Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Kirk in the News

The Presbyterian News Service ran an article about the Kirk today. The short article was straightforward and, for the most part, accurate. I want to clarify some points and address one misrepresentation that demands a response.

The article says,
The schism declaration came in response to a report from an administrative commission that was appointed by the presbytery in September 2006, shortly after the congregation voted to follow the lead of its session and pastors and bolt the PC(USA) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
The EOP has declared us to be in schism, which is the PCUSA equivalent of bell-and-candle with a papal rebuke mixed in. If their definition simply meant that we had split from the PCUSA, it would be accurate. The administrative commission report, though, is using “schism” to mean that the Kirk is internally divided. This is just not so.

Does that mean that there were no people who disagreed with what we did? No. There was a handful of Kirk members who either joined other churches or simply started attending elsewhere. The rest have chosen to remain with us, choosing the direction of the Kirk over that of the denomination.

The unity of the Kirk has never been greater. Since I’ve been at the Kirk for over 25 years, I have a historical perspective from which to speak. Morale is high primarily because we have moved on. The property issue must still be determined in court, but the denominational issue is concluded. Rumors of internal division have apparently been seeded by members of the EOP, possibly because they cannot envision unity through such a change.

Another inaccuracy regards a significant detail:
The session, acting as the corporation board, then hired Gray and Hardy as pastors and filed suit in civil court to gain ownership of the church’s property.
It was not the session that acted as the corporation board and rehired Wayne and me. It was the corporation board itself—the trustees. The Kirk has always had a separate Board of Trustees. The corporation is a separate legal entity, not to be confused with the congregation.

Finally, there is a misrepresentation:
Doug Dodd, moderator of the commission said that “over six months of efforts to achieve reconciliation and determine the nature of division” had failed.
Let me itemize their “six months of effort.”
  • A couple of public meetings, sparsely attended.
  • So-called “Kirk of the Hills, Presbyterian Church worship services,” held at another church and also sparsely attended (by presbytery members, not Kirk members).
  • A letter to the Kirk board, inviting them to a meeting that, since we are no longer PCUSA, was irrelevant.
  • The publication of a rather angry, ad hominem report.
The real point of this empty process is clearly stated in the article.
The presbytery, again on the recommendation of its administrative commission, authorized its trustees to protect the presbytery’s property rights over Kirk of the Hills. The PC(USA) Constitution states that church property is not owned by a particular congregation but is held in trust for the denomination.
Their effort dealt little with reconciliation--just read the report. The EOP cares about only one thing: the property. This was evident when a presbytery official, long before the Kirk seriously addressed the idea of leaving the PCUSA, told others "the Kirk may want to leave, but they'll never get their property." It was evident the next March when, in secret, the EOP went to the courthouse to file an affidavit against our property. It is evident in the AC report. The AC's "six months of effort" was unwanted and unneeded by the true Kirk that still meets on 61st Street in Tulsa. A church that is united in ministry and purpose has no need for reconciliation.

Keep praying--keep the faith,


Pamela Cook said...

I just read the following article about how some are not happy with Clifton Kirkpatrick's leadership. I'm not sure if he is the top dog of the denomination or not (I'm not PCUSA). It appears that some are asking him not to not consider a 4th term.

If this was not dealing with the cause of Christ this would be laughable. I pray this will be over soon. It sounds like you and The Kirk are going about your business. That's what you need to do. Religion is a drag. Finish your race and follow the Bible.

Jim said...

I wonder if PC(USA) has violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act(RICO)?

It has been applied to activities other than "Mob" actions. Anyone using intimidation and fear to force behavior may be guilty.

Mark said...

Dear Tom,

You made the clarifying statement, "It was not the session that acted as the corporation board and rehired Wayne and me. It was the corporation board itself—the trustees. The Kirk has always had a separate Board of Trustees. The corporation is a separate legal entity, not to be confused with the congregation."

That is not quite what the PCUSA Constitution, which was in effect at the time the corporation board voted, states.

The Book of Order, G-7.0401-.0402, states, "Whenever permitted by civil law, each particular church shall cause a corporation to be formed and maintained. Only members on the active roll of the particular church [read "congregation"] shall be members of the corporation and eligible for election as trustees. The elders in active service in a church who are eligible under the civil law shall, by reason of their office, be the trustees of such corporation, unless the corporation shall determine another method for electing its trustees. Any such alternate method shall provide for a nominating committee elected by the corporation, and for terms for trustees the same as are provided for elders. Any particular church which is not incorporated may select trustees from the members on the active roll of the church. The power and duties of such trustees shall not infringe upon the powers and duties of the session or of the board of deacons. (G-10.0102, G-6.0402)

"The corporation so formed, or the individual trustees, shall have the following powers: to receive, hold, encumber, manage, and transfer property, real or personal, for the church; to accept and execute deeds of title to such property; to hold and defend title to such property; to manage any permanent special funds for the furtherance of the purposes of the church, all subject to the authority of the session and under the provisions of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), provided further that in buying, selling, and mortgaging real property, the trustees shall act only after the approval of the congregation granted in a duly constituted meeting. (G-8.0500)"

The corporation board as constituted did not have the power to hire or fire personnel, including pastors. Ironically, and to borrow your description of EOP, the trustees care about only one thing: the property and permanent special funds. They are not allowed to "care for" anything else. Even then, they are subject to the authority of the session. Therefore, the action of the trustees in hiring you and Wayne was out of order, both in ecclesiastical and in civil terms. If the session approved their action, the session was also out of order, because the congregation alone has authority to address "matters related to the calling of a pastor or pastors" (G-7.0304a(2)) and "matters related to the pastoral relationship, such as changing the call, or requesting or consenting or declining to consent to dissolution" (G-7.0304a(3)).

You make an excellent point: the AC report shows limited reconciliation.

How do you answer the report's claim that the Kirk's lawyer forbade EOP access to the Kirk's leadership and staff? Would such an action on the part of the lawyer not prevent, or at least hinder, reconciliation efforts by the AC and EOP leadership?

As for Pamela Cook's uncertainty, I hope you clarify for her that PCUSA polity, which is conciliar, allows no room for a "top dog", unless one wishes to speak of Jesus Christ in highly informal terms. I hope you clarify that Kirkpatrick is the Stated Clerk, and as such, has many responsibilities while at the same time having highly limited powers that are checked by his governing body (in his case, the General Assembly). In fact, one could say the same of any individual officer in the PCUSA, even the elders and ministers in sessions and presbyteries.

Of course, you consider these matters to be water under the bridge now that you've moved on, but I am curious to hear your response.

Yours in Christ,

Anonymous said...

Note in the BOO section you quoted that the session acts a trustees "unless the corporation shall determine another method for electing its trustees."

As to the trustees' authority to hire and fire, once we disaffiliated, the BOO was past history, not current guidance. As I have stated in earlier blogs, when we disaffiliated we became a congregational church operating under our bylaws, not the BOO.

Concerning Clifton Kirkpatrick we are dealing more with perception than constitutional reality. There is no other person in the PCUSA--including the moderator of GA--who has the voice and influence his office has. For all intents and purposes, his voice is the denomination's.

Finally, your point on our lawyers' instructions and reconciliation is a good one. Once the legal process is engaged, it is usually the case that all communication go through the attorneys. Such has been the case for us and the EOP.

Two things make me believe that this was the proper way regardless. Examples in other presbyteries (and it is logical to assume EOP would be the same) show that the action of presbyteries is to gag the principals in the situation, making the process not only one controlled by the denomination, but all communication is controlled, as well.

Second, the experience of our own in the EOP was continually one of de facto marginalization combined with moments of overt hostility on the part of significant individuals. The same continues to this day.


Mark said...

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your reply.

I guess I'm still confused. Your answer to most matters is that the session's vote to dissolve the corporation and reincorporate apart from the PCUSA removed the congregation from BOO requirements. Yet you never address the issue that the session (or the trustees) did not have the authority to dissolve the corporation to begin with. Only the corporation [congregation] has the power to vote for its own dissolution or dismissal. And the only way that vote can lead to dissolution or dismissal is by the affirmative vote of the presbytery. You keep putting the cart before the horse.

I understand you believe that you, the session, and the trustees are acting in the best interest of the congregation. You also believe that the PCUSA is no longer following its Constitution. So you make the logical leap that it is okay for the Kirk to disregard the PCUSA Constitution in protest. Isn't that something of a contradiction?

Unless I'm missing some nuance in Oklahoma law (which is possible, since I'm neither a resident of Oklahoma nor a lawyer), how do you square the contradiction?

Please understand that, at this point, I agree with you that it's best for you, Wayne, the session, and the majority of the Kirk's membership to leave EOP and the PCUSA. I also think that it's best for EOP and the PCUSA that y'all leave.

However, I belong to another presbytery, so what I think is best is moot. I am nevertheless curious, for I am an interested bystander by virtue of the fact that I am a member and an officer (minister) of the PCUSA.

I, too, pray that the legal matters in question will be resolved soon, and that both the Kirk and EOP will be freed to focus unhindered upon their respective gospel ministries, to the glory of God and the joy of the Church.

Yours in Christ,

Bayou Christian said...


Was thinking of you today - wanted to let you know you are regularly in my prayers. Having recently recieved just a small sample of the criticism that you are dealing with has made me much more aware of your need for our prayes.

Stand Firm

Stushie said...

Tom, here's a practical question;

If you're found guilty of causing schismatic action in the church, will you lose your vested pension rights with the PC(USA), or will they still be accredited to you?

Just a thought.

Jim said...

G-11.0412 gives the presbytery the power to grant "Honorably Retired" to a minister with twenty years of service. I leave it up to to guess whether EOP would grant Tom and Wayne this status.

Mark said...

Dear Stushie,

Since Tom has renounced the jurisdiction of the PCUSA (which he did in a fashion acceptable to BOO guidelines), he is neither an officer nor a member of the PCUSA. Therefore, no accusations or charges may be filed against him with any PCUSA governing body or permanent judicial commission. In other words, whether or not there is a property dispute, no church court can take action against Tom. His pension credits would be a matter for the Board of Pensions (BOP) to clarify. I would think that he's still considered fully vested in the BOP and will need to make arrangements with them directly about how to process the 27 years worth of benefits he accrued before last summer.

Dear Jim,

Why would EOP, or any presbytery for that matter, grant Honorably Retired status to any person who has renounced the jurisdiciton of the PCUSA and is no longer either an officer or a member of the denomination? They would not. And why would Tom or Wayne want to be considered Honorably Retired from a denomination they have renounced? I don't think (though I don't know for certain) that their renunciations would prevent Tom and Wayne from taking their retirement credits, particularly if they choose to remain vested in the system or have those credits roll over to retirement investment options outside the BOP.

Yours in Christ,