Presbytery trying to muster ‘true church’ to thwart plans by Kirk of the Hills leaders
By John H. Adams, The Layman Online, August 28, 2006
The Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma is trying to muster a division in Kirk of the Hills Church that might be used as a wedge to claim the church’s property.
The session of the 2,800-member Kirk of the Hills voted on August 15 to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A congregational meeting is scheduled on Wednesday, August 30, when members will have a chance to affirm the decision.
In the meantime, the presbytery has called on church members who disagree with the separation from the denomination to attend a meeting tonight at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. Jim Miller, pastor of First Presbyterian, is the moderator of the presbytery council.
Tom Gray, Kirk of the Hills’ lead preaching minister, told The Layman Online that the presbytery believes it has identified about 300 members (about 11 percent of the total) who are opposed to leaving the denomination. But he said he “would be amazed” if 300 people show up at tonight’s meeting. He also said he knows of only about 30 who might be dissatisfied. One person that he believes is on the list is a member who has not attended a service in 10 years.
Asked why the session would continue to keep on its rolls a member who had not attended in a decade, Gray said Kirk of the Hills contacted its nonattenders regularly but took them off the rolls only when they asked to be removed.
The controversy did not diminish worship services Sunday. Gray estimated that attendance was about 1,500 to 1,600 – about 200 more than average – and there were standing ovations at two services after the congregation’s leaders explained why they were leaving the PCUSA.
The presbytery also planned to stir the controversy during the Kirk of the Hills Sunday services, Gray said. It made arrangements to send a presbytery-approved minister to preach, but backed out after the attorney representing Kirk of the Hills called the presbytery’s attorney to recommend otherwise.
Identifying and mustering the dissidents is a strategy recommended by the denomination’s “privileged and confidential” legal papers that advise presbyteries to take aggressive action to secure local church property for the “true church” – those who remain loyal to the institution.
In his latest blog, Gray further explained the reason for separating from the PCUSA. “We at the Kirk are holding to what Scripture clearly teaches,” he said. “The PCUSA has left this critical foundation. We, therefore, no longer recognize the authority of the PCUSA over any congregation that chooses to hold to the traditional authority of Scripture, as once held by the PCUSA. While not all congregations like us have made this move, many are preparing for it. For those who stay with the denomination, it is a tacit, yet conscious, affirmation of the denomination’s departure from Truth.”
Gray said the most severe criticism he has received has come because the Kirk of the Hills’ leaders did not submit to the church’s polity on seeking release from the denomination. But he noted that the denomination’s legal strategies provide for heavy-handed treatment of congregations that make such requests – including placing pastors on leaves of absences, denying them the right to talk to church members and convening an administrative commission to take over control of the church.