Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of January 2015

OK, we are getting caught up a bit – at least I am into the current year.

But I am going to start by including a few older ones around a single theme: There were recognitions of three missionaries over the past couple of months culminating in early January with the centennial of the death of Mary Slessor, a Church of Scotland missionary to what is now Nigeria. A few of the headlines from both Scotland and Nigeria:

‘The Queen of Okoyong': The legacy of Mary Slessor – from BBC News

Plaque commemorates ‘extraordinary’ missionary Mary Slessor – from stv News

Mary Slessor: PCN honours late missionary with commemorative ceremony – from Pulse Nigeria: “The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria AkwaSynod will be holding a commemorative service to celebrate the centenary celebration of Mary Slessor’s death. “

The previous month Jane Haining was in the news as a BBC documentary about her premiered. She was a Church of Scotland worker in Budapest who refused to leave her work when the Nazis invaded and ultimately died in Auschwitz. (Unfortunately, it appears the documentary is not available online.)

Jane Haining: The Scot who died in Auschwitz – from BBC News

Finally, a Presbyterian Church of Ireland missionary was honored in India for his work there:

Presbyterian missionary remembered in India – from Presbyterian Church in Ireland; “A former Presbyterian missionary who served in India has been honoured during a special ceremony held recently at the Gujarat United School of Theology. Rev. John Faris and Miss Linda Jackson represented the Presbyterian Church of Ireland as the Ted Jackson Computer Training Centre and new library were officially opened in Ahmedabad.”

 

And in news on mission workers currently serving, an attack on a Northern Irish medical missionary:

Maud Kells: Brave humanitarian shot in DR Congo will not be deterred – from Belfast Telegraph

 

And now, a few other things that caught my interest…

From the Reformed Church in South Africa, after the general synod meeting was divided on the issue, a special synod will be called to discuss it:

Special synod to decide on Reformed Church women ministers – from The Citizen

 

A new General Assembly Moderator is inducted in Ghana:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church gets new Moderator – from Ghana News Agency

 

A new story related to a continuing discussion around the PC(USA):

Edison minister fights divestment policy: Presbyterian cleric says national body ignores Jewish voices – from New Jersey Jewish News

 

And in Scotland, opposition to a new opt-out system for organ donors:

Free Church of Scotland blasts organ donor plans – from The Scotsman; “The Free Church of Scotland has voiced its opposition to a blanket opt-out system for organ donation. The religious group claims specialist nurses and better education on organ donation in schools would be far more effective in increasing the number of donors.”

 

Also out of Scotland, the Kirk is a partner in providing a more friendly atmosphere for visiting families at a youth correctional facility:

Family bus scheme launched at Polmont youth prison – from BBC News

 

Over the last few months there have been several very interesting church-sponsored workshops around the globe. In this time slice there was one by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland:

‘Living and dying well’ conference draws key speakers – from a Presbyterian Church in Ireland news article; “Hosted jointly by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Union Theological College, the theme of the event is ‘Living and Dying Well’ and will address the ethical, pastoral and legal issues surrounding attempts to legislate in favour of assisted suicide.”

 

A few things about buildings, starting with the continuing saga of the Greyfriars Church of Scotland in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Move to save ruins of Greyfriars church – from Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

Bid to settle Greyfriars demolition out of court – from Trinidad Express

Greyfriars owner, PoS Council in talks – from Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

In Texas, the oldest house of worship in town, originally built by Presbyterians, and later used by other denominations, has been vacant for over a decade is being converted to community space in a private initiative:

Edna leader restore church for community – from Victoria Advocate

Help with a new roof for a church in New York:

Historic Le Roy church receives landmark grant – from The Daily News

And from Scotland, a new proposal for a historic but abandoned church property but with concern for the adjoining cemetery:

Proposals to convert Kinfauns Church into luxury house back on the table – from The Courier

 

And remembrances of three notable gentlemen:

In Ireland, Mr. Jonathan Simms, MBE, a supporter of the Boys Brigade and other youth programs, remembered in a service led by the GA Moderator:

‘He had time for everyone – a rare quality’ – from Carrick Times

In the U.S., Professor Ed Farley of Vanderbilt Divinity School:

Remembering Nashville theologian, musician Ed Farley – from The Tennessean

And Syngman Rhee, seminary professor and the Moderator of the PC(USA) 212th General Assembly (2000):

Syngman Rhee, Presbyterian and ecumenical leader, dies at 83 – from The Christian Century

PC(USA) mourns loss of former Moderator and ecumenical leader – PC(USA) press release

Moderator Announcement From The Presbyterian Church In Canada – The Rev. Karen Horst Moderator Nominee

A few minutes ago the Presbyterian Church in Canada made their expected April 1st announcement of the results of the voting for Moderator of the General Assembly. We would like to congratulate The Rev. Karen Horst upon her selection as the Moderator Nominee for the 141st General Assembly in 2015.

The announcement contains no new information or quotes so I will reprint here my summary from last month when I profiled all six candidates:

The Rev. Karen Horst – Currently serving the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Orillia, Ontario, she began her work in the diaconal ministry helping with educational resources and leader training. She has served extensively in the wider church including on numerous committees at the national level and as the convener of Presbyterian World Service and Development committee for six years. She has been the emcee for two national Presbyterian Women’s Gatherings and she served on design teams for Youth Triennium with the PC(USA). In her interview in the Record she talks of her passion for “the alleviation of suffering for humans and creation itself,” a motivation reflected in her time working with PWS&D. Under concerns she speaks of “the growing polarization between ideologies.” For fellowship and recreation she and her husband enjoy riding with her church’s “motorcycle gang.”

This summary is drawn in part from a much longer profile and interview that appeared in the Presbyterian Record.

Our congratulations to Rev. Horst on her selection and prayers and best wishes for the General Assembly and her moderatorial year.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of December 2014

In addition to my earlier posts on the approval by the presbyteries of the act concerning partnered same-gender clergy in the Church of Scotland and the various Christmas messages, here are a few items that caught my attention at the end of the year:

There was a crash of a bin lorry (garbage truck) into a group of Christmas shoppers in Glasgow just before Christmas resulting in six fatalities and numerous injuries. The Church of Scotland was a major responder and these articles talk about that pastoral care and remembrance as well as having quotes from the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery.

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Church leader tries to comfort grieving families – from The Guardian

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Memorial service for dead and hurt – from Glasgow Churches Together

Kirk moderator warns there are “no trite answers” to George Square tragedy – from Herald Scotland

Also from the Scotland, the Kirk is one of a group of churches forming a credit union to promote fair financial practices. The new endeavour received government approval.

Church’s flagship credit union is ready to launch – from Church Times

 

The AirAsia jet that crashed in the ocean off southeast Asia carried a family from the Yeosu First Presbyterian Church

Missing AirAsia Jet Carried A Young Family Of Korean Christian Missionaries – from Huffington Post (an excerpt from a WSJ subscription article)

 

In Ghana, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church had some critical words for the country’s leadership

Ghana Needs A Visionary Leader – Presby Moderator – from Daily Guide

 

The Louisville Institute at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary received a major grant from the Lilly Endowment for work with Native American pastoral leaders:

Seminary institute awarded $2.5 million grant – from The Courier-Journal

 

Professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School won the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award in the theology/ethics category with his book “Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine.” Dr. Vanhoozer has served on the Panel of Doctrine for the Church of Scotland and the book was published by the PC(USA)’s publishing arm Westminster John Knox Press.

Trinity’s Vanhoozer wins 2015 Christianity Today book award – from Chicago Tribune

 

And in the category of stories that have taken on a life of their own, two that the press have managed to exaggerate or just get wrong. The first is a report that the Church of Scotland was evaluating its meeting space and while finding someplace else is a possibility it is not as much a probability as this story makes it seem…

Church plans exodus from historic Edinburgh home – from The Scotsman

And from the PC(USA) an erroneous headline about a piece of business supposedly taken up at the last GA…

Presbyterian Church USA Voted on Erasing “Israel” from Prayers – from Breaking Israel News

 

As Romania marks the 25th anniversary of its revolution, a brief tribute to the Reformed pastor who started it:

The Pastor Who Brought Down a Dictator – from The Daily Signal

 

And another anniversary, the 10th of the Great Sumatran Earthquake and the recollectons of a minister who was working in Sri Lanka:

Kirk minister recalls tsunami horror 10 years on – The Scotsman

 

Finally, numerous commemorations were held of the centennial of the World War I Christmas Truce:

Kings Presbyterian will mark First World War Christmas truce with special service – from Nova News Now (Canada)

Ballyclare match to recreate Christmas truce in Great War trenches – from Belfast News Letter (Ireland)

Christmas truce football statue unveiled in Liverpool – from BBC News

A Review Of Some Headlines Following The PC(USA) Decision This Week

One of my favorite reads is the blog GetReligion because as the title implies, most news outlets don’t have a religion reporter any more and so frequently the field reporter assigned to a religion story doesn’t “get religion.” Well shortly after the 86th PC(USA) presbytery approved Amendment 14-F they had a nice piece on how good, or not so good, the coverage of the approval was by various news outlets.

If I had to pick a couple articles that came out later so there was more than just the breaking news aspect, I would add to the good coverage list:

Gay marriage: Is the Presbyterian Church playing catch-up – or leading? – By Jessica Mendoza of The Christian Science Monitor

Here’s why a vote on gay marriage from Presbyterians matters – by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post

But as the headlines flew by on Tuesday night and Wednesday I was struck by how many of them did not catch the nuances of the vote. Surprising? No. And it should be noted here at the top that the articles and their headlines are usually written by different people so don’t blame the author for a bad headline. Also, headlines are a bit like tweets and they have to fit  into a limited space so nuance is limited.

But here are a few that struck me as bad and good following the results. (And in fact, the headlines for the two articles I cite above both suffer from one of the issues I have with many of the headlines.)

From some outlet called newser

Presbyterian Church Redefines Marriage

OK, let’s start with “Presbyterian Church” – While the PC(USA) likes to think of itself as “The Presbyterian Church” (exempli gratia: Their Twitter feed is @Presbyterian and the new hymnal is subtitled “The Presbyterian Hymnal”) and while it is home to slightly more than two thirds of the US Presbyterians, it is only the largest of more than a dozen Presbyterian branches in the U.S. The news that the PC(USA) approved a change to their constitution sent other branches scrambling to clarify that it was not them. There were statements from the PCA and the EPC among others. And yes, my two preferred articles above use the blanket term Presbyterian in their headlines.

Moving on to “Redefines Marriage.” OK, technically correct for ourselves but is that a bit too broad or generalized statement to be used in this situation?

OK, here is another headline, this one from the Arkansas Times, but I can point you to a dozen more like it:

Presbyterians embrace marriage equality

Well of course there is the word Presbyterian. “You keep using that word…” But the other point that caught my attention in this, and some other headlines, was the use of the word “embrace.” Did the PC(USA) embrace marriage equality? Clearly some individuals, churches and maybe even presbyteries did. But did the church? While the presbytery count shows about 2/3 favor the change, the bulk count of those who have voted show it is closer overall with 59% of presbyters voting yes. It strikes me at the least to be a bit of a subjective word to use for this news.

How about one from World Magazine:

Majority of PCUSA presbyteries vote to endorse gay marriage

Got to give a lot of credit for that “Majority of PCUSA presbyteries” phrase – that nails it. But what did they vote to do? Did they vote to endorse gay marriage, or simply to add it to the wording in the Book of Order to permit the option? Whether or not to preform the marriage service is up to the teaching elder or the session as to whether it may happen at the church. Fine line here – that is probably too much nuance so maybe I am being too picky.

Here is a headline from the Religious News Service that does a pretty good job – at least it implicitly labels the Presbyterians as the mainline branch:

With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support

So how about some good examples. Here are a few that strike me as properly clarifying the denomination, the action taken and the nature of the change:

Presbyterian Church (USA) approves same-sex marriage amendment – from RNS

Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage, Will Amend Constitution – from International Business Times

Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage – from The New York Times

Presbyterian Church USA Expands Marriage Definition – from TWC News

So there is a selection of how the news was headlined this past week. While the less precise headlines are the ones that jumped out at me, with the exception of far too many simply using the generic title Presbyterian, most headlines were pretty good. I would note that in the examples given I used recognized news outlets. (Granted, you could argue with a couple of them.) There are advocacy groups that obviously put their spin into the headlines and I did not include those. (If you want examples: Example 1, Example 2)

There is now a second wave of articles that are a follow up to the decision now that reporters have had the time to talk with local leaders and some of the people in the pews to get reaction and response to the vote. I have read a few of those and they generally have very balanced and sensitive coverage from the local area.

So, there are a few of my thoughts about the headlines this past week. Your mileage may vary.

General Assembly Moderator Ballot For The Presbyterian Church In Canada

As we hit the middle of March we can look forward to the announcement of the results of the vote for the Moderator Designate for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The ballot for Moderator of the the 2015 General Assembly was announced last Fall along with a supplemental sheet with brief biographies. There are six clergy – no ruling elders this year – four women and two men who geographically span much of the Dominion. Here are the honored individuals in the order presented in the press release. The links on the names go to more detailed profiles published by the Presbyterian Record.

The Rev. Marion R. Barclay MacKay – Rev. Barclay MacKay has served as the pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, since early 2009. Before that she served with the International Ministries program working with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. Her work there included helping develop the lay training and catechist program. Her first ordained position was with a different St. Andrew’s, that one in Calgary. Her education includes Ewart College (before it was integrated into Knox College) and the University of Toronto, the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia (now incorporated into Union Presbyterian Seminary), and Knox College. Among her leadership roles are serving as Moderator of both Calgary-Macleod and Cape Breton Presbyteries and as the first Canadian to serve as president of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Cocks – She is currently the pastor of St. John’s Church in Medicine Hat, Alberta but her resume also includes academic and international experience. She has taught at the Vancouver School of Theology and the Atlantic School of Theology after finishing her Th.D. at Knox College. She was the first Associate Secretary for Faith and Witness at the Canadian Council of Churches as well as serving on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. She also spent four years with the Iona Community in Scotland as Deputy Warden of its Island Centres. She says in her profile that this experience showed her “that language in worship can be clear and simple yet still profound.” She also talks of her passion for children and she has authored 16 books for children.

The Rev. John Barry Forsyth – Rev. Forsyth currently serves as the pastor of St. Andrew’s Church, Sherbrooke, Quebec, but has also served churches in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. In his various positions he has been the Moderator of three presbyteries and two synods. While his ministry focus has focused on parish work he has also spent some time in education teaching English as a second language and history. He has used his love of triathlon as an outreach opportunity and has a weekly radio broadcast. In the Record interview he mentions the challenges the church faces but says “it will be important that we not lose sight of what we are as a people.” He goes on to talk about “a covenant which we share; a binding promise to work together for the gospel of the kingdom of Christ.”

The Rev. Karen Horst – Currently serving the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Orillia, Ontario, she began her work in the diaconal ministry helping with educational resources and leader training. She has served extensively in the wider church including on numerous committees at the national level and as the convener of Presbyterian World Service and Development committee for six years. She has been the emcee for two national Presbyterian Women’s Gatherings and she served on design teams for Youth Triennium with the PC(USA). In her interview in the Record she talks of her passion for “the alleviation of suffering for humans and creation itself,” a motivation reflected in her time working with PWS&D. Under concerns she speaks of “the growing polarization between ideologies.” For fellowship and recreation she and her husband enjoy riding with her church’s “motorcycle gang.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Kevin Livingston – Rev. Livingston currently works in academia where he serves as an Associate Professor of of Pastoral Ministry at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. In his previous parish ministry he served a church in British Columbia and two churches in Ontario. His education is varied with a B.A. from Seattle University, an M.Div. from Fuller Seminary and his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen Scotland. He was originally ordained in the PC(USA) before moving to British Columbia. He has been a presbytery Moderator for East Toronto and has served on national boards including the Special Committee on Sexual Orientation. He chairs the Board of Trustees for Latin American Mission Canada and has published articles on missiology. In the Record interview he talks about his passion for being a pastor and preaching. Speaking of his concerns he says “I am concerned about the numerical decline of our Presbyterian Church in Canada in terms of a shrinking membership and the closure of churches. But I am even more concerned by what seems to be a loss of hope, rooted in a decline of confidence in the gospel as God’s power to change lives, churches and whole societies.” As for a theme for his moderatorial year, he talks about what it would mean for the PC Canada to be missional.

The Rev. M. Helen Smith – Currently serving Centennial Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Rev. Smith has also served a church in Alberta and two churches in Ontario. In addition, she has done non-parish work: she served as Program Director at the Evangel Hall Mission (an inner city mission in downtown Toronto), as the Director of Camp Kannawin in Alberta, and as the minister on staff at Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) (a homeless ministry). She has served as the Moderator of three presbyteries and on multiple national committees. At an even wider level she has served on the North America Area Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. When the Record asked about a theme for her time as Moderator she said simply “Sowing seeds of shalom.” This echoes back to her reply about where her passion lies and her discussion of doing mission locally and nurturing shalom in the community. The phrase is taken from a book on that topic by Dan Steigerwald.

So there are the candidates. As I went through the list is was difficult not to be impressed by the years of service and the hope they have for the church. They are a diverse group in many respects but it was difficult not to notice that five of the six have one thing in common – they are, or have, served a church named “St. Andrew’s.”

The Clerk’s office will announce the results of the balloting in just about two weeks and so as that date approaches we pray for the six of them in their waiting and the discernment of the church in their choosing.

PC(USA) Passage Of Amendment 14-F: Reaction

Word has quickly spread through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this evening that Palisades Presbytery on a voice vote approved Book of Order Amendment 14-F making it the 86th presbytery to do so. While unofficial, everyone – and as you will see in a minute I do mean everyone – has taken this vote to mean that the amendment has reached the majority mark for the passage of the change to the Directory for Worship section W-4.9000 changing the definition of marriage.

There has been official reaction with three resources being added to the PC(USA) Marriage web page. These include a video statement from the Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, a letter from GA Moderator Reda and GA Vice Moderator Kwong Abazia, and an Advisory Opinion regarding the new wording. In the letter from the Moderator and Vice Moderator they encourage presbyteries to keep discussing and voting:

Though we know that this amendment received the necessary majority for approval, we encourage the congregations, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue to be in conversation about marriage and family. We hope that such “up/down” voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion. The change will go into effect with the other changes to the Book of Order on June 21, 2015.

The Presbyterian Outlook has an article posted with reaction from both sides. In addition, related groups on both sides have issued statements. The statement from the Covenant Network Board says they are grateful for the passage of the amendment and that with its passage “our denomination steps forward into a new chapter.” The statement concludes by looking forward:

As an organization, we are deeply committed to helping the church live joyfully and peacefully into this new and more inclusive day. Our national Covenant Conference will focus on these issues this fall, with dates and location to be announced soon. We are in a season of discernment about the goals and objectives that will guide our work in the coming years and look forward to sharing more in the next few months.

Similarly, the statement from the More Light Presbyterians also praised the result and said “This vote is the culmination of decades of selfless service by so many people.”

While nothing is posted on The Fellowship Community web site, its executive director, Paul Detterman, is quoted in the Outlook article as saying “I’m saddened by the passing of the amendment. I think we are listening to each other rather than listening to Scripture and the voice of God through Scripture . . . We’ve eroded some of our ability to stand on the teachings of Scripture by this vote.” (ellipses in article)

[UPDATE: The Fellowship Community has now posted a pastoral letter.]

And the Presbyterian Layman has an article posted with this quote from the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Carmen Fowler LaBerge:

“The passage of the amendment is further indication of the erosion of Biblical fidelity within the PCUSA. There is nothing new to say in response. Just as we repudiated the action of the General Assembly in issuing the Authoritative Interpretation we now stand in firm opposition to the passage of this amendment to the denomination’s constitution.”

I will stop there tonight but there is plenty of verbiage out there about the vote from individuals, presbyteries and news outlets.

At this point I am going to let the data point accumulate a bit more before doing any more analysis of the voting trends. So back in a few weeks with that.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of December 2014

Moving on to the next group of headlines, here are a few things that caught my attention.

A good chunk of Church of Scotland news in this period including the following:

An honorary degree from Glasgow University for a former Moderator

Honorary degree for former Moderator Lorna Hood – from The Scotsman

A challenge from the Moderator and questions about trying to grow the Kirk, including connecting online

Moderator hopes 100,000 people click with Kirk – from The Scotsman

Doubts over whether new stance on gay clergy could revive Kirk membership – from The Press and Journal

Church of Scotland: Will online outreach help ailing attendance figures? – from Christian Today

Moderator calls for Church to redefine membership in digital age – from Church of Scotland

The launch of the Scottish Leaders Welfare Group that includes the Church of Scotland. And for a bit of context, the issue of poverty was an important one in the Indy Ref campaign as well as the ongoing work of the Kirk, which will be regularly mentioned in these headlines posts.

Church and union leaders unite in bid to end cruel austerity measures in Scotland – from Daily Record

 And in worship news

New Gaelic hymn book launched – Hebrides News; compiled by a church in Skye with new and classic hymns; the continued use of Gaelic in worship is a major factor in maintaining the language

 

The issue of religious conscience in a commercial setting and same-sex marriage has become a hot topic in the U.S. but there is similar controversy about it elsewhere, in this case Northern Ireland, and the local presbytery sides with the baker after Equality Commission ruled against them:

Presbytery backs Ashers in legal row – from Ballymena Times

 

And similarly, dwindling congregations can be found the world over as well, in this case a church in Andersons Bay, New Zealand

Historic church’s future in doubt – Otago Daily Times

 

At the annual conference of the Mizoram Synod in that province of India:

Mizoram Synod turns down proposal to ordain women theologians – from Business Standard

 

From the U.S., one of the more unique stories of the time period…

Shurat Hadin charges US Presbyterian Church with having ties to Hezbollah: Israeli NGO says tax-free status should be revoked. – from The Jerusalem Post

 

Water projects built by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Presby[terian] Moderator commissions water projects for Northern and Upper presbyteries – from ModernGhana

Upper Presbytery Commission Water Project at the Cost of GHc 100,000 – from MyGhanaOnline

 

Buildings, buildings and more buildings…

W. Lebanon Church Has New Owner – from Valley News; former Seventh Day Adventist building bought by Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC)

Old Sutersville church may yet survive – from Trib Live; former Presbyterian Church building, believed oldest structure in borough, saved from wrecking ball for now.

Insurance costs could shut Inverness’ Old High Church – from BBC News

For Neighbors, Construction On Kansas City Church Is Good News – from Kansas City Public Media; update on a previously mentioned redevelopment project by the presbytery

First Look: Downtown church’s $17.7M transformation into a community center – from Columbus Business First

These Philadelphians Want to Get Closer to Their Neighbors – from Next City; a church being converted into a cohousing development

 

That’s it for now. Moving on to the next topic.

Brief Updates On Church Property Cases In Texas, Pennsylvania and Kansas

As I have often commented in this space, I really don’t want to go chasing church property cases in the civil courts as they can vary so widely by jurisdiction. I am going to take this opportunity to update one situation I have previously covered in detail and use it as an opportunity to consolidate reporting on a couple more and in the process demonstrate the variety that there is, the moving target that it can be and the legal technicalities involved.

Let me begin with the legal landscape in Texas which I have written on to some extent before. In particular, I covered a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court back in August 2013 that set forth neutral principles as the standard of decision for the state. However, that decision, at least in my reading, left a little opening for a hierarchical church to make a claim under the trust clause.

Well, two decisions in the last couple of weeks don’t see it that way and the local judicatories won summary judgements over higher governing bodies in the trial courts on pure property ownership and Texas trust law arguments.

The first was a summary judgement in the case of First Presbyterian Church of Houston v. Presbytery of New Covenant issued back on February 16. (Thanks to the presbytery for posting the decision.) Being a summary judgement there is not a lot of analysis by the court. The critical point to be made is:

… the Court grants the motion finding that there is no genuinely disputed issue of material fact, and that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The Court further finds that there is no enforceable trust or property interest created by any version of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order or the Presbyterian Church of the United States Book of Church Order under the neutral principle factors set forth by the Texas Supreme Court in Masterson v Diocese of Nw Texas.

The presbytery’s Pending Litigation web page indicates they will pursue the appeal. The lawyer for the church has a press release on their victory and indicates he will continue to represent the church pro bono.

The second court decision issued on March 2nd similarly gives the Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop Jack Leo Iker control of the property of the diocese in a partial summary judgement which did exempt one church property dispute from the order. This was a rehearing of the case where the original decision in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court decision previously mentioned. The Episcopal Diocese has indicated it will appeal.

We will see how these trial court decisions hold up in the appeals process.

On the other end of the spectrum we had a final decision this past December in the case of Peters Creek Church in Venetia, Pennsylvania. This was a case between a majority of the church that voted to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and a minority that voted to stay with Washington Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA). After seven years of legal wrangling and two previous decisions that favored the majority, a decision by the Commonwealth Court last April awarded the control of the property to the minority as the True Church. With the denial of review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in October it was sent back to the local court to issue the final decision ordering the change of ownership and a negotiated solution. The two groups have been sharing the property.

The Commonwealth Court decision is a long but at points an interesting read as it determines the outcome based strictly on neutral principles and does affirm that a denomination can not create a unilateral trust in Pennsylvania unlike court decisions in New York, Georgia and California. However, the court did find that in their Bylaws of June 3, 2001, Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church did create a trust with the PC(USA) when it included the language:

…“nothing in these bylaws shall prevail over the [PC(USA)] Constitution,” and that the bylaws “shall be considered to include the mandatory provisions and requirements on local churches set forth in the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether or not incorporated by specific reference.”

Among other finding of error by the trial court the Commonwealth Court declared that a formal trust document need not be created for the trust to be in force and recognized. They further find that the vote of the congregation on November 4, 2007, to leave the PC(USA) was invalid.

Woven into the rational of the decision are the histories of the PC(USA) and UPCUSA governing documents as well as the history of Pennsylvania trust law. In the end they make the case that using only neutral principles and consideration of the timeline of the history of the church the congregation can not unilaterally leave the PC(USA).

The trial court relied on the holdings in Beaver-Butler and Calhoun as examples of other Pennsylvania cases that have upheld the ability of a local church to disaffiliate from a national denomination (March 31, 2010, Trial Ct. Op. at 15). Those cases, however, do not support the trial court’s conclusions because their facts make clear that, at the time the local churches disaffiliated from the UPCUSA, the predecessor of the PCUSA, the UPCUSA governing documents did not prevent local churches from unilaterally disaffiliating. Here, in contrast, the PCUSA Constitution, which Peters Creek Church recognized as obligatory on its members, provided that the relationship between the PCUSA and an individual church can be severed only by the Presbytery.

So at least in Pennsylvania, timing and what you have in your bylaws and articles of incorporation is important.

And while this case is interesting, the legal nuances are a good example of why I don’t go chasing every one of these church property decision.

And now to Kansas…

Back in October a majority of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, in Overland Park, Kansas, voted to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and joint the EPC. There was a significant minority with 21% opposed. Control of the property is headed to court so there is not much to talk about there at this time.

However, there seems to be a pretty good back story on this one. A year ago there was an article quoting the church’s pastor as saying that the church was not looking to leave the larger denomination. But that article pointed out that this is the church home of Craig McPherson, a member of the Kansas legislature, who serves as an ordained officer in the church – a deacon. In last year’s legislative session he was a primary supporter of a Kansas House bill that was substituted for State Senate Bill 18 to clarify that Kansas judged church property disputes under neutral principles. The text, as amended by the House with McPherson’s input is included in an article in The Layman. Rep. McPherson published his testimony in support of a 2013 version of the bill. Last year the bill failed on the House floor but the Committee on the Judiciary, of which Rep. McPherson is a member, has reintroduced the bill in the 2015 session. According to the tracking page it is still awaiting committee action.

So there you have a selection of the church property cases recently in play across the country that have PC(USA) connections. If you want another interesting read consider the South Carolina decision giving control of a diocese, its property and its symbols (trademarks) to the group which has separated from The Episcopal Church. A unique case that probably has no impact on Presbyterian interests but one that gives the Episcopal equivalent of the Trust Clause, known as the Dennis Canon, very little weight.

So, enjoy that legal reading if you are so inclined. I might have a bit more to say on property from a PC(USA) polity standpoint in the near future.

Learn Eldership – A New Publication From The Church Of Scotland

Eldership_coverMy copy of a new Church of Scotland publication arrived in the mail this week. Their new book for training elders as part of the Learn program is simply titled Learn Eldership and it has been a best seller with pre-orders selling out the first press run in three weeks.

The list price with St. Andrew Press, the publishing arm of the Kirk, is £10.00, but you can get it for £7.00, or less in volume, by going through the Resourcing Mission site. The publication date is this Tuesday, March 2, but these distribution channels shipped as soon as they had it in stock. However, the postage to ship it outside the UK could more than double the cost of the book if, like me, you live on the other side of the world. However, I see that Amazon is taking pre-orders for the release this coming Tuesday so that will mean lower-cost shipping for many of us.

There are very good reasons that this 75-page book quickly became a best seller — from a design and structure point of view it is one of the best books for training ruling elders that I have seen. The flow of the book is logical beginning with an Introduction (think of it as the “what am I getting myself into” talk), a section on the Fundamentals like the Bible, creeds and prayer (contextually like the PC(USA) has created the new Foundations section of the Book of Order), and it then talks about Understanding the Kirk and Serving the Kirk.

While it has this flow the articles in it are short, easily read, and written by a wide variety of experienced leaders. And each article is pretty much self-contained and they do not need to be read in any particular order. For example, here is the article on Pastoring the Parish:

Eldership_pageIt gives you a good feel for the contemporary design and length of article.

Now, I realize that the quality of a book on Eldership should not just be about the layout and typeface but about the content and relevance. Again, this struck me as a good resource from that perspective. For starters, while the articles are easy and short reads it is clear this is only a starting point. In the photo above you can see in the lower right corner two blocks. One is Questions for discussion (e.g. “In what ways can you develop pastoral care within your congregation?”). The other shown is Why not try…, in this case “Why not try… hosting a lunch for interested individuals in the congregation to discuss the pastoral care provision?”

While not shown in this example, most of the articles also have a Further Reading section as well and the checking of those that I have done show that frequently the listed readings are a mix of recognized academic titles (from such sources as Yale University Press and Blackwell) and ones from publishers of more popular titles (e.g. IV Press and Zondervan).

But what I found most attractive about this book is that while it covers the essentials of church governance about the place of the session and the other courts of the church, it really seems to put the main focus on the spiritual and pastoral duties of a ruling elder. Sections about hospital visits, caring for the bereaved, and missional thinking are examples of the nice variety of material that deals with practical ministry aspects of being a ruling elder.

In some ways the attraction of the book is also its greatest weakness. The articles are so bite-sized that for some of the articles I found myself wanting just a wee bit more, but not enough that I would want to go to the trouble of seeking out the additional resources to beg, borrow or buy. But this is probably a product of the target for the book of using it in the Learn program. It is designed to be used in a group setting so it is not as much a handbook as a companion piece and conversation starter and the speaker or group can help fill in the details.

The one section that I wish was in there would be one specifically on the elder tending to his or her own spiritual development. Yes, there are suggestions in the section under the Bible and prayer, as well as mentioned as part of the work of the session. But I think it is an important enough aspect of the work of the elder to deserve more focused discussion. My opinion – your mileage may vary.

And finally, it must be mentioned that the book does reflect the theological circumstances that the Church of Scotland finds itself in at the moment. This is probably best encapsulated in the section on the Westminster Confession where it talks about it being a subordinate standard but only on points regarding “the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.” But an attempt to bring greater clarity to that in the past did not make significant progress and so there is not agreement on those points. It acknowledges that within the Kirk are those that see the Westminster Confession setting a “definitive expression of the faith of the Kirk,” for others it is a “significant document in the development of Reformed theology, and one worthy of ongoing reception,” and finally those that see the document as “highly anachronistic and/or simply erroneous in its theological views.” The good news is that while the doctrinal and the few polity sections must navigate this maze, the many pastoral and ministry sections usually do not impinge on these debates. It is left as an exercise for the reader to keep this situation in mind regarding sections that might have been influenced by these circumstances and sections that might also have been omitted.

So in the pantheon of elder training material where does this one fit? It deals more with spiritual shepherding and much less with governance than The Presbyterian Ruling Elder: An Essential Guide. And it has a clearly different focus than Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders and Blood on Every Page. For many the standard is the 19th century classic by David Dickson, The Elder and His Work, (recently reissued). That is a great source of practical advice in a conversational style and while some may suggest that the style of visitation coached in that book is a relic of a bygone era, I would suggest that there may still be something to it – but I digress. This present work under consideration is a broader and less focused work than that. I do believe that this work comes close to my favorite, the Equipping Elders material from the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Equipping Elders is not as graphically appealing but I have found it to be a great mix of the theoretical and practical and is therefore packed with more information than Learn Eldership. And the electronic version is a free download so you can’t be the price.

Bottom line for Learn Eldership: Easy reading and practical material in good short pieces. A ruling elder with soon want more on these topics – be it reading or coaching – but it makes a good starting point and a wonderful overview of the responsibilities an active elder.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of November 2014

Here is what caught my attention in later November of last year. (And have I really gotten that far behind on these?)

From Presbyterian branches in Africa:

Over 400 varsity students from Presbyterian University of East Africa to miss graduation – from Standard Digital; A problem with accredited courses and matching courses to degrees canceled students’ graduation plans.

Staff petitions Blantyre Synod over Mulanje Mission CCAP administrator, accountant – from Nyasa Times; Accusations of corruption and mismanagement at this church-sponsored medical facility

Livingstonia Synod takes a swipe at ‘lazy’ judges – from Nyasa Times; “The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia through its Church and Society organization has condemned the conduct of some judges for not performing to the expectations of many Malawians, saying the judges are reaping off Government.”

PCC: Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba begins new mission with the Church – from CameroonWeb; the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon elects a new Synod Moderator

 

An article about the social care ministry of the Church of Scotland

CrossReach keeps us on the right path – from The Scotsman

 

And the Lord High Commissioner to the next General Assembly was announced

Judge Appointed Lord High Commissioner – from Life and Work; “Sir James Arthur David Hope, Baron Hope of Craighead, will represent the Monarch at next year’s gathering in Edinburgh.”

 

And in ongoing labour relations questions in the Church of Scotland

Church to end union pay deal agreement – from Herald Scotland; “Workers at the Church of Scotland offices have voted to end the collective pay bargaining agreement with Unite the Union. A ballot of the 220 staff saw an 80 per cent turnout and a vote of 93 to 80 in favour of an end to the eight-year-old recognition agreement.”

 

Also in Scotland, there was a proposal, abandoned for the moment, to make the schools more secular

MSP drops attempt to curb church role in Scots schools – from The Christian Institute

 

A full page New York Times ad was taken out to speak out against the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine divestment action and signed by 120 well-known members of the church.

Prominent Presbyterians Push Back On Divestment – from The Jewish Week

 

In Ireland, criticism of a move by a church to manage the leadership of a program it sponsors:

Killinchy church congregation split over demotion of Girls’ Brigade leaders – from The Belfast Telegraph; “Killinchy Presbyterian Church has moved to demote three long-serving Girls’ Brigade leaders because they attend the neighbouring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church”

 

And finally, the strange but true headline of the period…

170-Year Old Mummified Cat Discovered in the Highlands – from Press and Journal; because the building dates to 1844 and has not been touched since it is said the cat may date to the time of the Disruption. For more on the renovation, or if you have reached your Press and Journal limit, there is a Free Church article about the church reopening: Dornoch Free Church set to reopen after renovation work

That is it for now. On to something else.