After the singing of Psalm 13B, Pastor Jared Olivetti of Immanuel (West Lafayette, Ind.) RPC delivered the devotional message on Psalm 18:46-50 on this second day of Synod. Continuing the week’s theme of God’s steadfast love, Pastor Olivetti pointed out that God’s love issues from His person, overflowing in creation and redemption.
The agenda for the day was the hearing of Rev. Bruce Hemphill’s appeal of the actions of Presbytery of the Alleghenies in a trial where he was suspended from the ministry. After Synod finalized the procedures of the appeal early in the day, the court heard opening arguments from both parties and a rebuttal from the appellant. There was a time for clarifying questions, and then Synod proceeded to a debate in executive session. Debate extended into the afternoon and early evening.
Then each of the 14 points of Mr. Hemphill’s appeal was read aloud and voted on individually. Just one of the points was sustained—dealing with one aspect of the contempt-of-court conviction.
Synod then passed motions to summarize its actions on the appeal. It confirmed Charge 1 from the presbytery on which Mr. Hemphill had previously been convicted:
“1) Mr. Hemphill is charged with believing and accepting a stance on women in the eldership, which is contrary to query four of his official vows of ordination and a violation of the moral law as understood in the RPCNA Book of Discipline (BOD, section 1, chapter 1, paragraph 6).”
Synod then reversed the decision of presbytery on Charge 2, which had read thus:
“2) Not having abandoned his belief and acceptance that women ought to be able to hold the office of elder, Mr. Hemphill is charged with having contempt for this court in refusing to respect the authority and discipline of the church (BOD, section 1, chapter 1, paragraph 6).”
Synod confirmed the presbytery’s sentence in the case, which was to suspend Mr. Hemphill from ministerial privileges.
A final motion appointed a Synod committee to meet with Mr. Hemphill to discuss his paper with him and report back next year.
At about 11:30 p.m., Bruce Hemphill, others involved in the case, and guests returned to the room, and the results were read to Mr. Hemphill. Synod then adjourned for the evening, only to take up a similar matter in the morning—the complaint from Rev. Ron Stegall of Midwest Presbytery’s actions against him regarding the same paper. While it is highly unusual for any one Synod to spend so much time on judicial matters, decisions on church discipline are a key part of its job description as the denomination’s “highest court.”
Drew Gordon, Editor RP Witness
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