The following is an telephone interview done with Dr. Cortez Cooper, Mission to North America Coordinator.

P&R News: "I'm calling with regard to New Song-Salt Lake in particular and what's happening in the West. What do you know about what's been going on at New Song-Salt Lake?"

Dr. Cooper: "What I'd like to do, Frank, is we here being MNA-obviously, the Presbyteries have the final decision, not MNA, but since this is a church plant, we certainly have responsibility. We've really been taking the high road about the overtures and so forth. By that, I've been talking to those from Northern California and from Central Georgia, for example. And that is not completed yet. If you will give me a few days, uh, we have other conversations by telephone conference coming up and I'd be delighted to tell you the result of that."

P&R News: "Can I ask you some general questions, then? . . . Would MNA approve of people who are not ordained or not licensed preaching or leading worship on a regular basis?"

Dr. Cooper: "No. Neither the Committee nor the staff would do that."

P&R News: "I take it the same thing in terms of administering the Lord's Supper by a non-ordained person."

Dr. Cooper: "That is correct."

P&R News: "What would you say if someone fenced the table by saying, 'If you believe that you're converted this very moment, then you're invited to partake of communion'?"

Dr. Cooper: "I would not use that way of fencing the table. I just do not think that is a proper way to fence the table. Now, I realize our Standards allow the individual ordained person who's fencing the table some latitude, but only within Scripture. And I myself am not prepared, Frank, to support that fence for the Lord's table. Now I haven't bounced that off my Committee. Really, these are the sorts of things that we are talking about. But let me bounce that ball back toward you and toward the presbyteries. . . . My hope is that the Assembly will issue a clear hermeneutic on the regulative principle for worship that guidelines would be given, but right now, I want to assure you that the MNA Committee and staff do make a strong effort in the training of church planters, in the seminars for church planters, to pursue the Standards of our church very carefully. Now, mind you, we are not a presbytery. We have no voice in whether a church or church plant is doing that. When it comes to New Song, for example, we would expect, even while recognizing this as a destitute part of the church presently, we have expected Northern California Presbytery to exercise the proper discipline over all its churches and missions. And that's the kind of thing I believe that may come out of the discussions in our Committee and staff about that with the Presbyteries involved. I'm hopeful that it will. We do believe, and you know we are very submissive to the presbyteries, and nothing's going to go on or cease going on without the presbyteries. But that's not to play dodge-ball. Because we at MNA are responsible for those seminars we conduct, for the training we conduct. And be assured, Frank, I'm going to take responsibility for those, and my staff will."

P&R News: "Do you think alternative rock music, just in terms of your own perspective, is acceptable for public worship?"

Dr. Cooper: "Frank, I would rather not comment now, because what I'm doing is I'm gathering facts about what sorts of things were used in New Song or elsewhere. I would really be happy to make a statement about that next week. . . . I think it's a very important question, and I'm sure not going to dodge that, but what we're doing now is talking to the Presbyteries, men from these Presbyteries, both Northern California and Central Georgia-it's been very edifying to talk to the brothers who have some of these concerns. And you may already know this, but I have asked Lewis Ruff to find out the specifics and the particulars. . . . I certainly want to have that. And I know that Lewis would be pleased to have that circulated in whatever ways it should be. But I'd rather wait, and defer my talking about that until I have looked at what Lewis is giving me."

P&R News: "$80,000 was loaned to [New Song-Salt Lake], along with $522,000 from Presbyterian Investors Fund."

Dr. Cooper: "Right."

P&R News: "Are you aware of the fact that there are no members in New Song?"

Dr. Cooper: "I am indeed aware of that, because New Song is not a particular congregation. I am aware of that, yeah."

P&R News: "Aren't there members in [and we were starting to ask, "in mission congregations"-Ed.] . . . ."

Dr. Cooper: "Well, I will say this, though-let's back up to say there are actually people committed to the ministry of that mission church, who have put their lives and livelihood on the line, it's my understanding, for this. This is in process, because Fred Marsh is gathering those facts for me now, so that we will actually know what it is. It is only my understanding at the present, and I'd like to defer these statements until we see what they are."

P&R News: "What is PCA West?"

Dr. Cooper: "PCA West is the name given to the MNA's [regional coordinator in the West]. . . . It's what Lewis Ruff calls the Office of the Regional Church Planting Coordinator."

P&R News: "Does it have a separate budget then?"

Dr. Cooper: "No, only insofar as that budget is cleared with my staff, through the Committee. It's separate from the standpoint that there are five presbyteries involved, and those presbyteries each approve that budget. It's given to us as information."

P&R News: "So, the budget itself for that office is approved by [those presbyteries]?. . . . And so your office would have the information on that then?"

Dr. Cooper: "Yes."

P&R News: "Who's responsible for Asilomar?"

Dr. Cooper: "Asilomar is the responsibility of Lewis Ruff, our church planting coordinator for the West."

P&R News: "Are you aware of some of the correspondence that's been filed with Central Georgia Presbytery, where Lewis Ruff has apparently been trying to keep people out of Northern California Presbytery or out of Utah who do not accept the legitimacy of other styles of worship?"

Dr. Cooper: "No, I have spoken with Lewis about that directly, and he denies it categorically, and has a response to that. I wish you could read his response. . . . I really would like you to talk with Lewis, because he has made an official response. By official, I mean he's willing to e-mail it. . . . He's given it to Central Georgia. And that is a recent development, I would love for you to have and to look at."

P&R News: "I'd be delighted to do that."

Dr. Cooper: "Please do."

P&R News: "Is MNA still supporting Utah church plants, such as Phil Stogner?"

Dr. Cooper: ". . . Phil's is now a particular congregation. . . . We supported the PCA church there until recently. He has been a part of our overall MNA church planting budget." . . . . .

P&R News: "One other question, and it's a tough question, and if you think it's an inappropriate question, that's fine. The MNA Intercessor for the West stated recently that the organizing pastor and his wife 'are stepping out of ministry for awhile after experiencing the strain of starting this church.' As you know, the minister was actually suspended-"

Dr. Cooper: "That's correct."

P&R News: "-for two years. Do you think that that statement by the MNA Intercessor is an accurate way of portraying the situation?"

Dr. Cooper: "I have concern-I would rather not comment, Frank, except to say that we have registered the official action of Presbytery, which we think was appropriate. And I'd like to just limit my comments to that. As you know, we simply print the prayer requests as they come in. I think there are a number of us, not just myself, who might have worded that different, but I understand what was the attempt there. It was the attempt at a time when that body was absolutely ruptured emotionally and was heart-broken over sin and how that had made an impact on the congregation. And that was apparently an effort to help and encourage a young church and to avoid further pain. If I had been wording it, I probably would not have put it that way. . . . But the thing that we're aware of, and this is the most important point, that the Presbytery did act and that a suspension was applied."

[That telephone interview was originally scheduled for May 20th; we had informed Dr. Cooper's office of which phone number we would be at. He called us at our other phone and left a message on the answering machine, saying how sorry he was that he missed us. We re-scheduled the telephone interview for May 26th, and did speak with him then. As indicated above, Dr. Cooper wished to decline comment on several of these matters until a telephone conference call meeting of the MNA Committee scheduled for June 1st. We informed him that that was our deadline date, but that, as long as we could speak with him on that Monday, we would hold open the space in the newspaper. He made a telephone date with us for 4:45 PM on June 1st. We called his office about an hour ahead of time, to make sure that the switchboard would still be receiving calls. The receptionist informed us that Dr. Cooper was not in the office that day; and that, unless she was instructed otherwise, any calls received after 4:30 PM would go automatically into voice mail. At 4:46 PM, we called the MNA number and listened to a recording, after which we left a message for Dr. Cooper, reminding him that we were calling per the prior arrangement.

We are sorry that Dr. Cooper was not available for our further interview. We have listed below some of the questions we would have liked to have asked him.-Ed.]

Questions Which We Would Like Dr. Cooper to Answer

Should an MNA staff member hang up on a PCA teaching elder who is seeking information regarding his work?

You have denied that Lewis Ruff was trying to keep out of Utah a man who does not accept the legitimacy of other styles of worship. If it were true that he was trying to do that, would you favor Mr. Ruff continuing as an employee of MNA?

Does MNA control PCA West? If so, why will your office not give the information regarding its budget?

You said that you did not want to dodge the question about alternative rock music in public worship. Let me now give you an opportunity to say, for the benefit of the entire denomination, what your position is on that.

Do you approve of the worship practices at New Song-Salt Lake? Are they in accord with the Confession of Faith? How are they different from the experimental worship of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1960s?

Is MNA going to support a new organizing pastor for New Song-Salt Lake? Is Jeffrey Szakonyi going to be brought in (via ordination at his Willow Creek-affiliated church)?

Why is Utah under Northern California, rather than Rocky Mountain or Southwest Presbytery?

Members of the General Assembly have a fiduciary responsibility to see that denominational finances are handled properly. Why is your office unwilling to give information about the loan given to New Song-Salt Lake?