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,