The fall meeting of the Great Lakes Gulf Presbytery (GLG) met on October 7-8 in Columbus, IN. Representatives from 21 congregations that extend from the Great Lakes to Florida represented by pastors and elders gathered for business. The moderator opened the meeting with reading from Scripture and the court sang a psalm. Prayer was offered in the name of Christ, the king and head of the church.
Several housekeeping items were approved, including a request that the deliberations not be recorded without consent; several commission minutes were approved; and two communications were returned to their authors, including a complaint against the Ad Interim Commission. The Lafayette congregation was given permission call an additional teaching elder. Future minute books will be reviewed electronically and then approved at our spring meeting.
Several first time delegates and visitors were welcomed by the court, including two new pastors: Joshua Smith of the north suburbs of Chicago and Aaron D Murray of Marion, IN. Orlando’s new ruling elder, Mark Goerner and elder-elect Alejandro Ramirez were also introduced to the court.
Student under care Jake Schwartz of the Grand Rapids congregation preached a specimen sermon from I Corinthians and Joe Johnson of Orlando was taken under care as a student of theology. Joe gave his testimony, discussed his sense of calling, and was able to introduce his wife, Jayna Johnson. Mr. Schwartz’s sermon was sustained unanimously by roll call vote. There was discussion concerning increasing the financial aid of seminary students of the presbytery.
The treasurer reported on several matters of concern related to presbytery finances.
Last summer a presbytery realignment committee was formed to investigate the possibility of the presbytery dividing into two or more smaller presbyteries. They reported that this was unnecessary and proposed several ways to improve efficiency, morale, and work load. Presbytery realignment will not be recommended to synod.
An advisory committee reviewing the pastoral care of a legal matter in one of our congregations reported on the shepherding of the involved family. This matter was closed and the congregation was prayed for.
The Grand Rapids session reported on their decision to cease worship services due to their pastor taking a temporary stated supply post in another denomination and their ruling elder leaving for seminary in Pittsburgh. There was an investigation into poor shepherding, and the investigators reported that this was not the case; several families had departed and allegedly gossiped to individuals in other churches about the church’s leadership. Following debate about the procedures followed in “closing the church” the presbytery declared that the congregation was closed and a prayer of disorganization was prayed by Dr. David Whitla. Grand Rapids, in its 15 year history raised up several ministers in the RPCNA. One member of the session asked forgiveness from the court for reporting their closure on social media without presbytery involvement. The moderator expressed forgiveness on behalf of the court.
Several matters related to Christ Church in suburban Indianapolis were before us. Christ Church has seen several years of difficult providences, including the departure of their minister after teaching anti-biblical views of creation. Recently there were complaints and struggles related to the elders’ response (for which they eventually repented). In the past year there has been a shepherding committee and a commission to aid in restoration. Several official complaints from members of the congregation have been filed over the past year. Most recently the man who has been preaching for them resigned and left the RPCNA. We heard from the commission and received their minutes (which resulted in a complaint against them being returned to its author) and from the the session. Subsequently, we received the minutes of the resignation of the ruling elders, resulting in the disorganization of the congregation. Dr. Richard Holdeman prayed the prayer of disorganization. This of course, is a sad providence. Over Christ Church’s sixteen year period, 170 communicant members and 140 baptized members have been a part of the life of this congregation.
Immanuel Church in West Lafayette, IN has also seen difficult days. The first week of October this congregation voted 36-8 (with 5 others abstaining) to leave the RPCNA “effective upon the vote.” One of their ruling elders, Matt Wilburn, dissented from this action. The session, as a result, withdrew their delegate from the presbytery meeting. The ruling elder who was present asked to address the court, not as a delegate, but as a visitor. A motion was made to allow him to address the court. The elder walked us through the minutes of their congregational meeting noting that they remain committed to working with committees that are overseeing repentance and reconciliation of their former ruling elders and former pastor, all of who were deposed or suspended earlier in the year. Following the congregational report, the presbytery extensively debated the status of Immanuel Church. Can a congregation declare themselves not under the jurisdiction of the presbytery, or is there a process that must be followed? After lengthy debate and many speeches around this matter, the presbytery determined the action “to be out of order” and that IRPC “remains a congregation under the oversight of the GLG.” The vote was 28-6 in favor of this motion. A second part of the resolution identifies three options that the congregation can take, one of which is to remain under the jurisdiction of the RPCNA and the other two resulting in either being disorganized or transferred to another Bible believing denomination. This resolution passed unanimously. This has been communicated to the elders and a committee will be assigned to work with this congregation towards one of these ends. Continue to pray for Immanuel as they have suffered much. Pray for their leadership too.
A season of intercessory prayer was lifted for the for the four above mentioned congregations as well as for the mission work in South Asia. Pastor VG was present with us as part of his vacation in the United States.
Miss Nora S., one of the youth in our congregations was given special permission to address the court, noting the importance of youth ministry in our presbytery. She was given a round of applause after her presentation. Steve Rhoda presented the youth ministry leadership report, noting that we are in need of a couple to serve as presbytery youth directors and that several revisions to the child protection policy are in need. The Bloomington session presented proposed changes to the protection policy which were approved. As an editorial note: I had compassion for Miss Nora, as she waited in the audience through some heavy debate before she was called forward.
Joshua Smith read the resolution of thanks with serving members of Columbus in the room. The hosts were given a round of applause. After some other necessary procedural matters we prayed and closed with Psalm 133A stressing the unity of brethren in the Lord. Despite the difficulties of the weekend, I believe some unity was shown: unity of purpose as well as unity of decorum. Surely the presbytery has had several years of difficulty, but comments were heard that this meeting may be the starting point of that change.
We saw peace and we pursued peace.
May Christ be honored in our decisions and ministry ahead.
Nathan Eshelman, Pastor of Orlando RPC in Florida