Despite testifying before a state district judge that it had no intention of taking control of First Presbyterian Church-San Antonio, Texas from its session and pastors, on Oct. 23 Mission Presbytery formed an Administrative Commission (AC) to “intervene on its behalf” with the church.
The presbytery formed the AC in reaction to a congregational meeting scheduled Nov. 1 by First-San Antonio’s session to vote on disaffiliating from the Presbyterian Church (USA). The session of the 2,100 member First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas voted 21-2 on Oct. 12 to recommend to the congregation that it disaffiliate with the PCUSA and join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
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).”
The legal dispute
The church is in the midst of a legal dispute with the presbytery in the civil courts over ownership of church property. First-San Antonio filed a petition on May 12, 2015 asking the court to declare whether the trust clause in the PCUSA’s constitution was valid under Texas law and if it had any legal effect on the church’s property.
Following an Aug. 26-27 hearing, State District Judge John Gabriel denied two requests on Oct. 13, one rejecting the presbytery’s request for an order to prevent the church from claiming all of its property if it does leave the PCUSA. He also denied the church’s request to extend a temporary injunction to prevent the presbytery from asserting any control of the property while the church decides its future.
A report posted on the church web site said that the court denied the church’s request because it “found no imminent danger that Mission Presbytery would take the actions against which the order afforded protection. The Court also said, however, that if there are changes in that status, he will reconsider his ruling. In fact, Mission Presbytery representatives repeatedly testified that they do not have any intention to take control of FPC from its pastors or session. Apparently, Judge Gabriel took this as true and expects them to hold to their comments made under oath.”
The presbytery authorized the AC to
- “To take all necessary steps, if it becomes evident that the church is in “schism,” to discern the “true church” within the Presbyterian Church (USA) in this matter [G-4.0207];
- “To have access to all church records [G-3.0107], including but not limited to: membership rolls, minutes of Session and all boards and committees, minutes of congregational meetings, financial records, the church website, membership directories, newsletters, and materials distributed for sessional or congregational information– See Note 1;
- “To have access to relevant records having to do with corporate officers, corporate articles, bylaws, and/or charters, including changes to any of these during the last 10 years [G-3.0108];
- “To determine, on behalf of presbytery, whether proceedings have been faithful to the mission of the whole church, and that lawful injunctions of higher councils have been obeyed [G-3.0108a]; and, if necessary, to direct that corrective action be taken if matters are determined to be out of compliance with the Constitution [G-3.0108c];
- “If it becomes necessary, to assume original jurisdiction over the Session [G-3.0303e], with full authority and power to (a) provide for worship, sacraments, and continuing pastoral care of all members of the congregation, in the spirit of the gospel of Christ; (b) to receive and act on requests from members to be transferred or deleted from the rolls; (c) to have authority to call necessary congregational meetings, and to obtain current and accurate membership lists from the church for this purpose;
- “To have authority to dissolve pastoral relationships, both temporary and installed, fully observing the due process requirements of the Constitution [G-2.0901ff.];
- “To have authority to negotiate terms for the dismissal of the congregation if it becomes evident that a sufficient majority of the active membership desires to be dismissed to another Reformed denomination with which the Presbyterian Church (USA) is in communion”
The presbytery did stipulate that the “Administrative Commission’s authority is restricted in the following specific way: The Administrative Commission shall not take any action to change the current right, title, or legal interest in any real or personal property that is presently held and/or used by the congregation. The Administrative Commission shall maintain the status quo with respect to such property.”