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.”
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