Tag Archives: polity

Brief Comment On The Central (now Alps Road) Presbyterian Church Decision, Athens, Georgia – The Exception That Proves The Rule

I began my previous property post on the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church court arguments with the reference to the cliché “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This is a very apt phrase to keep in mind when dealing with church property cases because the law varies significantly between states and each case has its own particular circumstances. Earlier this month we got a very good example of this in a court decision from Athens, Georgia.

Being in Georgia the hierarchical church gets strong support as laid out in the 2011 state supreme court decision of Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Inc. v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, Inc. (Timberridge decision). The court wrote in the conclusion:

Like the trial court, we conclude that neutral principles of law demonstrate that an implied trust in favor of the PCUSA exists on the local church’s property to which TPC Inc. holds legal title. See Barber, 274 Ga. at 359; Crumbley, 243 Ga. at 345. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding to the contrary.

The critical word in that block is “implied,” sort of like “if you are a PC(USA) church than the trust clause applies to you – end of story.” Very few states have given this level of deference to hierarchical churches. But the latest decision shows that it is not necessarily that simple and it is probably best to wait on analysis until you have the data.

In the case of Central Presbyterian Church, now Alps Road Presbyterian Church, a decision was handed down earlier this month that made a preliminary award of the property to the congregation. [And our thanks to The Layman for posting a copy of the decision.] The difference in this case is the strong documentary evidence that from the highest levels of the PCUS and then PC(USA) the understanding was that the trust clause was a theological understanding. The section begins with this:

Testimony showed that CPC believed that its property rights were not going to be affected by the reunion (or by any amendments to the PCUS constitution pre-dating the 1983 merger containing similar trust language). This belief was informed by a 1981 letter written by Rev. James Andrews, the Stated Clerk of the PCUS at that time, regarding a similar trust clause proposed by PCUS. The letter stated that the new trust clause in the PCUS constitution would not change the Presbyterian Church’s historical position on property. He writes, “These amendments do not in any way change the fact that the congregation, in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., owns its own property.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. I). In 1982, Rev. Andrews affirmed the denomination’s position in a report to all of the PCUS commissioners. The report reads, “The language dealing with trust does not in any way establish any kind of an encumbrance on church property as that term is understood in connection with real estate.” (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. K)

These communications, while not speaking directly to the PCUSA trust clause but
rather to the PCUS trust clause, are very important because in the Articles of Agreement
between PCUS and UPCUSA, PCUSA stated its intention to be bound by the representations
of its predecessor denominations. (Aff. Parker Williamson, Ex. G)

And that is just the start of that section.

The court clearly needed to address the Timberridge decision and how it relates to this one. The flavor of that finding is evident in the opening lines and since you know the bottom line of the case you can probably figure where the section goes from here:

In this case, there is a sharp conflict in the evidence as to the PCUSA mode of government (unlike in Timberridge where the parties agreed that the PCUSA was hierarchical). Petitioners presented evidence suggesting that the PCUSA structure of government is a hybrid congregational-hierarchical structure. Respondent’s witness testified that the PCUSA is hierarchical with a representational form of government.

Bottom line – take these property cases one at a time based on their own merits. Corollary – who knows what interesting material from American Presbyterian history may come to light in doing so. It will be interesting if we see more of those James Andrews quotes in the future.

I will leave it at that for today. From what I have been tracking there is a lot more property stuff in the pipeline and we will see where all this leads.

Stay tuned…

The Discussion of PC(USA) Identity And Musings On An “Ecclesiastical Hackathon”

About a month ago the Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Heath Rada, issued a “Call to the Church” to rethink what the PC(USA) should look like and in doing so build trust within the church.  This started the wheels in motion for a discussion in the denomination about what the identity of the PC(USA) is now and what it should be. Specifically he said in his remarks:

It became apparent [within a small task force on mission funding] that we all believed a painful situation existed [in the PC(USA)] and for anything significant to be accomplished we must find ways for that trust to be restored. It was felt that our denomination needed to explore these matters in depth and that I should announce a CALL TO THE CHURCH to help in addressing them.

The statement goes on to list five areas of importance, from the church’s changing place in the wider culture to the theological institutions to the urgent need for action. And with that the statement outlines five steps to take but at multiple points emphasizing the need to involve all levels of the church.

In a follow-up article in the Presbyterian Outlook he updates us on the response he has gotten and what next steps might be. While some are a bit further off – specifically part of the preparation for the 222nd General Assembly – other steps were being implemented quickly. This past week we saw the first of those and that is a survey opened up by Research Services to gather input from the full breadth of the PC(USA). You are encouraged to “Join the Conversation” and you have until November 13 to respond on that survey.

Another step is the announcement of two Twitter chats with the Vice-Moderator of the 221st General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia (@LarissaLKA). The first chat begins this afternoon at 6 PM EDT (3 PM PDT) and will use the hashtag #pcusaidentity. The second chat is on Thursday November 12 at 9 PM EST (7 PM MST).

In reading that follow-up article a few things jump out at me. One is that the responses include “groups…wanting to be part of the conversation.” So must a group come forward to be included? Another is that Office of the General Assembly and Research Services will be the ones surveying the church and figuring out how to initiate discussions. It struck me that groups and offices in the national church seem to be headlining what looks like an institutional response. This is no surprise since at one point in the initial Call Moderator Rada wrote:

Again let me state the obvious. Someone has to take a lead. I am asking that the denomination affirm and actively participate in the COGA process which is getting ready to be unveiled and which will undertake the massive task of assessing the church’s will (in accordance with God’s will) concerning who and what we need to be as a denomination.

An interesting article three weeks ago takes a very different approach…

The Presbyterian Outlook published an op-ed piece by Deborah Wright and Jim Kitchens titled “An Open Letter to Moderator Heath Rada: What if . . . we held an ecclesiastical hackathon?

As Presbyterians you have to love the idea, but more on that in a moment.

Their idea is an open call and competition where people form teams of six individuals and come up with their ideas about what the PC(USA) should look like or be doing. As they say:

Game theorists radically believe that the solutions to tough social problems reside in the players. Adaptive Change theorists believe deep challenges of uncharted territories must find solutions in unknown corners. Positive Deviance theorists act on the notion that the village has the answers, if one only looks to the fringes. What if this once – instead of committees and task forces and hired expert consultants – what if . . . we bucked up our Reformed theology and went looking for our unheralded prophets out there, trusting God to provide!

The idea is that a set of “rules and tools” would be issued by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) and any group of six members of the PC(USA) would have a few months to assemble a team and present a plan, solution, strategy, what ever was being asked for.

A number of theological and polity positives jump out at me here. As the authors emphasize, we are a priesthood of all believers. Why should we let the brains at OGA and PMAB have all the fun with this. The Reformed community should be the specialists at crowd sourcing as we believe decision making and the corresponding mission are to be done at the lowest applicable level and our structure is supposed to allow the most people and those with particular gifts for the situation to be involved.

It is arguable whether groups of six are theologically supported here – seven is a more spiritual number or we could just think of two groups of six making twelve. But in our church history it was the group of the “Six Johns“, led by John Knox, that over four days wrote the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560. Not exactly a hackathon since they were the only group working on it but still a model of a group of six that worked quickly to produce a product that changed history.

Now looking at this proposal I do cringe a little bit to see that the process is directed by the agencies at the top. They are the existing coordinating bodies after all and in a position to be able to do this so there is a solid rational for this. But let’s think a bit outside the box here.

What if we thought about this a bit more as a crowd sourced or grassroots project and tried to find another point to run this from. What if the responsibility were devolved to someplace in the church that is actively doing something like this, such as the 1001 New Worshiping Communities group? Or maybe an existing recognized affiliated body like the NEXT Church group or the Presbyterian Outlook board. Or maybe something completely different like a joint steering group made up of members of the Covenant Network and the Fellowship Community? Or a really radical thought: Just go for it!

The idea would be for groups that wanted to get involved to brainstorm changes and then send it to the next General Assembly from the bottom up. Get your group together and then take the idea to your two or three nearest presbyteries for endorsement as ascending overtures so they will be considered as business in Portland. If this hackathon concept is taken seriously maybe one of the commissioner committees at GA could have the responsibility for reviewing these and helping the Assembly to think in new ways. And remember, the deadline for proposed Book of Order changes is February 19, 2016, and for overtures with financial implications it is April 19, 2016.

So there you have my riff on the hackathon idea. I don’t think this is too far off from the ideas Landon Whitsitt discussed in his book Open Source Church. And remember, the hackathon – or whatever you want to call it – concept has two purposes: One is discussed above as a model for drawing more fully from the wisdom and knowledge of the whole group. The other is to involve more people in seriously visioning and thinking about the problem and empowering them to do something about it so they have ownership of situation. This is not answer a survey or participate in a guided discussion sort of thing. The idea is to empower any interested member to dive into the details, inner working and think about the problem at the deepest levels. Where it may go we don’t know so this certainly could be a “stay tuned” moment for the PC(USA).

You Keep Using That Word…

[Prefatory note: Yes, it has indeed been almost two months since I last posted here, a full month beyond my planned quiet period. While I have several articles in draft form that I want to complete I have been busy on a couple of other fronts that has taken time away from my writing. I am hoping to be a bit more regular for the next few months. In addition, I have a large data acquisition and analysis project related to my Big Tent series that has been where I have dedicated my blogging hours. We will see where that goes.]

Today was one of those days where I ran across something that hit one of my sensitive nerves, raised my blood pressure and sent me to the keyboard to vent. It was an online article from the Presbyterian Outlook titled “Distance education: Seminary comes to you.” It is overall an interesting article from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – and not from the Outlook staff – that talks about distance learning, particularly for those that don’t traditionally attend seminary. The lede begins with a quote from back in May from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), RE Heath Rada:

Recently Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), asked, “How might the denomination use the seminaries more effectively? . . . Could the training of commissioned ruling elders be moved under the seminaries’ oversight? Might a renewed emphasis on education of the laity be incorporated into the curricula of these schools in ways that could incite enthusiasm throughout our denomination in new ways?” The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS) has been asking just these sorts of questions for the last 15 years and has answered with the development of a wide variety of online educational options for the theological education of laity and clergy.

Did you catch the wording? I did a quick check on the PC(USA) Book of Order and the words “clergy” and “laity” are not to be found. Even worse, this quote, and in places in the rest of the article, seem to use “laity” interchangeably with “ruling elder.” (The term is also used in places where they talk about other educational tracks that could include students from non-Reformed traditions so it may be awkward for the Presbyterians but technically acceptable.)

To be fair, this is not the only place in discussions of Presbyterian polity that you will find these terms used. But in a strict sense as I understand it Presbyterians know nothing of the laity in its traditional sense. To quote that bastion of knowledge, the Wikipedia article for laity,

Presbyterianism

Presbyterians do not use the term “lay”. Thus the Church of Scotland has “Readers”, men and women set apart by presbyteries to conduct public worship. This arises out of the belief in the priesthood of all believers. Ministers are officially ‘teaching elders’ alongside the ‘ruling elders’ of the Kirk Session and have equivalent status, regardless of any other office. In the Church of Scotland, as the Established church in Scotland, this gives ruling elders in congregations the same status as Queen’s chaplains, professors of theology and other highly qualified ministers. All are humble servants of the people in the congregation and parish. Ministers are simply men and women whose gift is for their role in teaching and possibly pastoral work. They are thus selected for advanced theological education. All elders (teaching and ruling) in meetings of Session, Presbytery, or Assembly are subject to the Moderator, who may or may not be a minister but is always an elder.

OK, Wikipedia is not my first choice for a credible argument, and in this case I disagree with a couple other details in the article and the emphasis is on the Church of Scotland, but I think it correctly makes the point that there is a priesthood of all believers and some are set aside for ordered ministry. Furthermore, teaching and ruling elders rule jointly and in the administration of the church generally either flavor of elder may hold any given leadership position.

Now, if you want the argument from a credible Presbyterian source, you can do no better than Teaching Elder Joe Small, the previous head of the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship. In a talk he gave in 2010 before he retired he is quoted as saying “Clergy and laity are two words that should never escape the lips of Presbyterians.” He expands more fully on the historical development of the ordered ministry in the Reformed tradition in a chapter he contributed to a book on church governance.

If you want corroboration of this thought, two other giants of Presbyterian polity, John Bolt and Jan Edmiston have also spoken or written about the distinction and its importance. And yes, I have ranted about this before – as I said it touched a sensitive nerve with me.

So as I close this discussion, or a sequel rant if you will, I want to be clear that this is not just a semantic distinction. In my thinking about Reformed theology this is at the heart of how we view ourselves as the Body of Christ. Traditionally the use of the terms clergy and laity imply a difference in function and standing between the two groups. If we accept the concept of the priesthood of all believers this distinction does not exist. Yes, there is an ordered ministry for proclamation, one for spiritual guides and a third for mercy ministry. But these are always exercised within the context of the covenant community. It is everyone working together with some set aside (not elevated) for particular tasks.

OK, rant over. We now return you to your regular programming.

[And it is nice to be back. More about my summer later.]

Disciplinary PJC Decision — Grace Presbytery v. TE Rightmyer

On 7 January the Permanent Judicial Commission of Grace Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) announced its decision in Disciplinary Case 2015-1: Grace Presbytery v. TE Joseph Rightmyer finding him guilty on eight of the eleven counts he had been charged with. This case comes out of the departure of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to move to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

According to the history in the PJC decision, an accusation was made against TE Rightmyer in the Fall of 2013 and an investigating committee of five members was appointed on 2 December 2013 which then returned the charges on 16 October the following year. There was a pre-trial hearing on 14 November and the trial conducted on 6 January.

The eleven charges filed with the PJC relate to TE Rightmyer’s service at Highland Park as an interim pastor from June 2013 to August 2014 when TE Bryan Dunegan was called and took over as head of staff. Parallel with the pastoral search Highland Park filed suit in September 2013 in the Texas courts to gain control of its property. That case was to go to trial in October 2014 but Highland Park and Grace Presbytery settled for $7.8 million almost exactly a year after the suit was filed.

Instrumental in this case is the fact that Grace Presbytery has a “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination“, but in all the reading I have done I have seen no reference indicating that Highland Park initiated discussions with the presbytery under this policy but rather they carried out a unilateral process to leave the PC(USA).

With that background, let us look at the charges against TE Rightmyer. There are four root charges:

  1. On or about September 23, 2013, and following, you… did commit the offense of advocating and facilitating a process for Highland Park Presbyterian Church to determine whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and contrary to Grace Presbytery’s “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination.”
  2. On or about September 23, 2013, you… did commit the offense of moderating the Session of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and permitting it to vote to call a congregational meeting to vote on whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an action not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  3. On or about October 27, 2013, you… did commit the offense of moderating a congregational meeting of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and permitting it to vote on whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an action not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Book of Order G-1.0503) and contrary to Grace Presbytery’s “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination.”
  4. On or about October 27, 2013, and following, you… did commit the offense of permitting the dissolving of the installed pastoral relationship of teaching elder Marshall C. Zieman to serve as associate pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church without action of the
    presbytery as required by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

This is a “theme and variations” set of charges and for each root charge there were multiple variations. For the first, this charge was cited as being a violation of ordination vows W-4.4003e, “Will you be governed by our church’s polity…”, and W-4.4003g, “Do you promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church?”.

For the second and third root charges related to calling and holding a congregational meeting with business not permitted by the Book of Order, these were charged as violations of G-1.0503 that limits the business of a congregational meeting, as well as the two ordination vow violations attached to the first root charge.

Similarly, the fourth root charge was a violation of G-2.0502 as well as G-2.0901 regarding the process for dissolving pastoral relationships and the ordination vow about being subject to our church’s polity.

So the two variations of the first root charge and three variations of the other three add up to the total of eleven individual charges.

The Presbytery PJC found him guilty of the first eight, that being the ones associated with root charges 1, 2 and 3, but found him not guilty of the last regarding the dissolution of a pastoral relationship.

Disciplinary trial decisions, unlike many remedial cases and appeals, typically do not come with analysis so there is not much more to directly draw from the PJC’s decision.

The court rendered their decision:

Whereas, you, JOSEPH B. RIGHTMYER, have been found guilty of the following offenses, and by such offenses you have acted contrary to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); now, therefore, Grace Presbytery acting in the name and under the authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), does hereby set aside and remove you from the ordered ministry of teaching elder.

Removal from ordered ministry, also referred to as being defrocked, is the strongest penalty that can be levied in a disciplinary case.

That pretty much sums up the PJC decision. In an interview with Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Layman, Mr. Rightmyer indicates that he is in the process of considering an appeal of this decision.

Discussion

Let me begin my comments with what is to me the elephant in the room — the only reason this trial could take place was because Mr. Rightmyer did not leave the PC(USA) with Highland Park Presbyterian Church but chose instead to remain in the PC(USA) after his interim service was over. In a large proportion of the departures from the PC(USA) all the teaching elders depart for the new denomination taking them out of reach of the PC(USA) disciplinary process should the church’s process been outside the established process. It is worth noting that regarding these charges going to trial Mr. Rightmyer did live into his ordination vow to be “…governed by our church’s polity and… abide by it’s discipline.”

[As a polity note, there is much that can be argued about Mr. Rightmyer’s status and leaving the denomination in light of the fact that interim pastors usually depart the church and the fact that since an investigating committee was considering his case he could not be transferred. I won’t belabor this point except to say that if he wanted to depart with the church, or on his own, a way could probably be found, possibly including renunciation of jurisdiction.]

Another question that arises is why the church went to the civil courts and did not engage in the presbytery’s dismissal policy? In the interview mentioned above Mr. Rightmyer explains the church’s perspective:

“The leadership of Grace Presbytery made it abundantly clear that any candidate for pastor would have to pledge loyalty to the denomination and subscribe to a ‘big-tent’ ideology; meaning that he or she would have to tolerate and perhaps even celebrate what God deems intolerable in the body of Christ.  With the church’s children and grandchildren at heart, the leadership of HPPC felt a clear responsibility for the ‘preservation of the truth’ and fidelity to the Scriptures in the preaching of Christ.  When seen in that light, the vote to disaffiliate from the PCUSA became a spiritual mandate and the cost was minimal compared to what was gained.”

What are the implications of this decision? You could say that this is only a Presbytery PJC decision and a disciplinary one at that so the formal precedent it sets is minimal. From another perspective this shifts the playing field. While previous cases were all remedial this case indicates that someone is willing to reach into the toolbox and try another option. It sends a message to the presbytery that in the future churches need to engage with the presbytery about dismissal or get our cleanly and quickly so that teaching and ruling elders are out of reach of the judicial process. I thought it significant that the decision specifically indicates that the teaching elder who submitted the accusation was the chair of the committee on ministry giving strong weight to the appearance that this was a case being filed with presbytery backing.

Furthermore, if the case does go through a series of appeals to the General Assembly PJC, then formal guidance to the whole church could result. That is certainly a wait and see situation.

But digging a little deeper, does this case now suggest a preemptive strategy for those that would prefer stronger enforcement of the trust clause? While I am not endorsing this and hesitate to continue this thought exercise lest I give anyone ideas, I want to consider a couple scenarios:

What if a church were to baulk at a presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy or the negotiations under it? Could some random member of the presbytery who has standing bring charges like these against the teaching elder(s) and ruling elders on session if they were to take some sort of unilateral action outside the process even before they tried to separate from the denomination?

Or consider charge 2, the most general of the charges in this case: the offense of
advocating and facilitating a process… to determine whether to remain a member of the PC(USA) not permitted by the Constitution and contrary to the Gracious Dismissal Policy in violation of your ordination vow “to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church”. So what might qualify as advocating a process? A discussion in the session meeting about alternatives? Preaching a sermon critical of the PC(USA) or its leadership? Consulting with the leadership of another Reformed body? It would seem that any number of possible actions could have the appearance of “advocating and facilitating a process” and be the basis for an accusation.

Farfetched? Probably. Minor and not likely to be successful at trial? That could certainly be the case. But my point is that simply filing an accusation and having an elder under investigation is enough to stop their transfer and possibly stop all progress under a Gracious Dismissal Policy, particularly if it is the installed teaching elder. So what are the choices? Waiting it out could easily take a year or more like this case did. Speeding it up by changing to self-accusation would amount to pleading guilty and taking your chances with the penalty imposed by the PJC. Moving forward by renouncing jurisdiction means that you lose standing with the denomination and would probably lead to the congregation departing but likely leaving the property behind. Is there another, easier and faster alternative to clearing this that I am missing?

It is an interesting possibility to ponder, and hopefully not one that we will have to respond to. For the moment we are left with our first disciplinary case and penalty for actions take outside the presbytery process for gracious dismissal. There are still questions whether the trial verdict would stand up under appeal and whether more disciplinary cases will follow now that the ice is broken.

Stay tuned…

 

Church Of Scotland Ordination Overture Results And Reaction

Almost all of the presbyteries in the Church of Scotland have now voted on the overture from the 2014 General Assembly related to ministers in same-sex relationships and it is clear that the overture has gotten strong approval from them.

While this is a major hurdle it is important to keep in mind some of the fine details. First, it is not final until the 2015 General Assembly takes a look at it and adds its concurrence. Considering the margin with which it passed the 2014 Assembly and the number of presbyteries that gave approval it would seem reasonable to expect the next Assembly to also approve it. But we need to keep in mind that at the moment the process has not been completed.

The second item to remember is that this overture does not change the official stance of the Kirk but only provides a mechanism for individual churches to depart from that stance in the ordination and installation of officers should the need arise.

And the headlines, even from the official publication Life and Work, are a bit inaccurate in that gay clergy have been permitted if they were celibate, but the overture proposes new policies for partnered clergy in same-sex civil unions.

One important aspect of this vote to keep in mind is that the margin among the overall votes cast is much narrower than the presbytery vote. Of the 46 presbyteries it is being reported that so far 28 have voted yes and 11 have voted no on the overture. That is a 72% yes vote. But if you look at the total from the presbyters, it was 1253 yes and 1006 no, a 55% to 45% split.

As the results were spreading through the news media the last couple of days the group Forward Together, a Church of Scotland affinity group opposed to the proposed polity changes the overture would bring, announced their new initiative — the Covenant Fellowship. Their Statement begins:

We believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. Our vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

The Church of Scotland is facing a severe crisis. A majority of Presbyteries has now adopted an Overture which would permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons in the Church. Many people feel that the only way to protest against this unscriptural move is to leave the Church of Scotland. Many ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow. While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within, although we recognise that not all will feel able to make such an unqualified commitment.

The Statement goes on to solicit from like-minded individuals and churches their signing on to the Declaration of support for these principles and protest of the actions of the Church of Scotland.

The Statement was issued in association with comments from the Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan, which were picked up by the media. He said, in part:

If approved, this (overture) will extend even further the disruption of the Church of Scotland.

Many well-known congregations (individual ministers and groups of worshippers) in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stornoway and elsewhere have already left the Church, or been split in two.

and

The hope is that the Covenant Fellowship, which begins today as a protest against recent events, will grow to become an effective campaign group within the Church on behalf of those who believe in Christian orthodoxy.

This statement and comments did not go unnoticed, and some of the language in the comments and the Statement elicited an official response from the Acting Principal Clerk of the General Assembly. The Rev. Dr. George Whyte says:

The Church of Scotland welcomes Professor McGowan’s continued commitment to remain a member and a minister but there are in his statement accusations which we believe are not accurate.

The proposed legislation which is the focus of the group’s criticism has been painstakingly considered by the Church across the nation. We know that for many people the discussion has been difficult and it has always been clear that we could never come to a common mind on the matter.

This pain and disillusionment has been felt by those, like Professor McGowan, who think the Church is going in the wrong direction and those who desperately want a Church which would go further on their chosen route. Yet the issue has to be discussed and we are a Church which recognises “liberty of opinion.” Our General Assembly has agreed that this proposal – to allow a congregation call a minister in a civil partnership – falls into that category. It is not, therefore, an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.

“We share Professor McGowan’s abhorrence of further disruption and we hope and pray that across Scotland Christians will find ways to continue to work together despite their varied opinions.”

In addition to the Covenant Fellowship, media was also reporting comments from a spokesman for the Free Church of Scotland. The comments expressed concern for the actions and direction of the Church of Scotland and concluded with the line “Although we are saddened by the present circumstances in the Church of Scotland, we are happy to provide a home to those who wish to leave.”

The Church of Scotland has seen the departure of a few ministers, congregations and members over the last few years since the trajectory was set by the 2011 General Assembly. But this new association seems to now more clearly define one side although being a brand new initiative we will have to see how it develops.

It is also tempting to map the current landscape of the PC(USA) and the directions of ebb and flow there onto where the Church of Scotland find itself now, and it almost seems that naming the new initiative the Covenant Fellowship invites that comparison. However, the lay of the land in the Kirk is probably going to be shifting rapidly and I will let the structures settle down a bit before I take the time to undertake that analysis.

What can I really say at this point to sum up these developments but… Stay Tuned!