The threat of being forced from the home he and his family have lived in for nearly four years is not one that worries the Rev. Brian Jacobson. He knows they will be provided for no matter what happens.
“God has wired me in a way that I am simply not prone to anxiety or worry,” said Jacobson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Oostburg, Wis. “I have not lost sleep over this. I trust the Lord will provide for and protect my family. This congregation has so faithfully cared for me and my family, following through on every promise made to us. I have no real concern that we won’t be provided for again even if there are bumps in the road.”
Jacobson has been threatened by Milwaukee Presbytery with possible eviction proceedings if he, his wife Courtney and son Theo are not out of the church manse by Aug. 1. Jacobson and his family have occupied the church-owned home since arriving in Oostburg in August 2010.
However, Jacobson and the FPO congregation are embroiled in a civil suit with the presbytery regarding ownership of the property.
The 260-member congregation voted June 15 to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA), seek admission to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and give the session authority to take steps to secure FPO’s legal rights to the church property.
All that came on the heels of Milwaukee Presbytery’s rejection of an offer of $100,000 from FPO to retain its property and a May 27 affirmative vote by presbyters to dismiss the church to ECO for a payment of $500,000 to hold on to property the congregation argues belongs to it anyway.
The day after the vote to disaffiliate, FPO filed a civil suit against the presbytery to bring clarity to the issue of property ownership. Shortly thereafter, a letter dated June 16 from Milwaukee Presbytery Stated Clerk Willem Houts was sent to Jacobson informing him that his pastoral relationship with the church was dissolved effective June 16.
In addition, the letter from Houts indicated that Jacobson’s salary and pension with the Board of Pensions (BOP) were terminated as of June 16, also emphasizing the possibility of eviction.
“You are also instructed to vacate the manse and all the church property by August 1, 2014. Failure to do so may result in eviction proceedings,” Houts wrote.
The letter continued, “Please know that you, Courtney, and Theo remain in my prayers as we navigate this hard situation. I still consider you a brother in Christ.”
Jacobson responding by renouncing jurisdiction of the PCUSA, and he and the FPO congregation continue to worship at the church as the civil suit makes its way through the court process.
“We are moving forward as an ECO congregation with an ECO pastor on its own property,” he said. “We will continue moving forward with that in mind until such time the legal system affirms it or decides otherwise.”
Because the manse is tied to the rest of the church property, Jacobson believes his occupancy of the manse will be protected until the civil suit comes to an end. While there has been no timetable for that process, it could be months before the issue is resolved.
“It is my understanding that because the manse is part of the church property, my occupancy of the manse is directly tied to the church’s ownership of the property,” he said. “Since that ultimately has to be decided, I have assumed my occupancy of the manse will resume until such time the matter is resolved. I haven’t been concerned that my home situation will be decided separate from the rest of the property matter. I personally don’t have any fear of anything happening. Any attempt to evict us would likely be postponed because of the connection to the larger property issue.”
Jacobson bases that on two factors.
“One, I trust the Lord will protect my family,” he said. “Secondly, I don’t anticipate the manse will be handled separately from the rest of the property issue. But if it is, the (FPO) session has faithfully investigated contingency plans, and this congregation has always been faithful to provide for me and my family. I trust that to be true no matter what happens. This is really a wonderful congregation.”
Jacobson noted it took little time for the presbytery to contact the Board of Pensions regarding termination of his benefits following FPO’s vote for disaffiliation, but he also pointed out that the BOP grants a 30-day extension of coverage for those pastors who renounce jurisdiction and leave the denomination, stretching his benefits to July 16. He and his family already are signed up for benefits through ECO.
“ECO has been tremendously responsive and supportive in this process, and helped facilitate a transition that means my family will not have any gap in coverage,” Jacobson added.
Craig Howard, executive presbyter of Milwaukee Presbytery, did not respond to an email from The Layman, though he indicated to the Sheboygan Press that Jacobson no longer is an employee of the PCUSA or the Presbytery of Milwaukee.
“The presbytery is going through our denomination’s judicial system to determine our next course of action regarding his unauthorized work at First Presbyterian Church, Oostburg, and his occupancy of the church’s property,” Howard wrote in an email to the publication. “We are working through our denominational court system to determine what our next steps will be.”