The Layman Online has copies of open letters sent to churches in both Cascades and Los Ranchos presbyteries.
The Cascades letter, written by First Presbyterian Church, Cottage Grove, Ore., wishes the presbytery would respond to churches requesting to be dismissed from the PCUSA by saying “if you must leave, either make a fair offer to purchase the property or simply leave the keys in the mailbox on your way out.”
The Los Ranchos letter, written by several pastors in the presbytery, states that “we feel conscience bound to object to the further dismissal of church property.”
“I call this ‘the doors are closing and will not reopen’ strategy,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee. “People have been asking ‘how long’ they had to get out, I think these letters suggest that some have waited too long.”
LaBerge went on to clarify, “I am not advocating that anyone nor any congregation leave the PCUSA. I am making an observation about the climate in which departures and dismissals are taking place. That climate has been growing increasing hostile and less gracious since 2007 when we really began to see large numbers of congregations begin to seek realignment from the PCUSA to other denominations in the Presbyterian and Reformed family of denominations.”
Cascades Presbytery open letter
The letter to Cascades Presbytery opens by expressing the session’s deep concern for the direction of the presbytery, and then speaks of the congregations who have “expressed their disagreements with policies adopted by the elected members of our presbytery and by the elected commissioners to General Assembly. They express their disagreements by asking to withdraw their membership from the PCUSA and to affiliate with other denominations that claim to be part of Reformed Tradition. These congregations invariably ask the presbytery to let them depart and to take all of the church’s property with them.”
All of it happens, according to the letter, through the presbytery’s use of a “policy misnamed ‘Gracious Dismissal.’”
“By framing the policy in such terms, those who advocate this approach to handling conflict continue to mystify the issue by suggesting that opponents of such schismatic efforts are somehow less gracious than those who support them,” the letter states.
The letter alleges that there is “reason to believe that there is a group of maverick pastors, inevitably schooled in non-Presbyterian seminaries, who are behind the orchestration of these efforts. They then recruit some elders who take the lead in the separation process so the pastors don’t have to take any personal responsibility for their actions.”
The letter suggests that it would have been better if the presbytery leaders had responded to dismissal requests “with a clear word when they had a chance to say no. For example: ‘we are sorry you are unhappy. But we believe we are all better together. Please reconsider. But if you don’t, please know that our church constitution has a trust clause that forbids any part of the church, including its congregations, from taking property that is held in trust for the whole denomination. Both our Book of Order and the recent unanimous ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court forbid the actions that dissident churches are requesting.”
Los Ranchos Presbytery open letter
Tom Cramer, leader for vision and mission for Los Ranchos Presbytery emailed an open letter written by several of the presbytery’s teaching elders (pastors) to members of the joint solution teams and presbytery commissioners.
In Los Ranchos, it is a joint solution team (JST) that works with the churches wishing to leave the denomination.
Cramer, who added his name to the letter once it was written, wrote in the email that “Because the Joint Solution Teams are engaged in ongoing conversations regarding dismissal, the letter is being distributed now so that they may have this information as soon as possible in their process.” He also wrote that the open letter was “is solely intended to inform the Joint Solution Teams and Presbytery Commissioners of the signers’ concerns. It does not in any way alter the property policy and procedures that our presbytery approved on November 20, 2014, or the openness with which we will debate these convictions in due time.”
The open letter was written by Jerry Tankersley, Kirk Winslow, Craig Williams and Mike Regele, said Cramer. “I believe the letter speaks for itself and arises out of a deep concern for the future of our presbytery.”
No more PCUSA dismissals
Noting that three of the presbytery’s congregations have joint solution teams working with them and that several other congregations are nearing that point, the writers of the Los Ranchos open letter say that they are “compelled to articulate our conviction that Los Ranchos must assert its constitutional claim of holding property in trust for the mission of Christ through the PCUSA.”
The writers say they understand that “faithfulness to conscience” has demanded a formal separation from the denomination for some churches, and to honor that, the presbytery has dismissed several congregations – “including our two largest, regional churches” – to other Presbyterian denominations.
“We believe those who are conscience-bound to part from the PCUSA now have fine congregations within the boundaries of Los Ranchos where they may find fellowship, worship, and serve.”
Since that provision has been made, the letter states, “we are committed to our constitutional obligation to hold property in trust for our presbytery’s mission. Therefore, all remaining resources must now be dedicated to these ends. … To release conscience-bound members of congregations with existing properties held in trust for benefit of the PCUSA (G-4.0203) from our bounds would irreversibly diminish the Presbytery of Los Ranchos’ capacity to accomplish the mission to which we are called. Essential to that mission is the witness to the culture and each other that we practice our ordination vows to promote the ‘peace, unity and purity of the Church’ (W-4.4003). To continue to fracture the Presbytery through dismissal with property would damage our witness and mission.”
The letter ends by stating “We feel conscience bound to object to the further dismissal of church property. We offer this letter now so as to allow our reasoning to be considered as early on as possible in the JST process. Seeking to honor Christ to the best of our abilities, we are committed to this continuing mission through Los Ranchos Presbytery.”