A Commission for the Presbytery of San Juan has stated that a church session and its moderator engaged in a “flawed discernment process and deceived the presbytery and members of the congregation in the process.”
At its Jan. 31 meeting the presbytery heard the report of its Commission on Education, Evaluation and Resolutions for the First Presbyterian Church in Bayamon. The church session, its moderator and the pastor emeritus had requested to be transferred to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
At the meeting, the presbytery voted to “table” three of the four recommendations of the commission. The presbytery press release stated that the recommendations will not be made public until the “Assembly lifts the privacy agreement that rules Executive Sessions according to Robert Rules of Order in order to correct public misinformation regarding this case.”
A press release from First Presbyterian, said that the recommendations included a resolution to remove Pastor Emeritus Juan Pérez Alda, who pastored the church for more than 30 years, from all ties to the congregation and its voluntary services. The recommendations that were left pending included: denying their transfer to the EPC, relieving the congregation-elected governing officials (the Session of Elders) of their duties, and relieving Senior Pastor Rev. Juan Ramón Rivera Medina of his duties.
Following that presbytery meeting, on Feb. 8, members of First Presbyterian Church resigned from the Presbyterian Church (USA), left all of its property, and started a new EPC church with a new name — Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster (Westminster Presbyterian Church). It meets at the American School, in Bayamón.
On that same day, three members of the church – the moderator, the clerk of session and the president of the financial committee – turned in the key to the church building to presbytery officers, who in turn dismissed them with prayers and blessings.
The mass resignation took place “mostly due to the arbitrary and repressive positions assumed by the Commission for Evaluation, Education and Resolution of the Presbytery of San Juan, after the Bayamon congregation communicated their opposition to the position assumed by the PCUSA regarding: 1) the authority of the Holy Scriptures, 2) the centrality of the work of Christ, 3) abortion, 4) same-sex marriage, and 5) the ordination of homosexuals, among other topics; and requested to transfer their membership to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) denomination in the United States,” stated the church press release.
In its report, the presbytery commission found several violations, including:
- “The Session and its Moderator attempted against the principle of truth by stating before the Presbytery and the Commission that they had not considered a separation of the PCUSA before the Commission was established. The documents evaluated by the Commission, including the Session minutes and notes on interviews show, with no degree of doubt, that such an affirmation was untrue.
- “The Session and its Moderator attempted against the principle of truth by communicating to the congregation that there was an explicit prohibition by the Presbytery to speak about the discernment process with members of the congregation. Documents used by the Session to guide a discernment process included explicit recommendations to engage members of the congregation. If there was a misunderstanding to this respect, it could have been remediated at the beginning of the process when the input of the congregation’s members was mostly needed. Recording of Presbytery proceedings as well as its Minutes demonstrate that the Session sought to maintain the members of the congregation misinformed about the discernment process and to control all exchanges between members of the Commission and members of the congregation. The delegates of the Session to the Presbytery petitioned for the Commission to engage solely the Session and not the congregation’s members. In turn, a directory of members was requested by the Commission and the Session informed that a directory of church members was not existent. (After the keys of the offices were turned to the Presbytery, the Officers of the Presbytery recovered a directory from the Church’s Office). During the last Presbytery Assembly, delegates from the Bayamón Session opposed to the public release of the Commission’s report.
- “The Session and its Moderator surrendered their duty to seek diligently the unity and purity of the Church by allowing and promoting a narrative that posited the Presbytery of San Juan as oppositional to the interests of the congregation. By doing so, they created and adverse and hostile attitude against the Presbytery and members of the Commission by members of the congregation. The Session could not present evidence, beyond their subjective intuition, that there was a primordial interest of the Presbytery to effect the discernment process one way or the other. Furthermore, the position of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the councils that represent this church nationally (Synod and presbyteries) was incorrectly communicated to members of the congregation creating confusion regarding denominational decisions and its implications. In misleading congregational members about these fundamental issues, the Session has promoted a public narrative that posits them as the sole and exclusive bearers of “Biblical Authority” among churches of the Presbytery. In the Presbytery Assembly celebrated January 31st, 2015, the Presbytery of San Juan voted to retain the traditional definitions of marriage between a man and a woman. Lacking substantiated arguments to present this issue as one that separates them from other congregations of the Presbytery, the Session decided to change the motives of their request for transference throughout the discernment process.
- “The Session and the Moderator attempted against the principle of truth by stating, in writing, that the pastor Emeritus was kept at a distance from the discernment process and that he did not participate in such deliberations. However, the pastor Emeritus was found to interfere by attending meetings and exercising undue authority to threaten those who opposed the Session’s intention to requesting a transfer.
- “The Session and its Moderator surrendered their duty to seek diligently the unity and purity of the Church by interfering in the work of a superior Council, by instructing some members of the congregation to avoid communicating with the Commission and to refrain from asking questions to the Commission’s members under the rationale that a “true Church” may be disclosed thus affecting the transference request. Such methods of coercion were demonstrated even after letters of resignation to the jurisdiction of de PCUSA were rendered. The Moderator and the Stated Clerk of the Session attempted against the principle of truth and Christian commitment by informing the officers that people who wanted to remain in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) will be allowed to return to the church at their will. However, during the Sunday night service after resignation was rendered, a small contingent composed of Session members and Deacons were deployed to the street in front of the church building to impede free entrance from members.
- “The Session and the Moderator violated ecclesial discipline by refusing to follow requirements established by the Commission to engage the discernment process and thus broke with ordination vows. By the same token, the Session and the Moderator violated ordination vows by establishing an emphatic and qualitative separation between the congregation (the Church), and the Presbytery (a body foreign to the Church).
- “The Session and the Moderator established a deliberate process of separation that evidences an undisputed violation of the freedom of conscience and employed coercive mechanisms to conduct this process. As a consequence, they nurtured and allowed the promotion of un-Christian responses to human relations including verbal admonitions, libelous comments in social media venues, intimidation, and even physical threats. Such actions have infringed injury to some members of the congregation, as well as to teaching elders, governing elders, and members of other congregations, lacerating this way the evangelical witness of the Presbyterian Church in Puerto Rico.