  • $3,500.00 – Appraisal cost from Valbridge Property Advisors/MJN Enterprises, Inc.
  • $498.24 – Cost for Commission operations/expenses including mailings to members.
  • $750.00 – Cost for copying all of church documents for historical records – all records concerning membership records, session minutes, lists of officers/pastors, all legal transactions, as required. First Presbyterian Church has reproduced those records they wish to retain for historical purposes.
  • $1,000 – Cost for transferring property ownership to First Presbyterian Church upon final settlement of dismissal.
  • $18,530 – Per Capita reimbursement for period of non-payment, adjusted to reflect actual church membership from the years 2011 (partial) and to include 2016.
  • $46,500 – Value of the property as adjusted for purposes of Gracious Dismissal settlement. This amount is 8.3 percent of the revised property valuation.

The church began its period of discernment following the 2010 General Assembly. In 2011, the church stopped paying per capita, but increased its contributions to missions, “so that giving to God would not by diminished,” according to the agreement.

The church sent a letter requesting dismissal from the PCUSA to the presbytery in Oct. 2015. An Administrative Commission was formed in Jan., 2016.

The commission met with the pastor and session, whose concerns about the PCUSA included:

  • Failure of the church to specify the Essential Tenets of the faith
  • The redefinition of marriage and the Authoritative Interpretation to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in PCUSA
  • Vagueness about the authority of Scripture and its importance in our theology
  • Issues related to the divinity of Christ and to the GA refusal to acknowledge the “singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
  • GA decisions to replace the Fidelity and Chastity language of the Book of Order to allow “scruples” and in effect create “local option”

The Administrative Commission conducted three small group meetings with church member and conducted a survey, which showed that 95 percent of the 130 church members the AC had contact with wished to be dismissed from the PCUSA, while approximately 10-15 wanted to stay in the denomination or were undecided.

Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church

Fountain Hills’ settlement agreement requires the 267-member church to pay the presbytery a total of $247,132 to be dismissed. Of that amount, $30,726 must be paid at the time of dismissal, with the rest being paid in annual installments until the year 2021. The amount includes:

  • $177,656 – A biblical tithe of the appraised property value, reduced by the outstanding mortgage loan principal.
  • $20,000 – Mission support for Native American Ministries within the Presbytery of Grand Canyon.
  • $18,750 – Contribution to the Mission Endowment Fund of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon.
  • $22,726 – Per capita payments, including the amount due for 2016.
  • $8,000 – Estimated AC expenses, including cost for the property appraisal, records copying, etc. Actual costs at the time of dismissal shall be used for the final settlement.

The agreement stated that the concerns over the PCUSA “escalated in 2014. Congregants began to approach the session with questions like, ‘How is our Session going to respond to the actions of the 2014 General Assembly with regard to the authority of Scripture?’  The pastor and session then entered into a time of study and reflection, and initiated a series of meetings with the congregation at-large. The session formally requested to enter into a season of discernment with the Presbytery of Grand Canyon in October 2015, with a goal to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.”

During the months of March and April of 2016, the presbytery’s Administrative Commission conducted 12 small group members with church members, then conducted a mail-in survey with those not able to attend the meetings. The concerns raised included:

  • A strong desire for the PCUSA to specify essential tenets of faith for all members of the PCUSA, and dismay that the PCUSA has not done so.
  • Great concern over the Authoritative Interpretation to allow same-sex marriage in PCUSA churches in states where same-sex marriage is allowed by civil law.
  • Property ownership came up in almost every small group meeting, with significant concern over costs to transfer ownership to the Fountain Hills congregation.

The agreement stated that: “Through the Discernment process, the AC heard from 182 members of the Fountain Hills congregation – a substantial majority of the active membership. 62 percent of respondents favored dismissal from the PCUSA, while 21 percent wished to remain with the PCUSA and 18 percent stated that they were not sure on the question of dismissal. Many of the “not sure” group raised the issue of dismissal costs as at least a contributing factor in their personal decision-making process. Taken at face-value only, the statistics from the small-group process are somewhat misleading. The AC found that most members at Fountain Hills expressed a genuine love for their church family and a passionate desire to keep that family together. While 21 percent of small-group participants expressed a desire to remain with the PCUSA, it is highly likely that most, if not all, of these members will remain with the church regardless of denominational affiliation. The AC found no evidence for a viable remnant of the congregation, to continue as a PCUSA church, following dismissal of the Fountain Hills congregation.”

Horizon Presbyterian Church

The 200-member Horizon Presbyterian Church agreed to a settlement of $124,230 to be dismissed from the PCUSA and into ECO. That amount includes:

  • $1,000 – Cost for Commission operations/attorney fees
  • $1,000 – Cost for copying all of church documents for historical records – all records concerning membership records, session minutes, lists of officers/pastors, all legal transactions, etc. (approx.)
  • $1,000 – Cost for transfer property ownership to Horizon Presbyterian Church (Est)
  • $11,980 – Per capita for 2015 and 2016
  • $106,500 – This is the value of the PCUSA’s portion of the property valuation based on the equity value of the property (10 percent – A biblical tithe)

In the fall of 2015, the session asked to enter the presbytery’s discernment process. The presbytery’s AC began work in early 2016.

According to the settlement agreement, in 2012 the church’s session began having “heartfelt conversations about what they believe as a church and the various issues on which they felt the denomination was not in the same place they were. By the 2014 GA, more issues arose which pressed the session and pastor to take more active steps to determine whether it was time to leave or not. The church has struggled to decide how to move, which has caused some people to leave due to the slow pace of action or not wanting to deal with conflict about the issues. From the end of 2013 – 2015 the membership dropped from 200 to 124.”

The presbytery’s AC meet with church members on two different days and of the 43 people they met with, found that 34 wished to be dismissed from the PCUSA and nine wished to remain or were undecided.

The issues raised by the members included:

  • The PCUSA has become too involved in politics, especially decisions related to Israel and divestment from American companies;
  • Issues related to same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage
  • Feeling that the PCUSA does not have clear doctrines or beliefs that can be called essential tenets to which all can agree
  • They feel the PCUSA has left them, not the other way around.
  • Concerned about not believing in the divinity of Christ – “Christ has been dethroned.”
  • Want to be part of a church that has common goals and beliefs

 

*Membership numbers were taken from the PCUSA’s statistical snapshots of congregations for the calendar year 2013.

 

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Washington Presbyterian Separating from PCUSA for Conservative Group

(By Kip Burke, The News-Reporter (Georgia).) The congregation of Washington Presbyterian Church is about to complete a long-sought separation from a denomination that has become far more liberal than most members, and is joining like-minded Presbyterians in another denomination.

The congregation, led by Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, will bid goodbye to the old and be welcomed by the new next Sunday. “We’ll have a service of farewell Sunday, October 9, where the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Northeast Georgia Presbytery Dr. Helen Epps and I will share the pulpit for the farewell, followed by a pot-luck dinner. Then Sunday night we’ll have a welcome to ECO service, with Rev. Jim Lugo, from Sharon Church in Hartwell, thus making the transition,” he said.

The separation has been long in coming, Kohlhagen said. “There are 14 different Presbyterian denominations in the U.S., and the PCUSA is the biggest by far, and the one that has gone through the most recent changes to liberalize, allowing gay marriage, allowing abortion, putting down Israel, and that kind of thing, the kind of things we just can’t live with.”

The congregation will join many other Presbyterian churches in the South by joining with the ECO: a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians,” which grew out of the dissatisfaction with the growing changes in the PCUSA. “The ECO is a relatively new denomination, only five years old, but it’s built around the old Southern Presbyterian Church of the 1970’s and earlier,” Kohlhagen said. “We ordain women, but we don’t do all this other stuff that they’ve included in the last few years.”

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First Presbyterian-Houston Session Votes to Seek Dismissal from PCUSA

On Nov. 1, the session of First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas voted 21-2 to request dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

The session has said that it would request that the Presbytery of New Covenant include the dismissal request on the agenda of its Nov. 19 meeting, and would also apply for membership in ECO’s Presbytery of Texas and Louisiana.

According to a letter from the session posted on the church web site, the secret ballot vote was taken during an open session meeting and concluded “a process that began in late 2015 and included many months of prayer, discussion, study, and more recently, the evaluation of congregational feedback through individual conversations and emails, two town hall gatherings and a survey completed by nearly 1,200 people.”

Congregational Survey Report

Of the 1,185 responses to the congregational survey, 67 percent said “Yes” to the question, “Should First Presbyterian Church Houston seek dismissal from the PCUSA and affiliate with ECO?” Twenty-four percent said “No” and 9 percent did not care.

Seventy-three percent of those responding said they would stay with the congregation if it was dismissed from the PCUSA and joined ECO, while 16 percent said they would “most likely leave, or stop attending regularly.” Eleven percent did not know what they would do.

Other survey questions and the responses included:

  • “Do you agree or disagree that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior?”  Ninety percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed.
  • “How important is it that First Presbyterian Church Houston affirms the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation with God?”  Of those responding to the question, 91 percent said it was mildly important or very important.
  • “How important is it that First Presbyterian Church Houston affirms the Bible as God’s authoritative Word for Christians?”  A strong majority — 92 percent — answered this question as mildly important or very important.

TAG Consulting conducted the survey for the church.  The company works with churches and other organizations to help each understand its unique role and calling, and to help each become more effective and efficient for the future.

‘Sobering and difficult’ decision

“We recognize our membership holds diverse positions on this question and that the reaction to our decision will vary from agreement, to relief to disappointment,” read the letter from the session. “As our congregation’s elected leaders, it was sobering and difficult to have to make a decision that we knew would disappoint many within our body, regardless of what was decided. That said, the vote demonstrates our firm and prayerful conviction that FPC’s long-term best interests will be better served by joining ECO than by remaining in the PCUSA.”

The letter continued, “While our hope and prayer is that no one will make a quick decision regarding membership, if you are thinking that you would prefer to maintain affiliation with the PCUSA, you will have the opportunity to either transfer your membership to another PCUSA church in the area, or to transfer your membership to the Presbytery of New Covenant while you consider other options.”

The session arranged for Mike Cole, general presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery, to meet with any church members interested in staying in the PCUSA in the church chapel from 5-6 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 6).

The session’s letter ended by saying “Finally, let us acknowledge that the next days and weeks will test our ability to love one another even across our disagreements – and that the healing of relationships within our body cannot be accomplished in a single worship service, or through a committee, but only through hundreds of individual decisions to seek that healing and to intentionally do our part in reaching out to those with whom we need to reconcile. May we join together in Christ to accomplish that purpose.”

The History

The congregation first voted on seeking dismissal from the PCUSA in February of 2014. That congregational vote failed — by 31 votes — to meet the required super-majority approval needed for dismissal.

First-Houston remained in the PCUSA, but according to an Oct. 13, 2016 letter sent to church members, “in the minds of the significant majority of those voting, the vote left us in the worst possible position: nearly two-thirds of our church wanting to leave the PCUSA but being prevented from doing so by an inability to comply with a PCUSA-mandated process. That process, which caused so much divisiveness within our congregation three years ago, was later determined by the PCUSA to violate its own constitution and has since been abandoned.”

Therefore, the session vote was scheduled for November.

The session did not have to consider the church’s property during its meeting. First-Houston has clear title to its property after reaching a settlement agreement with New Covenant Presbytery in May, 2016. The church agreed to pay the presbytery $1 million as part of an agreement to end two years of civil litigation after the church filed a civil lawsuit in 2014 seeking to clear the title of its property from claims by the denomination that it holds a trust interest in FPC’s property.

The $1 million payment includes payments of $700,000 in semi-annual installments of $175,000. Also, the church will make a $300,000 mission payment — four quarterly payments of $15,000 for five years — to a mission partner chosen by FPC Houston in consultation with the presbytery.

According the PCUSA statistics, First-Houston has 3,132 members.

For more information, visit First-Houston’s denomination affiliation page on its web site.

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PCUSA Stated Clerk Shares His Vision at Polity Conference, Including Thoughts on ECO

(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook.) A few months into his term, J. Herbert Nelson – the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s new stated clerk, elected last summer by the 2016 General Assembly – is beginning to offer glimpses into his expanding vision for the denomination.

Nelson will preach at a Reformation worship service Nov. 2 at the PC(USA)’s national offices in Louisville – in an address that will be live-streamed and is being given the title “Write the Vision – Reclaim the Call.”

Scripture tells us that “the people who have no vision – they perish. They perish,” Nelson said Oct. 31.

In remarks that day at the Fall Polity conference, during both a workshop and a question-and-answer plenary session, Nelson gave some sense of his thinking – about his desire for the PC(USA) to make an impact in St. Louis, Baltimore and Columbus, Ohio, cities where the next three General Assemblies will be held, and “to begin looking outward rather than inward” at the denomination’s national offices in downtown Louisville.

Reaching out. Nelson said national church leaders plan to be in conversation with Presbyterians and local community leaders in St. Louis (where Big Tent will be held in 2017 and the General Assembly in 2018) and Baltimore (the host city for the 2020 General Assembly) and Columbus (where the 2022 assembly will convene). The idea: a program Nelson called Hands and Feet.

When the 2016 assembly met in Portland in June, Nelson said many attendees noticed that Portland has a pervasive problem with homelessness – “it was pervasive, it was really frightening” to see the deep need. Presbyterians came, spent money in hotels and restaurants, then went home, Nelson said – but did not work “for the transformation of the city.”

He wants things to be different in St. Louis, Baltimore and Columbus. …

… Departures to ECO. Nelson said he wants the PCUSA to give some attention to its relationship to evangelical congregations that have left to go to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterian, some in response to decisions the PCUSA made to permit the ordination of gays and lesbians who are in relationships and to allow its ministers to perform same-gender marriages. ECO states on its website that it has more than 300 congregations nationwide – and over the past several years some of the PCUSA’s largest and most prosperous congregations have left.

“One of the great challenges we have with regard to ECO is what does it mean to be part of the body of Christ,” Nelson said – which means the PCUSA must consider the implications of the relationships between the two denominations, as painful as that sometimes has been.

That conversation can include, Nelson said:

  • Raising questions at the ecumenical table to which they both belong – the World Communion of Reformed Churches.
  • Considering what it means to be in covenant community with each other.
  • Talking in local communities about what the relationship actually does and should look like.

“The responsibility for this does not rest solely with the Office of the General Assembly,” Nelson said. Each presbytery and synod must decide how to engage with congregations that have left or are considering it – determining how those departures will proceed.

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PCUSA Apologizes for Boarding School Abuses in Alaska

By Lisa Demer, Alaska Dispatch News. For the first time, a church organization has apologized to the Alaska Federation of Natives for its treatment of Native people and especially for abuses in boarding schools.

The Presbyterian Church’s national general assembly agreed in June, at the prompting of Alaskans, to issue an apology to all Native Americans abused, mistreated or diminished through church schools and boarding schools or otherwise.

An expression of sorrow for long-ago wrongs was delivered in person at the AFN convention on Saturday by the Rev. Curt Karns, the Anchorage-based executive presbyter – or administrator – of the Presbytery of the Yukon.

“To those individuals who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused as students of the Indian boarding schools in which the (Presbyterian Church USA) was involved, we offer you our most sincere apology. You did nothing wrong; you were and are the victims of evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused,” Karns told the AFN convention.

The apology was a notable moment on the final day of the convention at the Carlson Center. Delegates also considered some 35 resolutions on everything from Chukchi Sea polar bears to the need for tribal courts to food security — which some village residents said needs to encompass the importance of walrus hunts, reindeer herding and other rural practices.

Fairbanks last hosted AFN in 2013. The convention brought in thousands of delegates who celebrated accomplishments by Native individuals and institutions, listened to speeches by key government officials and took stock of what to get behind next.

They filled hotels and shopped for kuspuks, seal hats and ivory earrings at the AFN arts and craft fair. They danced on stage at Quyana night and spun off for side events including fiddle dances, a Mt. Edgecumbe reunion and an open-mic talent night for young poets, musicians and storytellers called Indigenize It.

In the main hall Saturday, delegates welcomed the apology, standing up and applauding when Karns finished.

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Rev. Dr. Curtis Karns, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Yukon, the Presbyterian Church in Alaska, apologized for past abuses made by the church in Interior Alaska Native communities.

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