The Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery (GLG) met March 2-5, 2022 in Indiana, first in Indianapolis for the ordination of Jerry Foltz and then to Lafayette for the regular spring meeting.

The clerk, Adam Kuehner, began with sermon on Psalm 133 encouraging the court to strive for this ideal within the courts of the church. The 2021 moderator was scheduled to preach the opening sermon but was unable to come due to health concerns.

Adam Kuehner and Dale Koons were elected to the clerks’ bench and Nathan Eshelman was elected moderator, by a vote of 15-14. Mr. Eshelman spoke against his own nomination, clearly not compelling the court towards his favor.

There were several normal business matters dealt with throughout the weekend, including finances and budgets, reviewing and approving minutes, and other housekeeping items. All of these mundane things are a part of the checks and balances present within biblical presbyterianism. Besides the normal business, there were great joys and some difficulties in the 22 congregations (23 if you include Gainesville) holding the same system of doctrine and seeking to live together in peace and unity. The remainder of this report will highlight some of the highs and lows.

Theological Student Examinations

Several theological students took examinations.

  • Jon Sturm and Jake Schwartz did very well on their English Bible exams.
  • Jon Sturm also took his first systematic theology exam and presented a paper on the pastoral ministry of the ancient church’s John Chrysostom. (I had the privilege of being an examiner on the historical theology paper.) Both of these exams were sustained.
  • Mr. Schwartz took a personal godliness examination, which he passed.
  • Aaron Murray’s sat his second systematics examination;
  • We had a sermon and paper on a portion of the Book of Philippians by Joe Smith;
  • Allen Blackwood completed two examinations.

Student exam highlights included a very good sermon by Joe Smith; Jon Sturm being licensed to preach the gospel; and Mr. Smith being presented with a call to pastor the Westminster congregation in Colorado following his licensure to receive a call.

Jon Sturm being licensed to preach

The examination of students is among our highest callings as a presbytery.

Reconciliation/ Visitation Committees

Christ Church in suburban Indianapolis had a “reconciliation committee” helping them with some disagreements between two families and the session following the resignation of their pastor in 2020. The committee recommended a year-long committee to encourage the elders in their shepherding. This was not without controversy as another Indianapolis session brought a communication disagreeing with the work of this committee, accusing them of serving judicially rather than as a reconciliation committee. The presbytery allowed for the two heads of household to speak along with hearing from the session members. In the end, the reconciliation committee’s work was acknowledged and a two-man shepherding committee will continue to work with the elders. The elders communicated positive movement in their church. Mr. Nathan Shaver was also given approval to serve as interim pulpit supply. There seems to be bright days ahead for Christ Church! It has been a difficult couple of years for them.

A few families in Grand Rapids requested an inquiry committee following their unexpected departure from the congregation. This was reported on and the pastor answered several questions. A visitation committee will be sent to Grand Rapids to meet with the session and the parties involved. The session claims they do not know why these families left and yet the families will not meet with them to discuss the alleged problems.

Immanuel RPC Case

Much of Friday evening was dedicated to matters around our Immanuel congregation. The former pastor and ruling elders have resigned following the synod (the national court) taking jurisdiction over a judicial matter following a sexual abuse case related to minors in the church. The new ruling elders (at least one only being two weeks into his ordination) were present as well as a large percentage of the congregation awaiting the presbytery’s discussion of their congregation. The Bloomington session asked the presbytery to appeal to synod to “critically review” the work of the current Synod Judicial Commission (SJC) that is overseeing the trials of their former pastor and ruling elders. After much debate, the presbytery decided that such a request would be premature as complaints are against “actions” of a court and the SJC has yet to rule on what is before them.

The paper also called for the elders of the presbytery to “join together in repentance for the spirit with which [the GLG has] conducted the work of the church.” Since the court cannot know the hearts of all presbyters and the spirit of each pastor or elder, the court decided to ask the moderator to appoint a day of fasting “calling each elder to self-examination and repentance for personal sins that may have pre-empted our divisions.”

Immanuel RP Church Building

The current moderator of the Immanuel congregation also reported on the life and ministry of the church, purporting spiritual unity in the congregation as well as a season of growth despite pains. The tensions were obvious between the congregation and some in the presbytery, but the presbytery did express love to Immanuel Church and their new ruling elders committed to working with the presbytery towards healing the divisions. We all look forward to these divisions being healed.

Also related to Immanuel, a motion carried that asked the moderator to establish a three man committee to investigate and bring recommendations concerning alleged slander and libel in the media against Immanuel and its elders by RPCNA members.

Presbytery Realignment

Due to size, geographical distance, and even philosophy of ministry differences, three various papers were heard describing our need to work more regionally. Two papers (Atlanta and Adam Kuehner) sought to work more by regional commissions and another paper by Rev. James Faris (and endorsed by the session of Second Indianapolis), asked for the dividing of the presbytery into two, as early as June 2022. This division sought to “intentionally align to promote healing.” Most of Indiana (except for Lafayette, Marion, and Sycamore) would be in one presbytery, and according to Rev. Faris this proposal “facilitates peaceable co-laboring.” A committee to investigate realignment was established. They will host several Zoom discussions to discuss the best way ahead.

Related to realignment, the Durham congregation has requested endorsement to ask synod to transfer them to the Presbytery of the Alleghenies. This motion carried.

Other Matters of Business

A letter to synod was approved acknowledging the results of complaints that came to the presbytery last year, related to giving the credentials of the former minister of Christ’s Church, who had pending doctrinal-error charges. A portion of the letter reads, “The Presbytery acknowledges that the Synod sustained a complaint of injustice and wrong on the part of this Court, in giving [ML] his credentials without specifying any receiving ecclesiastical body to which he would be accountable, thereby removing him from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction while serious charges were pending against him in an already scheduled trial, and thus relinquishing the authority given to us by God to ensure any necessary shepherding, oversight, or discipline of [ML].”

The child protection policy was adopted, following many months of labor. Rev. Drew Poplin chaired this committee and did very fine work in preparing a policy for the protection of children at presbytery functions.

A portion of the youth leadership team of the presbytery was present and spoke on the floor about several recent youth events that have been instrumental in their lives. It was great seeing young people serving the church! We also sang Psalm 144B, which sings of our sons and daughters established in the church!

The Covfamikoi family camp will be July 4-9, at Johnson University in Knoxville, TN. Dr. Barry York will be the speaker. According to the camp director, the new child safety policy will be in effect and counselors will be trained accordingly.

There has not been a lot of church planting activity in the GLG recently. An update on our Gainesville church plant, under the leadership of Rev. Tom Reid, was heard. The church plant in Louisville, KY was closed and Tre Cranford, who was helping in the work, was removed as a student under care following church discipline. The two church planting committees (North and South) were merged into one for the time being. Prayers were made for more labor and laborers.

Closing Thoughts from the Moderator

Clearly many difficult matters are before us as a presbytery. Besides attempting to deal peaceably in the midst of hard things; we sang together often, prayed together for the work of the church, and feasted due to the hospitality of Lafayette Church.

Presbyterianism, thoroughly biblical, yet at times burdensome, sets out ways of reconciliation, peace, and order in the life of the church. May we, the GLG, walk carefully as we seek together to glorify and enjoy the Lord. We are presbyterian by conviction, hopefully in practice as well.

Warmly, Nathan Eshelman (Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church)

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