“It should be mentioned that the Presbytery is paying for all of its legal expenses. There is no PCUSA money available to help. The expenses are being paid out of our unrestricted reserves, which have been strong in the past but are not unlimited. The presbytery’s mission budget will also be affected next year, but we do not know yet by how much.”This is a tough financial situation for EOP and the Kirk. It could come to an end immediately if the presbytery decided to recognize that the property legally and morally belongs to us. It could also come to an end if we simply walked away from the property, which we will not do. It could end if the EOP would agree to negotiate. I’m a bit surprised that the PCUSA is not helping out. They have reserve funds set aside for just this purpose.
The PCUSA is stretching out the process. We received news today that the denomination has filed for an extension to the case, which should be approved by the judge. Perhaps they are just biding time for the presbytery’s Administrative Commission to finish its work, whatever that is. A clue of its purpose is found in the letter:
“The Presbytery, on September 5, appointed an Administrative Commission to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk and between the Kirk and the Presbytery, to seek reconciliation where it is possible, to offer pastoral care, and to investigate the validity of reported irregularities. The Commission, as part of its pastoral concern for all members of the Kirk, has been holding Sunday evening worship services at Southminster Presbyterian Church, led by a number of our pastors and attended by both members of the Kirk and members of other congregations in our Presbytery. The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk, which will be mailed once membership records are received. After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved.”Let me respond to key points in the above paragraph.
“…to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk…”
I am not aware of division at all. I realize that this may be hard for the EOP to believe, but it is true. We just completed a marathon phone survey of the congregation. We did find that some people had moved their membership because they disagreed with our disaffiliation. The number is consistent with what we had at the congregational meeting: about 30-40 people. This is a very small number for a large church. That doesn’t make these people unimportant, but it does demonstrate that the Kirk is not a divided church.
“…investigate the validity of reported irregularities.”
All the EOP needs to do is read my blog (I think they may have already done so). In the blogs I give detailed accounts of what we did, and when we did it. While our move is decidedly controversial, we have not hidden or covered up what we’ve done.
“...the commission[‘s]…pastoral concern…”
The time for pastoral concern is long past. During the years the EOP was aware of our struggle with the PCUSA there was never a word of concern or support spoken. The few conversations about our concerns were, I felt, tinged with tension and disapproval. The same General Presbyter who wrote the letter once commented to me that "he wished that the extremists in the church were not dominating the conversation." That statement included me as an "extremist." There are many opportunities where a presbytery can act pastorally. Those didn't happen. We never even had the required tri-annual visits from the Committee on Ministry, as required by the PCUSA constitution.
“…the Commission…has been holding Sunday evening worship services.”
This was, for a short time, a source of confusion for some of our members. The way in which the presbytery worded notice of the services seemed, to some, to indicate it was a worship service of the Kirk, not the Commission. Since we are actively planning to start a new church, some thought this was what the announcement was about.
The confusion has been clarified, although the EOP claims to “own” the name of our church. I have a member who has been attending some of the services just to observe. According to him, services in November were attracting about 15 people, none of whom were Kirk members.
“The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk...”
The EOP has already written our congregation, with very limited results. One more letter will not change anything. As in the past, when the EOP has contacted Kirk members, I’ve said that people are free to respond or not respond, as they wished. If the congregation were divided, the presbytery would have a sizeable response. It hasn’t happened and won’t this time, either. These contacts have, though, increased the congregation's level of irritability toward the EOP.
“After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved”
I think that they may end up talking to themselves. Those who deeply disagreed with our disaffiliation have already moved to other churches, most notably First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. We didn't know, at first, how many moved there because First Presbyterian failed to notify us that they had received our former members.
Our telephone marathon revealed that other members moved out of Tulsa without telling us. A few joined other local churches in the last year—not because of disaffiliation, but for other reasons. In each phone call we asked people directly how they felt about us leaving the PCUSA and the responses were highly encouraging to us.
The EOP is desperately trying to identify a "true church" from within the Kirk congregation. I cannot say that they'll find no one sympathetic to their cause, but I'd be surprised if there were any significant response.
There is one more thing in the letter that I feel compelled to comment on.
"This is a difficult matter and one which is best worked out among brothers and sisters in Christ rather than on a public stage."At one level I agree with that statement. If we had had any confidence that the EOP and PCUSA would deal with us fairly, we'd have worked quietly with them. But the filing of the affidavit, combined with the release of the hardball legal gameplan (which the EOP is following) destroyed any confidence we might have had. Conversations I've had with churches throughout the country who have tried to work with presbyteries have almost universally found that the denomination doesn't just want to keep dirty laundry out of the public eye--they've gagged pastors and sessions so that the process outlined by the Louisville "game plan," worked out in the dark, would not be examined by the light of Truth. The Bible speaks to this:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)The reason for writing this blog is to keep the light shining, especially on the processes employed by the PCUSA against dissenting churches. I wish the denomination and the presbytery no evil, but I will not cooperate in something that could be evil.
Keep praying--keep the faith,