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.
Puerto Rico church leaves PCUSA in act of full obedience to Biblical authority
Presbytery of San Juan press release
“flawed discernment process”
Yeah it was flawed alright, they tried to keep their own property.
Seems to me that the presbytery process is now moot, since most of the Congregation voted to disaffiliate with their feet.
All that’s left is spin, and a mostly empty building.
Since when do we, evangelical Presbyterians, have become so anti-connectional as to suggest that the testimony of a single congregation is more valid and truthful, in principle, than the testimony of a Presbytery? I do think Presbyteries have handled many of these dismissals poorly- but let’s not jump into conclusions without taking seriously the charges against these congregational leader.
I am glad this was finally posted. It helps to clarify some things that didn’t add-up in the story that congregational leaders who left the congregation put forward.
Perhaps I’m getting jaded after all the years of seeing presbyteries run roughshod over TEs, Sessions and congregations.
I realize its only a few Presbyteries doing this, but anecdotal reports from all over are showing a pattern where more and more congregations are having a harder time with dismissal than previously.
If this was the only case one could possibly be on the side of presbytery, but since this is happening all across the pcusa one has to seriously question what is really going on that people are willing to lose it all to leave the denomination…it is not about correct procedures it is about the truth of the gospel
Well, Hector- if all chickens lay eggs,then all eggs come from chickens? This logic is flawed. A pattern (if one can be determined with certainty)does not establish a principle. Yes, many Presbyteries have mishandled congregational dismissals and yes, many congregational leaders have entered into dubious separation processes. Let’s not be naive and absurdly categorical; it is a mix bag. What is really going on that people are willing to lose it all to leave the denomination? I don’t know for sure, do you? For what I can read from these stories I can venture a possible response; fear of these leaders to be submitted to a judicial process.
L Murphy, your point is well-taken. We should not assume that a Presbytery if acting poorly without evidence. In the dismissal processes, some Presbyteries have been gracious, others have not.
Dear Sam P. I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond to my post. I do agree in part with your answer “fear of these leaders to be submitted to a judicial process.” Perhaps most people have some level of fear or apprehension to a judicial process, especially “when many Presbyteries have mishandled congregational dismissals and yes, many congregational leaders have entered into dubious separation processes.” Allow me to address a line from the response you presented: “What is really going on that people are willing to lose it all to leave the denomination? I don’t know for sure…” I kindly challenge you to ask those that left and many others that have left…why are you leaving? People are seeking to leave the denomination, not necessarily their presbyteries, much less their families, relatives, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. Why is there a mass exodus? I do appreciate you taking the time to read and respond, obviously you care and love the church or you would not do so. God is sovereign and His Church will endure all things until Christ comes again. God bless you…keep loving Christ’s church.
Beloved brothers and sisters. I am a member of the Presbyterian Church in Puerto Rico. Some congregations in my Presbytery, including mine, are considering dismissal from the denomination on the grounds of bíblical faithfulness. In that, we all agree. But even when I support this discernment, I am not wiiling, in basis of that same bíblical authority, to condone the conniving mechanisms used by “pastoral leaders” to deceive their congregation’s members, members of the Presbytery, and members of the larger community. In our Christian ethical testimony, the end does not justify the means.
The PCUSA alone is responsible for the chasm in the membership by supporting unbiblical issues to divide the church. I sincerely believe the “fleecing of the flock”
may not be the intent of all in the denomination leadership. However, it IS the ultimate result and it always boils down to the money. The churches that manage to leave have to PAY thousands of dollar$ to get out. Those, like this congregation lost everything to stay obedient to God. The reasons are obvious to everyone!
God Bless them.
It seems this presbytery is upset because the congregation bolted and left, leaving keys and building to the “discerment of SJ Presbytery.” Now that the pastor and congration have gone, the congregation did not jilt the presbytery but acted in accordance to a collective conscience.
I observe some presbyteries act with discretion and honor; others attempt the blackmail a congregation and extort dollars upon dollars. i get the impression that “discernment” is to stall and get the best deal for the presbytery.
As for the congregational connection, well, now that does pose a problem and is of no importance when the presbytery wants to grab the money and invest..
“Attempted against a principle of truth” this is the beginning of each misinterpretation of the Commission’s so called violations. If that Commission would have had a minimum degree of knwledge about handling processes , perhaps the outcome would’ve been different. To begin , that commission never presented a plan to carry out a process neither to the Session nor to the Moderator. Meetings were held without planned agendas nor , minutes taken nor discussed or approved . All discussion were unilaterally exposed. Speaking pf decievemet , the Session never knew what was to be expected from each and everyone of the frustrating and oppressive meetings . At the last meeting held , the Session was summoned to supposedly have a gracious and friendly discussion , topics,they only knew. Upon arriving at the meeting place, they were greeted with a sheet of paper and a series of question to answer as a test ; questions that regardless of the answers , the result was goong to be a flunk. Nothing more shameful and deceiving than this. That Commission had their mind set since day one. They never wanted First Presbyterian to leave ; all they wanted was to assault the congregation and claim a true church. Besides each Sunday a Commission member attended one of our worship service , they did it not to worship per se , but to harass and intimidate parishioners with their arrogant and preponderant attitude. They were not deceived , who said? Our congregation was the deceived one after they had verbally promise a FAIR treatment. Our congregation decided to leave , left everything behind everything we had in defense of the HOLY SCRIPTURES. What defense of the Bible do they have? What is their position about marriage? They boast about defeating ammendment 14F but is 32- 18 and 1 blank and 1 abstention a defeat? Not in a matter of the defense of the Bible. In addition, who is the Presbytery defending? Pcusa or the Bible? An Instution or the Word of God. Furthermore , What is the Presbytery’s position about ReImaginig God? , The Virginal birth of Christ?, Abortion?, Political involvement ?, Mission?,Equalitarianism ?, Worshiping of Sophia? , and sorcery practices at meetings and Genaral Assembly’s gatherings ? These are false doctrines promoted with people’s money but most of all haretic actions leading to apostasy. Doesn’t the San Juan Presbytery know aboit these aberrations? Who are they kidding? Simply said , they are the deceiving ones and the ones who are keeping their people from knowing the truth. Who in deed is lying to WHO? God cannot be deceived nor be kept from the TRUTH! THEY WILL BE KNOWN BY THEIR FRUITS. Blessings!!!
Dear James. Don’t let your big Anglo-umbrella stop the deluge over my church. Your experience does not color ours and, in fact, is culturally offensive. For your information, the Presbytery of San Juan did not keep the property nor the money. These are under the administration and use of the Bayamon Presbyterian Church, who keeps regular worship and programs under the leadership of those elders and members who decided to stay. They also helped to build the congregation and deserve and opportunity to worship and grow in the place God called them to be at.
The core of the problem(s), amongst many in the “discernment process” is that there in no national policy or standards, or ‘rules of the road” to lead Presbyteries and churches in times of stress or conflict. You have in essences 177 or so regional fiefdoms with 177 different policy interpretations and applications as to what constitutes a “gracious separation” process.
So by accident of geography, church X is handled in a Godly and honorable fashion, Church Y run over like a deer on the road. And in some cases Presbyteries acting like a bunch of crooks, just out for the money. I think the experiences so far for example, of what happens in Richmond Va, or South Florida, is far different from that happens in Butler, Pa. or Columbia SC. Again accidents of geography or the randomness of zip codes. Sad, such is the state of affairs in the PCUSA. Institutional chaos and incoherence.
Jorge, I am glad to see someone so informed about internal proceedings of the Commission/Session’s work like you. As a person who was not part of the process (if Jorge is your real name) you seem to have a firm grasp on the only and unadulterated truth on this matter. Your vitriolic catharsis just proofs the Presbytery’s point, a reasonable discernment process is impossible when people refuse to abide by the truth. And truth, guided by BIBLICAL AUTHORITY, should rely solely on the TEXT. You are repeating and old tirade that has no textual record. I can respond to your comments one by one, but that will be entering into an unproductive “he says, she says” argument. So, let’s stick to the text. The Presbytery has madre the report public, there you will see the plan you say it did’nt exist. Also, the Presbytery has extended an invitation to review documents to those interested. There you can see Session minutes where the plan is refused saying that the congregation does not need education, and commendations by the Session for the openness and respect shown by the now “Opressive” commission, among many other supporting documents. What does the Presbytery thinks about homosexual marriage? Look at its vote in the Layman’s tally as well as the voting history on the issues you mention. Liberal we are not. I suggest you do your assignment as I did mine when this issue emerged. It opened my eyes and made me change my initial opinion. I am sure it would open yours too. Until then, silence will be your best contribution to the peace, purity and unity of the church.
Presbifiel, your’re a louisville hack, the presbytery did not care if the people left, which is quite obvious, just as long as they left the door keys and bank account numbers. Don’t give us the we voted against the gay marriage crap. Your prebytery followed the playbook outlined by louisville, and you response is VERY telling.
James, ha, ha. You are funny. You may be a hack from the departing group (at least, use your Spanish name- Juan?) Cheap shots are childlish and don’t add anything credible to the discussion. Please, read one of the comments by Luis Santiago, member of the Church in PR, to know what was done with the money and properties and you will see that the Presbytery kept none.
Actually my Spanish name would be Jaime, Jaun is Spanish for John, but I digress, However, who has control of the property now?
You and I both know it’s not the departing congregation.
Do you think we’re are this stupid, it’s still under pcusa control, you throw the culturally offensive crap around, and you know as well as I do it’s still a pcusa church building
No, is not the departing GROUP. It is the Bayamón CHURCH, the elders and members who stayed and took over the ministry of the congregation.
it’s still under a pcusa controlled church, or am I wrong?
Dear James. I don’t actually understand your argument . It is a PCUSA Building because it was retained by a PCUSA congregation. If what you are suggesting is that all buildings should be taken from the PCUSA because of current decisions even when there is still people who want to remain part of the PCUSA (something akin an ecclesial Coup d’Etat) that is beyond the issues discussed in this post. I honestly have nothing to contribute to that particular argument. So keep spreading this message, it may be convincing after all. God bless
“It is a PCUSA Building because it was retained by a PCUSA”
and something the pcusa did not pay for………….
“The paper holds all that you write on it”, and this is what the Presbytery of San Juan do, “write on paper”… The truth is coming and time is giving us the reason. God has blessed us!! “Glory be to God”.
Yes, let’s cut the Presbyteries out of this. Why would we Presbyterians allow Presbyteries to decide these things? Better to annoint our GA as a Pope who makes all the decisions.
I just came upon this article and following discussion. It seems that there is more information that will be coming out from the Presbytery. Is there anything written concerning the future of the PCUSA churches in PR? The Presbytery voted against the marriage amendment. Do we have a count of how many churches are leaving and if the Presbytery is going to propose an agreement to co-exist?
It is my understanding that the Presbyterian church in PR is more conservative on issues of homosexuality and abortion and generally evangelical.
It seems to me that it would be very difficult for anyone who believes in the authority of the scriptures to remain a member of the PCUSA.
Any comments? 3-21-15