The annual Spring meeting of the Great Lakes Gulf Presbytery (GLG) met from March 2nd-4th at Southside RPCNA in Indianapolis. The host congregation was very warm and hospitable, making the work of the court a bit more pleasant.
The meeting was called to order and the retiring moderator (Nathan Eshelman) preached from Psalm 80, laying out a history of difficulties within the GLG and demonstrating a way forward that the Psalm lays out. Later in the meeting a motion was made to publish the resn the minutes “noting the evident blessing of the Holy Spirit upon it.”
The clerk’s report, which organizes the way ahead for the meeting showed thirteen communications and twenty recommendations for this meeting took over four hours to approve. What was intended to take twenty minutes to adopt, was debated and discussed for hours so that the court would have a clear path of what the meeting would look like. Eventually new officers were elected: Jon Hughes would serve as moderator; Adam Keuhner would continue as clerk; and Nathan Eshelman would serve as assistant clerk (or assistant to the clerk).
At least three times the GLG went into executive session which disallows discussion of the debate, but does allow for noting of the motions passed. Two actions related to that include a statement that the clerk may restrict access and password protect communications that are intended only for delegates and that these restrictions are “binding counsel” until the presbytery determines otherwise.
Another controversial discussion was the request to transfer the credentials of Rev. James Faris to an independent congregation (it was noted that he would eventually transfer to another presbyterian body). Adding to the controversy of this assignment, a communication was sent to the GLG that demonstrated that Rev. Faris was calling on RPCNA members to join him in celebrating the Lord’s Supper with IRPC (and the censured former pastor), due to his belief that our courts have mishandled ministerial censure. Eventually the court determined that a letter of standing would be sent to the congregation where he is currently worshiping, and eventually his ministerial credentials would be erased from our rolls. Credentials are to be sent to other presbyteries rather than to independent congregations or ministers. Much sadness on the floor of presbytery was expressed over this departure as Rev. Faris has been an active part of GLG life for well over 30 years.
A complaint against Southfield Church was heard in executive session. The complaint was “not sustained” allowing Southfield session to proceed with trial against the complainant.
Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church voted last year to leave the RPCNA following the discipline of their former pastor and ruling elders. Currently there are synod commissions working towards the repentance and restoration of these men following a highly publicized case of scandal. At our last meeting, the GLG determined that IRPC’s vote was unlawful and a committee was formed to assist them in finding a way to be restored or depart the RPCNA lawfully. This committee reported on their progress and the GLG voted to counsel the Trustees of Synod to make no claim on IRPC’s property as they seek to depart. The committee to work with them will report at the summer meeting of presbytery.
Connected to IRPC, there were two complaints and one set of charges against them for administering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to their former pastor who is under censure from the synod (the highest court of the RPCNA), as mentioned above. One set of charges and complaint against this action was withdrawn by its author. Another complaint, by Shawn Anderson (Kokomo, IN), was heard by the court. A motion to go into executive session to hear this complaint was debated and lost by a few votes. It was argued that the court ought not abuse executive session privileges and this ought to be used only for highly sensitive matters where private actions, sexual sins, names of parties to protect, etc. are being discussed. The action of IRPC session to administer communion to a minister who is not restored was a public action, not a private one. After much debate (much of it brotherly and cordial) and some procedural fumbling, a decision was made: the court sustained the Anderson complaint 28-1. The court then publicly rebuked two members of the session for administering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to their former pastor because he remains under censure. Another motion passed which “instructed IRPC session to cease from administering the sacrament” to the former pastor until his censure has been lifted. This motion carried with only one dissenting vote.
Despite the above difficult matters, there were joyful times that showed the blessing of the Lord upon our work. Two sets of student exams were excellent. Mr. Jonathan Sturm (Southside, IN) submitted a Hebrew exegetical paper that was sustained. His Theology 2 examination was well done and showed a thorough understanding of reformed doctrine and systematics. He also preached a very moving sermon on prayer, encouraging Christians in this spiritual exercise. After he was sustained in all of these examinations he took his vows as a licentiate; being asked the vows by his own father, a ruling elder in the presbytery. Following a charge by Dr. David Whitla (RPTS), Mr. Sturm was presented a call to be anassociate pastor at Lafayette RP Church. Mr. Sturm has two weeks to determine whether he will accept this call.
Mr. Joe Johnson (Orlando, FL) also sat for examinations. He passed his English Bible exam “with distinction.” He presented a church history paper on Mormonism that was well-received. He was sustained in his Theology 1 and Personal Godliness exams. Mr. Johnson showed much skill in systematic theology and connecting it to the Word of God. Mr. Johnson also preached from Romans 1 and after some useful feedback from the court was sustained in that examination as well. Mr. Johnson hopes to take more examinations at the summer meeting of presbytery.
The presbytery heard congregational reports from ten of our congregations and a season of intercessory prayer for their ministries occurred. One congregation that reported is the historic Selma, AL church. This congregation, founded after the Civil War as a freed-men congregation and was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s (including the March on Selma being planned out of the manse). Recently their historic building was destroyed by a tornado and they are struggling to find a way ahead. They need funds, man power, and worshipers as they seek a way ahead.
We heard about some of the youth ministry and conference events, including the youth winter retreat and the summer COVFAMIKOI conference. Rev. George Gregory will speak this summer and registration will open next week. The current youth ministry director, Stephen Rhoda (Terre Haute, IN) was given a round of applause for his work with the youth. We also heard from two of our youth on the importance of youth ministry.
Other good things were done as well. Several talks over breaks and meals focused on healing and issues of trust and rebuilding. An expressed desire to get back to church planting efforts and raising up men for the ministry was discussed.
Men spoke carefully and intentionally on the floor and there was a sense of respect, mutual honor, and decorum in the court.
Psalms were sung, prayers were prayed, Scriptures were meditated on, Christ was glorified. I believe we may be coming into a season of peace as we seek the unity, purity, and progress of the Great Lakes Gulf Presbytery. May Jesus be honored in our midst.
Nathan Eshelman, Retiring Moderator of GLG Presbytery