April has been full of newsworthy events within the Presbytery and the wider church. This column contains those of particular interest to a Stated Clerk—and perhaps to you.
Judicial Proceedings Concerning the Presbytery
St. Paul’s Rescission: On February 25, the Presbytery voted to rescind its actions concerning the dismissal of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church of Anaheim. A complaint was filed against the rescission with the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii (“the Synod”). The PJC answered in the affirmative the “four preliminary questions” pertaining to any complaint:
–Was the complaint timely filed?
–Do(es) the complainant(s) have standing to file the complaint?
–Does the Synod have jurisdiction over the matter?
–Is the Synod able to grant relief, should the complaint be sustained?
A Committee of Counsel of three ordained elders from the Presbytery, the body charged by the Book of Order with acting as the Presbytery’s representatives, has been formed and has begun its work. The Presbytery’s first response to the Synod, together with a list of the documents the Presbytery will use in its response, will be submitted by May 5.
La Habra Dismissal: On March 12, the Presbytery voted to dismiss La Habra Hills Presbyterian Church to A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) according to certain terms. A complaint was filed against the dismissal with the Synod PJC. The PJC answered in the affirmative the four preliminary questions.
A Committee of Counsel is being formed. I have received at least one “yes” and at least one “I am interested and would like to talk about it more.” I fully expect that the Committee (of between two and three people) will be staffed in a timely manner. The Presbytery’s first response to Synod, together with a list of documents, will be submitted by May 25.
Investigation into Pastoral Actions: On April 7, I received a written accusation against a minister member of Presbytery, alleging actions by that minister that might rise to the level of disciplinary charges. In keeping with the requirements of the Book of Order, an Investigative Committee (IC) of three ordained elders has been formed to inquire into the accusation.
The Rules of Discipline make a careful technical distinction between an “accusation” and “charges.” An accusation alleges potentially unconstitutional actions against a member of a governing council (in this case, the Presbytery). Charges, on the other hand, come to the governing council’s Permanent Judicial Commission (in this case, the Presbytery PJC) by an Investigative Committee, if the Investigative Committee finds that the accusation is substantiated enough to warrant a disciplinary trial. The Investigative Committee has up to one year from its inception (in this case, April 19) to decide to file charges. No charges have been filed at this time.
Until such time as charges are filed, investigations into accusations of pastoral misconduct are strictly confidential. I will not be able to tell you the identity of the accuser, the identity of the accused, or the nature of the accusation. If charges are filed and a trial is required, I will make that information known at the appropriate time.
Events within the National Church
Nomination of New Stated Clerk: The Rev. Dr. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), announced in 2015 his intent to retire from the office at the end of June 2016. On April 19, the search committee responsible for nominating a new Stated Clerk to the General Assembly announced its recommendation: the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson.
The symbolic significance of his nomination is noteworthy. He would not be the first African-American to preside over a major Protestant denomination: both the Southern Baptists and the Episcopalians have already elected African-American heads. But as far as I know, all previous Stated Clerks of the General Assembly have been white males.
Potentially more significant, however, is the fact that Rev. Nelson has served for the past six years as the Director of Public Witness for the PC(USA)’s Washington Office in Washington, D.C. The same General Assembly that may elect Rev. Nelson will also decide on nine different overtures from Foothills Presbytery in South Carolina, several of which seek to curtail the denomination’s practice of commenting on issues of social and public significance. The Assembly’s decision on the one action (which could happen as early as Sunday of the Assembly) may very well signal how it intends to respond to the others.
PMA Budget for 2017-18: The Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) Board, after long meetings over the past week, has announced its budget for 2017 and 2018. The Agency will be cutting eight staff positions and not filling eighty vacant positions; the need for cuts is not a surprise. World Mission, however, is fully funded. The budget will not require demobilizing any of our overseas Mission Co-Workers.
What remains to be seen is whether the PMA will continue as a separate agency of the PC(USA). The 222nd General Assembly in Portland this June will weigh a variety of future scenarios, including the possible merger of the PMA with the Office of the General Assembly.
Board of Pensions changes: The Board of Pensions has announced plans for significant changes to its benefit programs beginning in 2017. Benefits for called and installed pastors and associate pastors (“101s” and “103s” in database-talk) will not change much, but a wider variety of options will be available for pastors serving in non-installed and other validated ministries. See elsewhere in this newsletter for more details (Many thanks to the Presbytery of San Gabriel, from whose summary I have borrowed liberally).
Like I said at the outset—news that a Stated Clerk cares about. As pedestrian as it all may sound, however, I would want to know it if you were my Clerk. For you who pray regularly for the Presbytery and the denomination, please keep these items in mind.
Somewhere along the Way—