At the Monmouth Presbytery meeting on June 25, the presbytery approved the recommendations of the Mount Holly Discernment Team regarding the dismissal of the congregation to ECO effective November 1, 2013. I was not able to attend the meeting, since I was tending to the after-celebrations of my daughter’s wedding on June 22 in Texas. I did, however, write a message to the presbytery which was shared by email before the meeting and read by the stated clerk at the beginning of the gathering. It was a day of great pain and sadness as we were also mourning the death of the presbytery moderator, Thelma Sessions, one week earlier.
Today I was contacted by a writer for The Layman asking me to comment on the dismissal of Mount Holly. And so, I prepared this email in response to the questions he posed:
I received a call from Tim Osborne this morning telling me to expect to be contacted by you. I appreciate you reaching out to the presbytery to report on this dismissal. Let me answer your questions:
1-How would you assess the process and working with Mount Holly and its leadership?
I can only say good things about the congregation at Mount Holly and their relationship to the presbytery during this process. We began conversation with Mount Holly even as we were finishing our work on the “Gracious Discernment Process” in Monmouth Presbytery. When the process was approved by the presbytery in January, we immediately appointed a discernment team made up of both members of the presbytery and the Mount Holly congregation. Their mandate was to insure the congregation engaged in a faithful period of discernment, that all voices were heard, that it was bathed in prayer, and that the process we outlined was followed. The team worked with great respect for each other and the will of the Spirit. While the members disagreed in the controversial issues, they were united in mission and faithfulness.
Tim Osborn’s leadership at Mount Holly has been deeply spiritual and genuinely gracious. He invited me to participate in worship and pray for and with them as they had their congregational advisory vote. I told them that years ago a wise ruling elder (with whom I disagreed on most all of these issues) said to me “in the end God will judge us not so much by what we decide, but by how we treat each other in the process.”
There were a number of principles guiding our discernment process: 1) the congregation should be generally of one mind; 2) we will respect and listen to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ during the process; and 3) we will do nothing to hinder the work of God’s Kingdom.
I shared with both the Mount Holly congregation and the Presbytery that I would cry when they leave, much like I would cry at my daughter’s wedding … we will still be family, but we will no longer share the same name.
2-What do you think led to the church seeking departure from the PCUSA? Would you consider those to be valid reasons? Why or why not?
My understanding is that the congregation was led to join ECO because they felt like theological outliers in the PCUSA and the Presbytery of Monmouth. They are certainly within the window of theological understanding and Biblical interpretation we consider “reformed” and “presbyterian.” Personally, I feel strongly that it is our diversity, even on these issues, that holds us accountable to each other and makes us stronger. But I understand that lying near the edge of that window can be uncomfortable and difficult. Living there with integrity, as Mount Holly has, can demand energy and attention to issues that detract from the core mission of the congregation. I believe that’s a valid reason for dismissal, as our priority as a presbytery is to strengthen our congregations for the mission of Jesus Christ.
3-Is there a feeling of sadness over the departure of a church from the presbytery? How so and what sort of an impact will it have?
Of course, there is great sadness in Monmouth Presbytery. On the day of the presbytery meeting, June 25, our elders were mourning the loss of our moderator, Thelma Sessions, who died on June 18, just one week before the meeting, as well as the pending loss of our brothers and sisters in Mount Holly. There is a heaviness in our hearts. The impact for us is primarily relational. Elders of the Mount Holly congregation have been active on committees, commissions, and council, and they have moderated the presbytery, and many of them will continue to serve up to their dismissal on November 1. They have not only served alongside us, but have been our friends in ministry. We look forward to continuing a relationship with them as partners in mission, but we will miss their dedication, integrity, wisdom, and energy among us. Any financial impact is negligible compared to the loss of their leadership in our midst.
Please feel free to call me (my mobile number is best) if you want to talk further.
This expresses my genuine sadness over the dismissal of Mt. Holly. What I didn’t say was how much I felt the Holy Spirit every time I’ve worshipped with the congregation. Tim is an excellent preacher, as well. The congregation is one of deep faithfulness, and I do hate to see them go. Yes, in some ways I am as much an outlier on the other side of the theological spectrum. It is sometimes challenging, uncomfortable and difficult. I can argue my “side” both Biblically and theologically … and, yet, I will miss the balance Tim and the members of Mt Holly bring to the presbytery … I hope our friendship continues and that we will continue to debate difficult issues … and, dare I say, I hope one day we will once again be united in our work and ministry.