Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Twin Cities Area Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) for our regular monthly meeting yesterday at the Presbyterian Church in White Bear Lake.  I arrived forty minutes before the meeting and still had to park over a block away from the church. 

We were told later that 197 people attended and all of the meal tickets were sold.  What brought such a large turnout was undoubtedly the Presbytery’s discussion of the Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church.

But other parts were just as important to me.  I appreciated the thoughtful worship service that started the gathering.  Though my taste isn’t for responsive readings, some of the words of the service touched me.

In his report Jim Brasel, Acting Executive Presbyter, shared that the main focus of the November meeting will be possible priorities of the Presbytery.  I was encouraged to hear that a focus of a Presbytery meeting will not be Gracious Separation and churches who will be leaving.  Jim also shared an article written by Joaan Haejong Lee in Christian Century on disagreement.  The link to that article is here:

In his report David Colby, Chair of the Presbytery Leadership Team said that at their next meeting the Presbytery Leadership Team will have a conversation about next steps regarding hiring an Interim Executive Presbytery.  He also shared that Chaz Ruark is going to be the new Executive Presbytery at John Knox Presbytery starting in the middle of September.  Congratulations, Chaz!

However the main event of the evening was what the Presbytery will do in response to the actions of the Presbyterian Church in Eden Prairie.  That church was in negotiations with a team from the Presbytery about leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA).  In June the church informed the Presbytery that they had “voluntarily left” the PC(USA).  John Ward, their pastor, informed the Presbytery that he was renouncing jurisdiction of the Presbyterian church.  Lawyers for the church threatened to bring trespass charges against the PC(SUA) and the Presbytery if they entered or accessed any property held by the church.

Burt Nygren shared a report from the Administrative Commission--the group the Presbytery appointed to negotiate with the church.  He re-iterated much of what was shared in a written report from the Administrative Commission.  All of the documents that the Presbytery received for this issue and for the entire meeting can be found on-line at

David Colby then went through a document that had questions and answers about the situation.  He shared that the document was offered as a response to media and/or public inquiries about the situation. 

The Presbytery then went into a Quasi-committee of the whole to discuss a recommendation from the Committee on Ministry to assume original jurisdiction of the session of the church.  Kathryn Breitbarth led this conversation.  Many questions were asked.  Sue Rutford’s Twitter feed has a response to some of these questions.

Around 6:15 we broke for dinner.  At dinner I talked to a friend of mine who I identify as being independent.  This person doesn’t trend either liberal or conservative.  I asked my friend his/her thoughts about the situation.  My friend shared that s/he thought that s/he would like to know what the dollar figures were that the Administrative Commission asked for the property and what the church counter-offered.  Without that information—and my friend really wanted to know that information—s/he couldn’t make a judgment about what to do.

This idea of what made up the final negotiation before the church left the negotiations with the Administrative Commission spilled over into the meeting’s conversation after dinner.  A motion was made to remove the confidentiality restrictions on the negotiation and to go forward at an indefinite time with negotiations.  That motion was amended to allow the parties to negotiate until the next Presbytery meeting.

I was in favor of allowing two more months of negotiation, but I wouldn’t have been in favor of removing the confidentiality part of the negotiations.  I believe that would set a poor precedence. 

The Presbytery ultimately voted not to approve those motions.  Shortly afterwards the Presbytery voted to assume original jurisdiction of the session of the church.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see this issue land in civil court. 

The entire issue is very, very sad.  It’s probably a pipedream to hope that the church will stay in the PC(SUA).  If that doesn’t happen I hope that a negotiated settlement can be reached.  It seems to be that everyone loses if this issue goes to court.

I left the meeting after the Presbytery approved the 2015 budget.  Many important issues were still going to be discussed, but I hadn't seen my family since 7:30 in the morning.  The issues that the Presbytery discuss are important, but long meetings make it very hard for adults with children to attend.  Our model of meetings doesn't fit well for everyone.

Keep praying …  God can do something in this and every situation that we cannot imagine.

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