A Texas judge has granted a request from First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio for a temporary injunction against Mission Presbytery.
“FPC has demonstrated the likelihood of its complete and exclusive ownership of any property held in its name,” wrote Judge John D. Gabriel in his ruling. “The Court also finds that Mission Presbytery has the means at its disposal and has indeed threatened imminent harm and irreparable injury, loss or damage to FPC in connection with FPC filing this action and that, if the Court does not issue the Temporary Injunction, FPC will be irreparably injured, because presbytery will proceed to form an Administrative Commission or listening team to seize control of FPC property …”
Mission Presbytery formed an Administrative Commission (AC) to “intervene on its behalf” with FPC-San Antonio on Oct. 23, after the church session scheduled a congregational meeting for Nov. 1 to vote on disaffiliating from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
According to an email message from the presbytery’s General Council, “the stated purposes of this congregational meeting are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”
In an Oct. 30 letter to the congregation, FPC Stated Clerk Norton A. Stuart III announced that the injunction had been granted, emphasizing that “the Court’s ruling only pertains to actions by Mission Presbytery that affect the property of this church.”
Stuart also addressed claims made by the presbytery in an Oct. 28 letter — that if the congregational meeting went ahead as planned, it could result in “the possibility of ecclesiastical charges” being filed against the pastors and session and that they could be “found to have renounced the jurisdiction of the Church.”
“The session and pastors of your church strongly disagree that their actions constitute a renunciation of jurisdiction of the Book of Order,” Stuart wrote. “Many churches around the country have held votes to disaffiliate from the denomination, including Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas and First Presbyterian Church of Amarillo. To our knowledge, this is the first time a presbytery has taken the position that such a vote by the congregation may constitute renunciation of jurisdiction.”
Stuart wrote that both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court have “each upheld the right of a congregation to determine with whom it will associate. By joining a Presbyterian denomination, member churches do not give up their right to vote. By voluntarily affiliating with the PCUSA this congregation did not give up its right to vote, its right of association, or its right of free speech.”
The PCUSA’s Book of Order, he said, does not negate the exercise of legal and constitutional rights.
Mission Presbytery’s actions of trying to remove FPC-San Antonio’s pastors and session as members in good standing “only heightens the concerns over the continued affiliation with the PCUSA,” he continued. “If the only way the PCUSA can hold churches in the denomination is to (1) try to prevent a congregation from holding a democratic vote; (2) assert claims of interest in the property of the local church; and (3) threaten its faithful pastors and session with potential ecclesiastical actions, it has elevated its own self-preservation over the health of the local church.”
Stuart wrote that as far as the session knew, “no council of the PCUSA has ever contributed funds to the property or mission of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. The legal right to manage and control the property of this church has always been vested in the corporate trustees and in the session elected by this congregation.”
“We urge our members to vote in favor of disaffiliation from the PCUSA; in favor of affiliation with ECO; and in favor of retaining all or our pastors and officers duly called by this congregation to serve this church.”
Other related links
Mission Presbytery threatens pastors, session with ‘ecclesiastical charges;’ FPC-San Antonio stands firm
FPC-San Antonio schedules disaffiliation vote; Anonymous group urges church to vote ‘No’
Presbytery appoints Administrative Commission, despite assuring judge it would not
From the Midwest to Texas, churches continue to realign among Presbyterian denominations
Ron Scates accused of violating ordination vows
Denomination grapples with First Presbyterian over leaders’ push to leave (subscription required)
Take note PCUSA in Texas!
I wouldn’t label it as a congregational meeting, but a meeting of the Corporation under Texas Corporation law.
The freedom of association argument is silly. That means that if you don’t like the PCUSA church you are at, you can go to the Southern Baptist church down the street! It does not mean that you can be a member of a denomination and willy nilly change the rules of that denomination,ergo denying its jurisdiction.
It sounds like you are suggesting that freedom of association exists for individuals and not for organizations. I think the district court saw it differently – and I wonder if he was perhaps persuaded by the too often intimidating and interfering behavior of other administrative commissions both in Texas and around the country.
PJesse – Clearly the ECO believs that once you are joined into the denomination by the Presbytery, you are BOUND by covenant to follow its form of government:
1.02 The Organizing of a Congregation
A congregation in ECO can be organized only by the authority of a presbytery and shall function under the provisions of this Constitution. When a group of Christ followers discern that the Holy Spirit is leading them to become a congregation, they shall craft a covenant which reflects their desire to be bound to Christ and one another as a part of the body of Christ according to the government of ECO. After receiving this covenant and its signatures, it shall be the sole discretion of the presbytery to declare them an organized congregation, after which the
congregation and the presbytery shall enter into a membership agreement. After receiving the presbytery’s approval of these initial candidates, the congregation shall then proceed to elect its pastor(s), elders, and (if utilized) deacons. The presbytery shall prepare, examine, ordain, and install these newly elected individuals in this new congregation.
Polity Wonk, I do not think such argument would persuade the district court judge into reconsidering the temporary injunction. It seems irrelevant to the question. For what its worth, I would hope ECO would be less heavy-handed than the PC(USA) has been. To my knowledge, that has not been tested. And I also hope the presbyteries of the PC(USA) become less heavy-handed 1) for the sake of my friends and colleagues still under their authority, 2) for the sake of the God’s kingdom, and 3) for their own sake. In my experience, love and grace always trumps power and control. Love and grace certainly bring more honor to the name the one we serve along with a sense of life and integrity to those who bear them. Far more valuable things are at stake than property.
Respectfully, I hope everyone in the PCUSA can be a little more gracefull and loving toward each other. Why is it only grace and love is required of those in the PCUSA to let others leave, where is the grace and love of those wanting to leave for their colleagues in the faith? Stay and let’s love and be graceful to each other together. Turning your back is not active (although hard) love…
I visited with pastor of two churches that went through the process of disassociation. Others to be interviewed. One salient fact I find in common is the presbyteries are free to write their own agenda but without guidance. Consequently, for a connectional church, the PSUSA is disconnected for the task.
What I have learned is the negotiating skills of the team that consults, visit, threatens, or whatever a church and session is inadequate for their assigned task.
One does not enter into negotiations by sending demand letters. Nothing infuriates a session or inflames a congregation better than a demand letter. Consequently,
presbytery leads with its chin.
In the case of FPC, San Antonio, and others, the presbytery assumes “ownership” because. In reality, how many dollars has presbytery contributed to a congregation, except in instances of new church development?
In a majority of instances, any presbytery has received a largess of funds from congregations.
The PCUSA is in a transitional stage and poor negotiating skills will only accelerate the process and generate a lot of anger.
The PCUSA cannot have it both ways at the same time. It cannot affirm that individual people are free to leave any entity at any time, under the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association, only assert in the other breath that that same right does not exist to their resources and/or real property, if they are members of said organization by either charter or association.
It is much like the Presbytery demanding one’s checkbook and bank account, or deed to their home because of some implied relationship in some denominational document, which has no legal standing in civil or contract law. Or that in the act of becoming a member of said PCUSA, the member agrees to forgo or voluntarily give up his or constitutional rights as a American citizen. That dog just will not hunt. It’s a constitutional republic, not a theocracy.
Peter – respectfully, the council responsible for constituting and supporting OR dismissing and closing congregations is the Presbytery. Presbyteries have agreed upon processes for these events, including dismissal. Congregations covenant to follow the form of government when they are constituted and they should follow it when they want to be dismissed – PCUSA, EPC, or ECO – when you join you agree to the bound to the governance processes, not just when it suits you, but until you are dismissed – period.
if so, then it should be just a meeting of the Directors, they are the ones empowered for decision making in the corp. – NO, this is a “congregational meeting” called by session – therefore it falls under the agreement to operate under the constitution of the PCUSA and it is in violation of that agreement.
James – I respectfully disagree, every Presbytery has many resources to support dismissal process development and I am personally aware that many have connected to each other to review and obtain guidance. In this case FPC-SA chose to operate under the PCUSA form of government in order to be constituted or to continue as a congregation under that constitution. Now, they have chosen to walk away from that commitment, for whatever reasons, that is simply what is happening.
ECO take note, leaders in this congregation voluntarily have disregarded their covenant to live under the constitution of their denomination, and you may be next…
I was wondering if you could comment on something I have observed.
Churches that have gone through all the discernment process of their Presbytery with the COM find themselves in a long waiting game to get a decision on releasing them to another reformed group. I have seen delay tactics, more requirements be placed on the session and church above the beginning expectations. I have seen a move of Presbyteries to take over churches as part of this delay. I have heard harsh criticism of sessions that have come to the discerned decision to leave the PCUSA.
Do you think this delay of making a decision by COM and the Presbytery plays into the decision to move forward out of frustration in some churches?
Who sets the time line? Why are churches being held hostage when the session has requested dismissal and a large percent of members are in agreement about leaving. Isn’t there a responsibility for the Presbytery to offer gracious separation, let go of the property and the people, and help others find a PCUSA church close by. I am sincerely asking your thoughts.
Polity, The leaders of this congregation serve God. As does the congregation. They do not “live under the constitution of their denomination”. None of us should view it this way. You and I both serve a risen King…not a denomination.
Incorrect, most Congregational Articles of Incorporation talks about members of the corporation as being all members of the congregation. Meetings of the corporation include all voting members.
You need to read some church by-laws.
You missed this part of the ECO Polity:
“1.0103 Accountability to the Councils of ECO A “congregation,” as used in this polity, refers to a formally organized community which is chartered and recognized by a presbytery as provided in this Constitution
, and which is governed by this Constitution pursuant to a membership agreement entered into between such community
and the presbytery. In becoming covenant partners (also ca
lled members) of the congregation, Christ – followers put themselves under the spiritual leadership of the session and wider councils. ”
Note it talks about a “Membership agreement” between parties. An agreement also means that one party can disassociate from such an agreement.
Then there’s this:
“4.0101 The Congregation …
shall have all powers of a nonprofit corporation under applicable law, including the power to: a. Receive, hold, encumber, manage, and transfer property, real or personal, provided that in buying, selling, and mortgaging real property, the trustees shall act only after the approval of the congregation, granted at a duly constituted meeting.
b. Accept and execute deeds of title to such property, and hold and defend title to such property.
c. Manage any permanent special funds for the mission of the congregation.”
So the congregation owns its own property and holds its title.
Presbyteries have processes, each individual Presbytery has its own process.
There is no single process, no single set of rules, no single timeline. Congregations who decide to leave are at the mercy of the Presbytery, in many cases there is no give and take. As was pointed out elsewhere in the comments, many Presbyteries are less than gracious in their process, often starting with demands, rather than with honest negotiations.
In some Presbyteries, the history of such dismissals often leaves a church with two choices, spend the next few years in fruitless negotiations where the Presbytery will demand an extravagant sum of money to release the church; or in states which recognize the Neutral Principles of Trust Law, take the disaffiliation route as recognized in the US Constitution.
Let your yes, be yes. You agrees to organize and operate in compliance with the constitution, you cannot throw it in the trash when it suits you and maintain a clear concise…
Let your yes, be yes. You agree to organize and operate in compliance with the constitution, you cannot throw it in the trash when it suits you and maintain a clear concise…
Still, does not matter – only a Presbytery can organize or dismiss a congregation in the ECO – you cannot just up and hold a “vote” to disaffilaite any time you want in ECO either, there is a process and you need to follow it, not just when it suits your desires, but because you agreed to it.
You need to read state corporation laws
If the session after discernment and with support of the majority of the members ask to be dismissed, will/should the Presbytery comply? If the session meets all expectations of discernment, shouldn’t that be counted as following the ” yes” of their responsibility?
Under what circumstances would the Presbytery be in compliance with the FOG and not allow gracious dismissal to another reformed body?
The constitution allows for some form of dismissal, right?
So why do Presbyteries drag out the process, delay, and impede.
iIf you hold up the Polity Then Presbyteries also should allow for dismissal
in the most peaceful way for the good of all. Their yes should be a yes also
But they are saying ” maybe, or wait, or we have the power so do what we say”.
I am not referring to FPCSA only, this is playing out in every Presbytery.
A GA spoke to this and emphasized gracious dismissal.
What would you say to Presbytery leaders and COM on this matter?
I would concede the wonk’s point on PCUSA constitutional matters and things done in “good order and discipline”. But in the so-called “gracious dismissal” rubric there is no good order or discipline, nor any constitutional guarantees. You have 177 or so sub-regional sheikdoms who seemingly do as they please and make up the rules as they see fit in these matters.
By accident of birth or geography church X may indeed find itself in a gracious or understanding presbytery, Beaver-Butler, San Diego. Others truly demonic in its machinations, Heartland, James, Tropical Florida. Until the intimidation’s, threats, shake-downs stop, folks will see and call as it is.
Your emperor, has no cloths.