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.