Mission Presbytery has sent individual letters to First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio’s three pastors and the clerk of session informing them that not only is Sunday’s congregational meeting “not consistent” with the requirements and provisions of the denomination’s constitution, it could result in “the possibility of ecclesiastical charges and of being found to have renounced the jurisdiction of the Church.”
“It is important that you and the others to whom I am writing know both the significance and the full implications of what you are about to do, and of what you are asking others to do,” says the Oct. 28 letter.
In its letter to the presbytery FPC-San Antonio Clerk of Session Norton A. Stuart III “strongly disagrees” with the presbytery’s assessment: “Please be advised, on behalf of myself and all of the ruling and teaching elders associated with First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio that in calling the congregational meeting for the purpose of allowing the congregation to decide on the question of disaffiliation, the session most definitely has NOT renounced the jurisdiction of the PCUSA.”
To the contrary, the Stuart states, the church firmly believes it is operating in a manner “entirely consistent with the Book of Order, rightly and reasonably construed. Neither the session (nor any entity that would purport to act with session authority) nor the presbytery has any valid basis under G-2.0407 or G-2.0509 to rashly and unilaterally declare that any ruling elder or teaching elder has renounced jurisdiction.”
If such action where to take place, his letter requests that the due process be observed and followed.
The letters reference the FPC-San Antonio’s scheduled congregational meeting on Sunday, where members will vote on whether to disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The vote by the church specifically asks “Whether First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio should terminate its voluntary affiliation from the PCUSA?”
The presbytery, however, recommends in its letter that the ballot for the meeting be changed to read “Shall the congregation of First Presbyterian Church request to be dismissed by Mission Presbytery from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO)?,” and thereby by “in compliance” with the PCUSA constitution.
The difference is that by voting to approve the recommendation to “terminate its voluntary affiliation,” the church, at that time, would be out of the denomination. By voting to “request to be dismissed by Mission Presbytery” the church would be subjecting itself to a dismissal process that could take anywhere from months and years and would require a monetary settlement from the church to the presbytery for it to leave with its property.
The three pastors of the church — The Rev. Ronald Scates, interim pastor, The Rev. Scott Simpson, associate pastor and The Rev. Louis Zbinden, pastor emeritus – have all publically stated that they are in favor of leaving the denomination. However, there is anonymous group – Friends of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in First Presbyterian Church-San Antonio – which is closely associated with the presbytery and they are actively campaigning for church members to vote “No.”
The presbytery has appointed an Administrative Commission (AC) to “intervene on its behalf” with the church.
Stuart’s letter states that it is willing to meet with the AC and has already tried to arrange a meeting. It also confirms its willingness to meet with Mission Presbytery to discuss terms of dismissal. “Other churches in the denomination have held votes to disaffiliate, yet continued discussions with their presbyteries and reached agreement on the terms of dismissal. To our knowledge, no other presbytery has taken the position that such action constitutes a renunciation of jurisdiction.”
Oct. 28 letters to
- The Rev. Ronald Scates, interim pastor
- The Rev. Scott Simpson, associate pastor
- The Rev. Louis Zbinden, pastor emeritus
- Elder Norton A. Stuart III, clerk of session
Oct. 29 letter
Other related links
Denomination grapples with First Presbyterian over leaders’ push to leave (subscription required)