Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My, my. Our Session did something rather intersting last night.

In 1901, Miss Mary was brought before the elders of her church to answer the charge of adultery.

I stumbled on information about her while reading the handwritten notations in the dusty, moldy Session Minutes book of her tiny country church. I served that church as pastor in the 1980's, and at that time if anyone committed adultery in the church, we'd all just pretend we didn't know anything about it.

But in 1901, the church believed in discipline. There is, in the Presbyterian Church, USA, a manual called, "The Rules of Discipline," which describes how to file charges and how to hold a church court. We use it in regional and national levels of our church, but I don't know if we ever use it in a local congregation.

The amazing thing about Miss Mary is that she seems to have been a very horny Christian. Every 6 to 9 months, she was having to face the elders for adultery. If the man was also a member of the church, he would also be charged with adultery. Try this today and Miss Mary would simply say, "Hey bozo, just transfer my membership to the Lutheran Church down the street."

But not Miss Mary.

She would confess her sins and submit to the authority of the Session -- sometimes she would be barred from the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Sometimes she would be barred from teaching Sunday School. Sometimes she would have to meet with the other women of the church for prayer each Sunday evening. The duration of the disciplinary would vary, but at the end she would meet again with the Session for a review and she would thank the elders for their guidance.

I think about my elders.

Alice was a Sunday School teacher as well as an elder. She was arrested for embezzelment of funds at her job.

Betty's son is now in the NBA. I'm sure you haven't heard of him unless you are a die-hard fan of that particular team. In high school, he played for a school even though he didn't live in that district. It was THE school to play for if you had hopes of a career in the NBA. The newspaper wrote articles on all the athelets playing for the school who were not living in the school's district. Betty's son wasn't the worst -- a couple of 20 year olds from the Dominican Republic were also on the team. But one night there was Betty on TV, standing on a front porch and insisting that she lived in that home, which was in the district. An hour later the news crew returned and knocked on the door. A man answered the door and admitted, "Betty don't live here. She was just some woman who gave me $500 if I let her stand on my porch for a while."

Betty was our Clerk of Session at the time.

Charlie was an elder in a church I served in the 1980s. He was arrested for sexually molesting residents at the nursing home he operated.

Don was a compulsive gambler.

Evelyn was very faithful in attending worship, even when as drunk as could be. She was a deacon.

The purpose of church discipline is reconciliation and restoration. It is not punitive.

Wouldn't we have been more helpful to Evelyn if we had admitted that she was ill? Instead we just acted like we knew nothing about it.

And what of Don? We might not have healed his addiction, but at least we would have been more helpful to him and his family.

And Betty? What did her actions, along with our inactions, teach our youth about honesty and integrity?

The governing body of a local Presbyterian Church is called a Session. It is composed of elders. This is not simply a Board of Trustees or a community club -- these elders are ordained, just as I am ordained. They are our spiritual leaders.

And yet, we have a elder who no longer attends worship. He angrily spreads rumors about our Associate Pastor and undermines her at every turn. He does not make motions during meetings of the Session, but then goes into the congregation to complain about what is wrong with our chruch. I have in my computer an email in which this elder said, "I want nothing more than to take a shotgun and blow the Associate Pastor away."

In our last Session meeting, we set up an Administrative Commission to be composed of three elders. In our denomination, a commission is more than a committee. A commission can be empowered to act on behalf of the governing body.

This Administrative Commission of the Session is empowered with the responsibilities...
  • to investigate and gather information,
  • to privately address individuals who may need to be exhorted in the proper conduct expected of an elder,
  • to work as its three main goals (1) the restoration of elders that they may be faithful in their vows to God, (2) the reconciliation of members of Christ's body who are in conflict and discord, and (3) the protection of the congregation's peace, unity and purity.
  • In order to accomplish its goals, this Commission is empowered to follow the guidance of the Book of Order's Rules of Discipline, including, if necessary, filing charges against any member of the congregation who is guilty of violating ordination vows.

I'll keep you posted.

11 Comments:

Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

I admire your patience, and your tenacity at wading through our rather convoluted process, and will most definately keep you all in my prayers... but (and you knew there was a "but" coming didn't you?)...]

You said, "I have in my computer an email in which this elder said, "I want nothing more than to take a shotgun and blow the Associate Pastor away."

And, (I'm assuming from the context) you haven't called the police yet? With an actual threat of violence in print against a staff member? What are you thinking? This sounds like it's no longer time for mucking about with (only) our rules of discipline... It's time for a restraining order to legally keep this person away from the property and your staff.

Yea, I know, I know... and agree with you about "The purpose of church discipline is reconciliation and restoration. It is not punitive."

But (And I'm speaking as someone who has dealt with threats like this before) this is a case that's WAY over the line.

You don't try to "reconcile" with cancer - you cut it out.

(Let me grant that I don't know a thing about this other than your post - there may be many nuances involved I'm not aware of, but as I read it from here, words matter, especially words from "leaders" who espouse violence like this. What's to reconcile in a situation like this?)

As I think more, you folks are heading WAY up to the top of my prayer board!

RPS

12:33 PM  
Blogger will smama said...

I will pray too. God's blessings to you and to the AP. I hope he/she continues to press on in their calling.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Classical Presbyterian said...

There's good reason that Martin Luther put church discipline on his list of markers of a true church.

But, oh how it hurts! But to NOT discipline is worse than the painful process of calling people to account.

Did you ever read the C.S. Lewis account of the liberal school master and the playground? It was the proctors leaving the kids alone that led to the bullies taking over the playground!

My seminary professor summed up the story: "Our job is to prevent the bullies from taking over the playground!"

5:21 PM  
Blogger Apostle John said...

Roger -- it was with that comment that a call was made to Presbytery first, and to Personnel Committee second. We considered contacting the police, but an email that immediately folowed had him softening the tone -- not quite an apology, however.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

Boy, you don't know how glad I am to hear that...

Kinda figured later that (given the lack of the "nuance" in blog posts) that there had to be something like that, just was sharing a bit of my own experience of where the "line" is...

That said, still a long road through the "whole process" -- which is why we will keep all you folks in our prayers.

Sometimes I wonder why we can't get beyond all the "stuff" to really be involved in kingdom living, no?

Keep on movin,

R

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Prayers for you, your Church, and the Session, AJ.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Good luck with the AC. Several years ago my church had to convene an AC to address a situation that basically involved stealing from the church by a church member entrusted with handling some building contracts. This expanded into complaints that this member conned money from other church members.

We were very disappointed when our presbytery officials bungled the appeal made from the AC's decision by failing to handle it in a timely manner. This type of disciplinary action is taken so seldom that they were befuddled by it.

Long story short--this member left the church and joined a Methodist church. Our senior pastor called that church and alterted them about the incidents because he was concerned that members of that church would be targets of this con man.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Lorna said...

ouch. and ouch.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Questing Parson said...

If it's any comfort to you, I just returned from an Administrative Council meeting (United Methodist for Session) in which one of the members actually made a motion that all the money raised in the church be spent on us.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous kairos said...

Let me echo the wishes for good outcomes with this, AJ. Looks awful. Prayers for your session, your elder, yourself, your congregation, and your AP....

2:36 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

Oh, how awful for the AP and for you!
My prayers for both of you as the AC undertakes the attempt to remedy the situation.

7:46 AM  

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