NC Church Accepts Dr. Gilchrist's Apology

The Session of Christ Presbyterian Church, Winterville, NC, has expressed its satisfaction with a letter of apology from Dr. Paul Gilchrist, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly. As reported in the Fall 1997 issue of Presbyterian and Reformed News, a dispute arose over the non-responsiveness of the Stated Clerk to correspondence sent by the church's pastor, Carl Brannan, and eventually by the Session itself.

Attempts by Pastor and Session over a period of several years to receive a response to their concerns from the Stated Clerk had produced no result. In March 1997, the Session overtured Eastern Carolina Presbytery to seek its wisdom and help. Several letters, which P&R News obtained from a source other than the Session or the Clerk of Presbytery, had been formally adopted by the Session and communicated to the Presbytery in support of the Session's position. In August 1997, Eastern Carolina authorized its Moderator, TE Jim O' Brien, in consultation with the Christ Church Session, to compose a letter to the denominational Administrative Committee (AC), setting out the concern and asking for response. Specifically, the Presbytery wanted to know if a church which had not supported the AC financially could expect answers to questions directed to the Stated Clerk's Office. (The Presbytery also encouraged the Session to pursue judicial charges against Dr. Gilchrist if the elders felt led in their conscience to do so.)

That letter from the Moderator of Presbytery, sent in October 1997 to all the members of the AC, was received too late for the AC at its fall meeting to respond to it. In late October, at least one member of the AC intervened in the dispute. According to informed sources, on October 31st, the Stated Clerk sent a letter of apology to the Session of Christ Church. This came two days after P&R News had contacted the Stated Clerk's Office to see if Dr. Gilchrist had any response to the action.

The next week, the Stated Clerk's Office stated to P&R News that the Clerk had no comment on the matter, and that it was something between AC and Eastern Carolina Presbytery. After a fax of the proposed article was sent to the Clerk's Office on November 6th, a response was sent, via snail mail, proclaiming in large letters, "No Comment"; and stating that the AC Chairman, Dr. Bill Fox, was looking into the matter.

The situation began in June 1994, when Carl Brannan had asked the PCA Stated Clerk whether there were PCA guidelines regarding a subpoena to testify in court on behalf of a counselee. In a June 27, 1994 reply, Dr. Gilchrist wrote, "I wish that we had the time to do the research for you and pull the materials that might be helpful to you, but unfortunately we simply do not have the time nor the resources." In that same letter, Dr. Gilchrist noted that Christ Church had not supported the Administrative Committee, and he asked for financial help "so that we can in turn help you." According to informed sources, one of the central points to the apology proferred on October 31st was that the denomination purportedly cannot answer civil legal questions. This position seems to contradict what transpired at the Presbytery Stated Clerks' meeting with Dr. Gilchrist six weeks later, in which two civil legal questions were referred to his office.

On February 12, 1998, an email was sent to the Stated Clerk's Office, asking for a copy of the apology letter and for a clarification regarding the apparent contradiction. As of press deadline, more thank two weeks later, no response had been received.

On February 11, 1998, the following question was sent by P&R News to the Stated Clerk's Office via email, with the statement that any response would need to be received within two weeks in order to make deadline: "At the Presbytery Stated Clerks' Meeting in Atlanta with Dr. Gilchrist on December 12-13, 1997, at least two civil legal questions were referred to the Stated Clerk's Office. Six weeks earlier, in the apology letter to Christ Church Session, it was stated that the denomination could not answer such questions. How do you explain what appears, prima facie, to be a contradiction?"