A not so fraternal fraternity – Evangelical Presbyterians Fraternal Relations Committee report

According to the Fraternal Relations committee, no invitation was extended for representation by the EPC at the upcoming meeting of the PCUSA where the investigating committee’s report will be heard and acted upon.

When the Fraternal Relations committee met at the 30th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, June 24 in Englewood, Colo., there was really only one item of business on the agenda: The relationship of the EPC to the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Although there was no “formal” business before the EPC GA regarding the PCUSA, there was discussion of the pending action of the PCUSA in regard to a report with recommendations to its General Assembly meeting July 3-10 in Minneapolis.

At its 2008 General Assembly, the PCUSA formed a task force to investigate accusations that the EPC had “recruited” congregations away from the PCUSA. Acknowledging that the task force had been formed, the 29th General Assembly of the EPC instructed its Permanent Committee on Fraternal Relations to “continue to communicate with the PCUSA according to Biblical principles and to encourage face-to-face talks.”

Although explicitly charged to meet with representatives of the EPC, the PCUSA task force did not meet with those representatives until early 2010.

What transpired in between? According to the report of the Permanent Fraternal Relations Committee to the EPC GA, “Stated Clerk, Jeff Jeremiah, was specifically asked to arrange a meeting with his counterpart in the PCUSA, Gradye Parsons.

In a Sept. 10, 2009 letter to (PCUSA Stated Clerk) Gradye Parsons, Jeff asked for a meeting. In response, Rev. Parsons asked that Jeff meet first with the Task Force investigating the EPC. The Committee on Administration (COA) determined that it was not appropriate for the Stated Clerk to meet with that Task Force. Instead, they offered to have a group of EPC leaders meet with them.” That meeting occurred on Jan. 15.

According to those present, the meeting lasted three hours and representatives from the EPC admitted that they did most of the talking. The group felt that the PCUSA task force members listened and heard the EPC’s side of the story. It is a story that highlights the reality of a small denomination willing to give Christian hospitality and relief of conscience to sister congregations in a fellow denomination who are self-described as refugees. One Fraternal Relations committee recalled that “the EPC didn’t go calling, PCUSA congregations came begging.”

In the meeting, according to the report, “Bill Myer, chairman of the NW/EPC Transitional Presbytery Commission, gave an overview of the transitional presbytery concept, explaining in detail its genesis and operation. EPC representatives made clear that the transitional presbytery was an extraordinary measure for extraordinary times and that many in the EPC supported it as a means to protect the EPC (a small denomination) from being “overrun” by a potentially large wave of new churches. Bill Dudley, as a pastor who has recently transferred into the EPC, testified to having never observed any EPC personnel inappropriately handing any aspect of the dismissal process.”

Reflecting on the meeting, Fraternal Relations Committee Chairman Don Fortson III said: “We did 90 percent of the talking. I sensed that they wanted to hear our side of the story and I think by the end of our meeting they understood. We shared our hesitancy, our concern about being overwhelmed by huge numbers of requests. When it comes down to it, we have different polities when it comes to property. In actuality PCUSA presbyteries implement the PCUSA constitution in any number of ways. Some dismiss with grace, some take their own churches to court. I reminded them of article 13 in the articles of agreement in the Plan of Reunion. I think we need to put some stuff on the table and get some candid conversations started. On the whole, given the tension, it was a rather charitable meeting.”

The PCUSA Task Force report acknowledges that the two denominations are in correspondence with one another and have different polities related to property, and that the 173 presbyteries of the PCUSA each have different practices when responding to requests for dismissal. The experience of various congregations within the same presbytery can also differ.

Notably, throughout the PCUSA task force report, no specific accusations of EPC wrongdoing are ever mentioned. The charge breaching “ecumenical etiquette” is levied but without reference to where such etiquette is catalogued.

Reflecting on the matter, Jeremiah shared: “The PCUSA investigating committee found nothing because there was nothing to find. We have felt it wise to make no specific response to the report because it is going to the PCUSA GA, which could substantially change the content. I anticipate the permanent committee will have a face-to-face meeting after the PCUSA takes action on the report in early July.”

According to the Fraternal Relations committee, no invitation was extended for representation by the EPC at the upcoming meeting of the PCUSA where the investigating committee’s report will be heard and acted upon.

Source: http://www.layman.org/News.aspx?article=27190 [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced in this article is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.]