Thursday, January 14, 2010


I sent the letter below to the Layman in response to their article about a presbytery that dissolved the relationship between a pastor and a congregation on the recommendation of an Administrative Commission. What concerns me that the elders from the congregation and maybe the pastor didn't seem to understand their rights under the constitution of the PCUSA.  At least the article suggested this.  I would think and hope that any congregation being "helped" by an Administrative Commission would carefully read the section of the Constitution on the responsibilities of an Administrative Commission and then compare the Constitution to the charge from the Presbytery to the Administrative Commission.  The article was not terribly clear about the original task assigned to the Administrative Commission or about the rights of members of presbytery to file a remedial case if they thought something was done incorrectly.

Here is my letter:

Upon reading the article about the Mansfield, Ohio congregation and what was, in effect, the dissolution of the relationship between the pastor and the congregation I was surprised that the only reference to the Book of Order was to 9.0505, which talks about administrative commissions. There are a couple of references in Chapter 14 that are just as important:

G-14.0600 Dissolution of Installed Pastoral Relationships

G-14.0610 Dissolved by Presbytery
The pastoral relationship between a pastor, associate pastor, and a church may be dissolved only by presbytery. Whether the minister or the church or the presbytery initiates proceedings for a dissolution of the relationship, there shall always be a meeting of the congregation to consider the matter and to request, or consent, or decline to consent to dissolution, as provided in G-7.0304a(3).

G-14.0613 The presbytery, through its committee on ministry or an administrative commission, may inquire into reported difficulties in a congregation and may dissolve the pastoral relationship if, after consultation with the minister, the session, and the congregation (G-7.0304a(3)), it finds the church’s mission under the Word imperatively demands it.

These two sections of chapter 14 say that the congregation must also meet and vote on the dissolution of the relationship between the pastor and the congregation no matter what the presbytery has done. Further I would hope that the report of the administrative commission and the motion before the presbytery would specifically quote the last part of 14.0613, “it finds the church’s mission under the Word imperatively demands it.”

Due process in chapter 9 means that everyone has a chance to talk with the administrative commission.

Fair notice shall consist of a short and plain statement of the matters at issue as identified by the commission and of the time and place for a hearing upon the matters at issue. The hearing shall include at least an opportunity for all persons in interest to have their positions on the matters at issue stated orally.

Due process does not guarantee the right of the pastor or session to face accusers when an administrative commission is dealing with the situation. The right to face accusers is available only if misbehavior rises to the level of an offense, meaning when an individual or sometimes an administrative commission brings charges against someone. Then the Rules of Discipline kick in.

There is also this section of G-9.0505:

Whenever the administrative commission has been empowered to dissolve a pastoral relationship and the administrative commission chooses to exercise that power, there shall always be a meeting of the congregation at which the commission shall hear the positions of the pastor and the members if they choose to speak. The pastor shall be accorded the right to hear the concerns expressed by members in the meeting and to have reasonable time to respond during the meeting. (See G-14.0610, G-14.0611, G-14.0612, G-11.0103o).

One would have to presume (given the fact that the decision to dissolve the relationship was made by the presbytery and not the administrative commission) that the commission decided that since they did not have the power to dissolve the relationship that they were not required to hold a congregational meeting.  (At least the article did not say there was a congregational meeting.)

The Mansfield congregation, if it has not already done so, has the right and responsibility to hold a congregational meeting to vote on whether to dissolve the relationship between the pastor and the congregation (G-14.0610 quoted above.) 

One other note: the words “allegation” and “accusation” have specific meaning under the Book of Order.  They refer to charges of offense against someone under the Rules for Discipline. 

The only redress the pastor and the congregation have in relation to the pastoral relationship now is to file a remedial case saying that the administrative commission or the presbytery did not follow the rules as stated in the Book of Order.


Anonymous said...
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Pastor Bob said...

There was a post here but I discovered that it was a series of links to Chinese sites including porn. I deleted it.

Anyone who actually wants to comment on the blog is welcome

Jodie said...

I thought your post was spot on, but I don't trust the Layman article to tell what really happened.

One thing I have found is that congregations are often not willing to vote against an Administration Committee's recommendation to Presbytery, thinking their vote is a mere formality. The folks that want the dissolution usually cast it that way, and many a good minister can be bullied into believing that at least their career would suffer less if they go along with dissolution rather than encourage congregational resistance. And in any case, if a congregation does vote against a dissolution, Presbytery can always override it.

The Layman though only has an interest in those cases that can be exploited for ideological reasons. A lot of pastoral relationships get dissolved for reasons that have no interest to the Layman but have everything to do with why the denomination is dying.

I think that if a congregation wants to keep its pastor, the members should vote accordingly and force Presbytery's hand. At least it keeps things out in the open.

Congregations are simply not surviving the conflict resolution methods of the corporate PCUSA.

Pastor Bob said...


I have noticed that presbyteries tend to get a pastor to resign or to dissolve the relationship thinking that this will make the problem go away. The presbytery's (or the ACs action) encourages the pastor to go along because the pastor needs a good recommendation from the presbytery exec if s/he is going to be able to get a new decent call.

I saw no evidence in the article that the AC acted improperly. The fact that they spent a year doing their job tells us something. On the other hand simply removing a pastor never solves the problems in the congregation. Usually the problems were there before the pastor came and will be there after the pastor leaves. And presbyteries are rarely willing to do the hard work or get a specially trained interim to do the hard work necessary to bring about positive change in the congregational system.

Obviously I don't know what the problems were in this particular congregation. I doubt that forcing the pastor to resign will deal with the problems, particularly if a large portion of the congregation supports the pastor.

My major point was that there are specific actions that all must take in the situation. The congregation is still required to have a congregational meeting. But I suspect that a congregational vote to retain the pastor will not change the vote of the presbytery.

Oh, and a pastor does NOT have the right to face his/her accusers unless there is a disciplinary case brought against the pastor which does not seem to be what is going to happen here.

A remedial case could only succeed if the AC or the presbytery did not follow proper form as required by the Book of Order.

Jodie said...

"On the other hand simply removing a pastor never solves the problems in the congregation. Usually the problems were there before the pastor came and will be there after the pastor leaves"

My personal experience runs the gamut. I've seen a Presbytery simply assume that if a problem came to their attention it was "too late" and the starting part of the process was to remove the pastor. And I have seen a Presbytery catch a pastor violating if not the letter of the law then the spirit of the law and force him out for cause in spite of heavy opposition.

What I've seen in common all the time is a failure to recognize that the relationship between a pastor and a congregation is not a single relationship. It is the sum of all the individual relationships between the pastor and individual members. And if the pastorate was effective, these relationships are deep and significant friendships. You break them by force and you break the Church.

Perhaps it was already broken, in which case you haven't made things better. But when they were not broken, you have made things quite a bit worse.

In either case once the relationship is broken everybody suffers.

I believe the process of removing and replacing pastors from congregations is the root cause for loss of membership in the mainline churches. It has broken the spirit of the Church. All the exit surveys catch the proximal causes, but what lies at the root of all the causes is the fatal blow of broken relationships. All that is left is the impersonal aspect of church, which is not self sustaining.

What needs to be addressed is not just the process, but the fact itself. And that goes to leadership ethics.

It seems silly, but the behavioral ethical standards of the military industrial complex are greater than the typical standards of the average church. This is unacceptable. The internal ethical standards of the church needs to be higher than any secular organization by a significant margin. Pastors need to be taught to be more ethical, sessions need to be taught to be more ethical, and Presbyteries need to start assuming that the best thing to do is to preserve pastorates.

Otherwise, why bother?