To Our Brothers and Sisters in the Presbytery of Boston:
As you may have heard, the Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church found it necessary on January 12, 2017, to respond to certain actions of the church’s Session by formally declaring that the congregation is in schism, with the Commission then assuming original jurisdiction of the Session. The Commission’s decisions to do so were made with deep regret for their necessity, but were arrived at prayerfully and in keeping with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as it faithfully expresses our Presbyterian membership in this Reformed part of the Body of Christ.
The Administrative Commission is sending out this letter in order to provide accurate information about its decisions to our presbytery community. In addition, documents relating to its work will soon be made available on the Presbytery of Boston website; this material will be updated periodically as the Commission continues to serve in accordance with its charge from the Presbytery.
In September 2015 the Session requested that a Response Team from the Presbytery be sent to assist in the Newton Presbyterian Church’s consideration of its future (Presbytery of Boston Standing Rules E.14-15); that effort was to include studying the option of requesting that the Presbytery dismiss the church to another Reformed denomination. The Response Team worked with the church as it soon focused on various possibilities for dismissal, as well as on an option to enter into an agreement for joint congregational witness (Form of Government, G-5.05) with a church belonging to the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). It is important to note that both the Stated Clerk and the Response Team had informed the Session that the ECC is not a Reformed denomination to which the Presbytery can dismiss a member church from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) under G-5.05c. In Fall 2016, with the congregation sharply split rather than united, the Session voted to seek dismissal of the Newton church to the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination.
At its November 14, 2016, stated meeting, the Presbytery of Boston voted unanimously to approve this Administrative Commission to work with the Newton Session to resolve issues dividing the congregation as it sought to complete discernment of how God is calling them forward together.
(1) The Administrative Commission has the power to enter a time of discernment with the session and congregation and recommend next steps to the Presbytery.
(2) The Administrative Commission has the power to determine if there is a remnant and recommend how the two groups, the remnant and the schismatic group might move forward.
(3) The Administrative Commission has the authority to assume original jurisdiction over Newton Presbyterian Church. (Book of Order G-3.0303e)
(4) The Administrative Commission has the power to declare schism as well as declare which of the two groups is the true Newton Presbyterian Church. (See Book of Order G-4.0207, See also, Advisory Opinion on Schism from 2013)
(5) The Administrative Commission may recommend that the Presbytery dissolve the congregation, but does not have the power to actually dissolve it. That power is reserved for the Presbytery (Book of Order G-3.0109b)
(6) It has the power to participate in session meetings, including when the session goes into executive session.
(7) It has the power to meet with representatives of the Evangelical Covenant Church on behalf of the Presbytery.
(8) It has the power to interview any person involved in Newton Presbyterian Church from the past and from the present time.
(9) It has the power to work with legal representation if necessary retained by the Presbytery Council.
From the Commission:
On January 10, 2017, the Administrative Commission wrote to the members of the Newton congregation in response to published notice that a special meeting of the Corporation of the Newton church had been called for January 15, 2017, to vote on (1) withdrawing from the PC(USA), (2) affiliating with the ECC and (3) amending the Corporation’s bylaws to remove existing denominational references. The Commission reminded that under our Constitution the relationship to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of a congregation can be severed only by constitutional action on the part of the presbytery (G-4.0207); that the Presbytery of Boston may not dismiss a church to the ECC; that a church’s corporation cannot and may not take the church into the ECC; and that a vote to edit the corporation’s bylaws would not remove a church from the PC(USA).
On January 13, 2017, the Administrative Commission wrote again concerning the Session’s intentional and irregular permission of the Newton corporation for the stated purpose of trying to disaffiliate the con- gregation from the PC(USA). “...Therefore, as you are permitting the meeting of the NPC Corporation in order that it might take steps which it and you have held out as disaffiliating from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Administrative Commission now finds it necessary to declare that the Newton Presbyterian Church is in schism (Form of Government, G-4.0207) and to assume original jurisdiction in accordance with G-3.0303e in the Form of Government. The Commission took these actions on January 12, 2017. ... We inform you of these actions of the Administrative Commission in hope that you will understand that they were taken out of our concern for the whole Newton Presbyterian Church, in fellowship with you in the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in response as Presbyterians to the ‘mission of God in Christ that gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church’ (from the Constitution of the Pres- byterian Church (U.S.A.), Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.01).’”
January 15 meeting:
The Newton Corporation met following the worship service on January 15, moderated by the Corporation’s elected moderator. Following opportunity for church members to speak, there was a 107:26 vote in favor of a motion “That the Newton Presbyterian
Church withdraw from the PC(USA) effective immediately, commence the process to be accepted into the Evangelical Covenant Church, authorize the trustees to take the necessary steps to do so and use our property for our ongoing ministry.”
Under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a congregation cannot dismiss itself to another denomination. The vote taken on January 15 does not change this, despite insistence by the Newton trustees that it does. The Newton Presbyterian Church continues to be a member church of the Presbytery of Boston. The Administrative Commission continues to be working to assist the church in its work of discernment of its future, and will at the appro- priate time be making recommendations to the Presbytery.
Individual members of the Newton church continue to have the freedom to change their own church membership; the Administrative Commission will provide letters of transfer to other Presbyterian church- es or to churches in other denominations, including in the ECC. Those church members previously or- dained as deacons and elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continue to be set apart for those min- istries when elected to active service by their congregation; the Newton elders who were serving on the Session on January 12 continue to meet as they wish, but they are not empowered to act as the Session at this time. The officers and staff of the Newton church continue to provide for services of worship there; the Administrative Commission with the Committee on Ministry will help provide for the administration of the Sacraments.
The Presbytery of Boston through this Administrative Commission is addressing the matter of the invalid vote of the NPC Corporation to withdraw the church from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to take ownership of church property. The Presbytery and its member churches are governed by and function under the provisions of the Form of Government in the PC(USA) Constitution, which states:
All property held by or for a congregation, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher council or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (4.0203)
What to do:
The prayers of us all are needed as the members of the Newton Presbyterian Church work through the discernment issues before them. It is painful to be a divided church family. This is our family, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church
Sharon Wright, chairperson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Lou Smith