From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] No special Assembly - petition drive falls short

Date 27 Jan 2003 10:48:02 -0500

Note #7573 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

No special Assembly - petition drive falls short
January 27, 2003

No special Assembly - petition drive falls short

Abu-Akel says petitioners' issues will be dealt with by 215th Assembly

by Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE - There will be no special meeting of the 214th General Assembly.

In a carefully worded Jan. 24 letter to all 554 commissioners to last year's
Assembly, moderator the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel said that a petition submitted to
him Jan. 14 by Alex Metherell, a Presbyterian elder in Laguna Beach, CA, does
not contain enough signatures to force the calling of an unprecedented
special meeting of the 214th General Assembly.

At a Jan. 27 press conference at the Presbyterian Center, General Assembly
stated clerk the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick said it is his ruling that "no
further petitions are in order" because the 215th General Assembly will
convene before a special session of the 214th Assembly could be held.

Metherell has insisted a special Assembly session - which would be the first
in history - is needed to "enforce" the constitutional ban on the ordination
of sexually active gay and lesbian Presbyterians to church office.

The Book of Order requires that such a petition be signed by at least 25
minister and 25 elder commissioners from at least 15 presbyteries and five
synods. Metherell's petition included 26 ministers and 31 elders, but when
the Office of the General Assembly set about verifying the signatures, six
ministers and seven elders withdrew their support, leaving the petition short
in both categories.

A flurry of activity surrounded the verification process. Immediately after
he received the petition, Abu-Akel sent a letter to the signers asking them
to reconsider. He cited the expense of a special Assembly session ($500,000
or more), questioned whether the General Assembly has the authority to
circumvent the church courts and pointed out that the earliest a special
session could occur is May 15, less than 10 days before the 215th General
Assembly is scheduled to convene in Denver.

The session of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Canton, OH, lodged a
complaint with the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission on Jan. 21,
charging denominational officials with "conspiring" to block the special
Assembly petition. Also on that date, Metherell handed Abu-Akel a letter
while the moderator was attending a meeting of San Diego Presbytery,
threatening to sue Abu-Akel in civil court if he failed to call the special
Assembly. The next day four former moderators wrote an open letter to the
church, calling Metherell's threats "deplorable" and "defamation of

The pitched battle over the special Assembly, Abu-Akel wrote, has made it
"even more obviousthat there are people who are in great pain in our
denomination, and for that I have great concern and compassion." He said
"there are no winners in this situation."

He also called commissioners' attention to an overture to the 215th General
Assembly from Redstone Presbytery that he said "assures that the matters in
the petition will be before the commissioners to that Assembly."

The overture highlights the role of synods in the church's judicial and
disciplinary processes. Metherell's petition appears to bypass synods in
favor of the General Assembly taking direct action in more than two dozen
cases. The overture also asks the General Assembly to "urge synods to
establish guidelines or amend their standing rules to provide for the
appointment of (synod-level) committees" to address issues of non-compliance
in their presbyteries.

"The moderator and I share a commitment to honoring the constitution,"
Kirkpatrick said. 
"When as some have done, the constitution is openly defied, we dishonor Jesus
Christ. The next Assembly will have to address these issues - the decision
not to call the 214th General Assembly into special session in no way
reflects a lack of concern (over non-compliance with the constitution)."
The full text of Abu-Akel's letter, dated Jan. 24:

To the Commissioners to the 214th General Assembly (2002)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Earlier this month, shortly after the new year began, I had the opportunity
to travel to Sudan. I saw firsthand the tremendous growth of the Presbyterian
Church of Sudan and the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church and the
excitement people have there for the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
I still remember the Sunday when I preached five times, each time to churches
filled with children, youth, and adults who love Jesus Christ and who have a
real urgency to do Christ's mission in their country. The Presbyterian Church
has had a presence in Sudan for 100 years. I am grateful to each of you and
to countless Presbyterians in the United States who have been faithful in
your stewardship and commitment to our denomination in general and to mission
in particular. I ask you to continue to pray for the people of Sudan in the
midst of civil war, poverty, and hunger.

I returned from Sudan and went immediately into meetings of the Committee on
the Office of the General Assembly and the General Assembly Council. At a
joint session of these two bodies, I was presented a petition with
fifty-seven signatures of minister and elder commissioners to the 214th
General Assembly, asking me to call a special meeting of the 214th General
Assembly. Last fall, I learned of the effort asking you to sign such a
petition, and I wrote to you in November to share with you my concerns about
a special assembly. After I received the petition, I wrote to the individuals
who signed it, again sharing my concerns about a called assembly. I still
believe that a special assembly would create needless confusion in the
church; the purposes stated are vague and it is questionable if the General
Assembly could act on them; and the time, energy, and money (as much as
$500,000) that we would spend on a special assembly would be that much less
that would be spent on mission !
in the name of Jesus Christ.

You must know, however, that while I have shared with you from the beginning
my personal concerns for calling a special assembly, I am deeply committed to
following our Constitution. The Book of Order (G-13.0104) provides that the
Moderator shall call a special meeting if twenty-five elder and twenty-five
minister commissioners from a requisite number of presbyteries and synods
request it. I asked the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly to immediately
begin to verify the names of those who signed the petition and to make sure
that they concurred with the request to have a special meeting. The
verification process became very urgent for me when the Stated Clerk received
from the person who gave me the petition a communication the very next day
that said that a minister commissioner had asked that his name be removed
from the petition-a request that the presenter of the petition indicated
having known for some time but had not acted on. Two additional signers sent
notices immed!
iately that they, too, did not want to be on the list-one of them indicating
confusion as to how her name ended up on the list. So, you can understand the
need to be perfectly clear about whom-and how many-the signers were, given
the serious nature of the petition.

I am very grateful to the staff in the Office of the General Assembly who
have worked diligently and faithfully to verify the signers of the petition.
The final result of the verification process is the following: formal
notification was received that six minister commissioners wished to be
removed from the list. Formal notification was received that seven elder
commissioners wished to be removed from the list. This leaves twenty minister
commissioners and twenty-four elder commissioners on the list-less than the
minimum in each category required to call a special assembly, as indicated in
our Constitution.

Therefore, I am not calling a special meeting of the 214th General Assembly.
It was not an easy decision to make. There are no winners in this situation.
Not only have I been mindful of and sensitive to the commissioners who signed
the petition; I have been mindful of and sensitive to all 554 of you who are
commissioners to the 214th General Assembly. It has become even more obvious
through this that there are people who are in great pain in our denomination,
and for that I have great concern and compassion. As the apostle Paul writes,
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the
body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. If one member
suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice
together with it" (1 Cor. 12: 12, 26).

I believe it is important for you to know about a recent overture by the
Presbytery of Redstone to the upcoming 215th General Assembly that convenes
in Denver, Colorado, on May 24, 2003. This overture assures that the matters
in the petition will be before the commissioners to that assembly.

As I travel across the church, I see the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in
action, living out the mission of Jesus Christ. I believe deeply that our
denomination is alive and well. I also know that we have more to do if we are
to have unity in the midst of our diversity. Please continue to pray for the
church-for our pastors and elders and members; for healing from the pain felt
by those who signed and presented the petition; for our Stated Clerk and our
national and middle governing body staff who work on all of our behalf; and
for a continued commitment by all of us to compliance and forbearance of the
church's Constitution.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not lose sight of our calling to be
ambassadors for Christ. My prayers continue for each of you. I ask your
prayers for me as well.

The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel
Moderator of the 214th General Assembly (2002)

The 13 commissioners (and their presbyteries) who withdrew their names from
Metherell's petition: The Rev. Juan Bordoy, Noroeste; the Rev. William C.
Duckworth, Central Florida; the Rev. Nancy Gillard, Giddings-Lovejoy; the
Rev. Seung-Nam Kim, Hanmi; the Rev. Brian Jannsen, Prospect Hill; the Rev.
David B. Rodriguez, San Jose; Elder Terry Aiello, Sierra Blanca; Elder Angela
A. Davis, Western Reserve; Elder William Wythe Hull, Abingdon; Elder Herbert
Minich, Utah; Elder Dorothyn M. Tatum, Peaks; Elder Beatrice Thomas, Detroit;
Elder Nancy O. Young, Tropical Florida.

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