West Springfield, MA (May 16-17, 1997)--Meeting at West Springfield Covenant Community Church, Northeast Presbytery handled the controversial topic of the racial unity seminar sponsored by Manhattan's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in January. Three communications were received from concerned parties throughout the PCA regarding this matter.
The Session of Jupiter (FL) Presbyterian Church, RE John Vouga (Clerk of Session, Rocky Springs Presbyterian Church, Harrisville, PA), and TE Keith Graham (Pastor, Locktown Presbyterian Church, Flemington, NJ) wrote, asking the Presbytery to investigate the matter fully with a view to possible disciplinary action.
TE Chris Baker, Chairman of the Committee on Administration, led the court in the adoption of the following communication to be sent to these three parties: "That the Presbytery respond to these communications as follows: Northeast Presbytery encourages you, in the spirit of Matthew 18, to communicate these concerns directly to the Session of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, in the hopes this may be resolved. If you are not satisfied with their response and wish to pursue this further, please notify Northeast Presbytery 30 days prior to its September 1997 stated meeting."
TE Craig Higgins, Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Rye, NY, a recently-organized daughter congregation of Redeemer Church, moved that the above communication also be sent to the Session of Affirmation Presbyterian Church, Somers, NY, whose publication (P&R News) had told the story of the seminar. He stated on the floor that he had not consulted with the Pastor of Affirmation Church prior to making the motion, since it had just occurred to him at that moment to make it.
Dr. Timothy Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Church, stated that the Editor of P&R News had indeed been in touch with the Redeemer staff prior to running the story. RE Dan Jarfster of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Groton, CT, said that he found the coverage of the event fair and even-handed. Higgins' motion failed.
The approval of the minutes for the organization of Trinity Church, Rye, toward the end of the meeting also proved controversial. The Church Visitation and Sessional Records Committee, which reviews commission reports, recommended that exception be taken because of the inclusion of ministers not members of the Presbytery. The major concern had to do with the official seating of a PC(USA) minister by the commission, and his subsequent inclusion in the proceedings. Mr. Higgins argued passionately for dropping the exception. His amendment failed, 11-11. During the debate, one commissioner cited a similar situation in which the Assembly took exception to the action of Southwest Presbytery for inviting to preach a man from the PC(USA),a denomination "that is under our discipline"(M14GA, p. 207).
Examined and approved for ordination were Mr. Jim Om (to serve at Redeemer Church in New York City), and RE Michael Lawrence (to serve at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Concord, MA). TE Mark Schoelten was transferred from an independent Reformed church in Grand Rapids to pastor the Presbyterian Church of Manchester, CT.
Southwest Presbytery referred back to Northeast the question of restoring John Evans to the ministry. Presbytery voted not to do so.
At the very end of Presbytery, under new business, a motion was made to rescind the prior overture to General Assembly which asked for a new New York Metro Presbytery. The rationale of the mover was that Presbytery had, in essence, invited the possibility of judicial process by responding to the three parties who had expressed concern about the racial unity seminar; and that, if the new presbytery were approved, Northeast would lose original jurisdiction over Redeemer Church in Manhattan. After a brief debate, the court voted down the measure, which garnered two votes: the motion's mover and seconder.