Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Our Day in Court

I'm sorry not to have written sooner on this. I was with our staff at a retreat that began immediately following our time in court. Since the meeting was held in a location without internet connections, I was unable to significantly update the blog.

We began our afternoon meeting with our attorneys. After a time of prayer together we walked over to the courthouse and up to the district courtrooms on the seventh floor. As we waited for the judge to appear we were joined by a significant number of Kirk members. No one from the presbytery offices appeared with their attorneys.

The presbytery's attorney was first to make his presentation, since this appearance was about the EOP's petition to 1) have the entire process referred back to the PCUSA and 2) for the court to force the Kirk to hand over its membership records.

The arguments were nothing new. The EOP's attorney argued that the court could not interfere in what was a church matter. The EOP's attorney was very competent yet not eloquent. Certain "facts" were stretched to make a point. He insisted that the PCUSA is a hierarchical church, like the Episcopal or Roman Catholic church. He insisted that, since we "only"had a little over a thousand people at our congregational meeting, 60% of the Kirk was opposed to our move.

He also gave two examples of the presbytery graciously letting churches go with their property. The first was the Hevener church, which had dwindled down to nothing. When the congregation was dissolved, the church property was given to a Methodist congregation. The second was a similar case where the property--a burden to the presbytery--was disposed of after dissolving the congregation. Of course, none of these details were offered to the court. Nor was it mentioned that neither case remotely matched what the Kirk was doing or wanting.

Our attorney was magnificent (of course, it's hard for me to put prejudice aside). John O'Connor was joined by Kirk member Sean McKee and two of John's associates who had done much of the legal research. While the presbytery essentially presented only two cases--one from 1871 and another from 1972--our side presented a plethora of cases and evidence supporting our rights.

The judge asked questions that indicated that he was not just listening, but understood what was going on. For instance, when the EOP attorney said that 60% of the Kirk membership was opposed to what we had done, the judge asked us how many attended the Kirk of a typical Sunday. The judge understood the 1871 precedent that had led to the "deference rule" (secular courts stay out of church business) that secular courts had applied to church cases before 1979. Since that time, in accordance with another US Supreme Court ruling, allowing secular courts to rule in church property cases according to State laws.

My gut feeling is that we have a good case. Should we lose at this level, we will appeal as would, I assume the presbytery should they lose. But, whichever side prevails on Thursday afternoon will certainly be in stronger standing than the other.

The judge said that he would rule on Thursday afternoon. I and our attorneys continue to pray for God's will. We have the spiritual conviction that we should pursue all reasonable legal avenues to retain our property, but our decision wasn't made for the sake of property. Whatever God decides will prove to be best.

Keep praying--keep the faith,


Rick Walton said...

Tom, Thanks for the update. Is there somewhere to view the EOP's perception of how it went. I am always intrigued by the differing perceptions two sides have of the same experience, whether it be witnesses to a crime, a couple in conflict, or the EOP and the Kirk. Thanks for all you and the session are doing to pursue God's will.
Rick Walton

BugAhaBuc said...

-simple note
Tom your church stands with you.

Anonymous said...

from nclark

I believe that the Romans text referred to by annan ymous (12:10 pm Oct 25) is appropriate for the situation.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…

No matter what anyone may think about the actions of the members and leaders of the Kirk, God and God alone is sovereign and He will decide the outcome of the debate over the property and eventually the debate of the viability of the PCUSA. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with our decision but I think we did the right thing and did it the way God wanted us to do it.

Those of us who support the pastors, elders and their decisions of the recent months know that if we retain the property we do so ONLY because God has chosen to allow it. Therefore He has great plans for the Kirk and its members and we had better be ready for the time ahead.

Conversely, we know that should God choose to give the property to the EOP, again that is HIS choice and we will be comforted in the fact that He has plans for us that do not include the property on the hill on 61st street….and we better be ready for the work that change will entail.

I know that none of the steps taken were taken without prayer, time in Bible study and more prayer by and for all the parties involved. ( Personally, I think the Kirk should fight for the property – we paid for it and are the ones doing ministry, the EOP will probably just sell the building. As for the constitutional argument…the PCUSA broke their side of the bargain first, they turn a blind eye to the rules they have for ordination but are sticklers for that property clause! The PCUSA left us before we decided to leave them.)

We just finished a sermon series on Fear at the Kirk…the last Sunday our memory verse was Jeremiah 29:11…

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,”

God knows our future, I’m not worried…


Anonymous said...

The EOP/PCUSA and others that support them keep harping on the B.O.O. and that the Kirk property is in a trust for the PCUSA.

Even though, as I understand it, said trust provision was not adopted until well after the Kirk was established as a church.

While not an attorney, I have worked with trusts in my business dealings. I would like to point out as i understand it, a couple of points of interest. 1) a trust is revocable unless specifically stated otherwise. I assume this to be the case of the PCUSA "trust". The Kirk thereby revoked said trust to cover our basis. 2) The Kirk property (title) was never listed as far as I know in the past, and certainly not now as being owned by a revocable or any other trust.

My point being, the PCUSA's trust claim is irrelevant on many points.
Because the Kirk did not grant the property to said trust, even if we did the trust was revoked, and the title to the Kirk was never listed the trust as owner of the property.