Letters to the Congregation

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Letters to the Congregation

Your 2015-16 letters and reports:

March 24 Letter to the Congregation

March 24, 2016

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October 21 Pastors' Letter to the Congregation

October 21, 2015

Dear Members of First Church:

It is with great delight, and gratitude to God, that each of us have had the privilege of serving as your pastors over the years. We love you—and we love this church.

By now, you should be familiar with the recommendations of your Session in regard to the vote that is being called for on Sunday, November 1, at 12:15 p.m. in the sanctuary. As that vote approaches, you need to know where your pastors stand. We have prayed about, and discussed among us, what we believe would be the most faithful course to take at this time in the life of FPC.

Therefore, we want you all to know that the three of us stand in complete solidarity with your Session and their recommendations. We believe this is the best course to take in regards to keeping the congregation together, as well as insuring her future faithfulness and viability as a light for the Gospel in center-city San Antonio and across the globe.

Please pray for the peace and unity of our congregation in the coming weeks, and then exercise your right and privilege as an FPC member by voting on November 1. And know that we are always available to talk with you about these matters, or any others, as your pastors and your friends.

In Christ,

Louis Zbinden, Pastor Emeritus

Scott Simpson, Associate Pastor

Ron Scates, Interim Sr. Pastor

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October 13 Letter to the Congregation

October 13, 2015

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October 7 Letter to the Congregation

October 7, 2015

 

Dear FPC Members:

It is fair to say that the “ship” of First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio has been in choppy waters lately. None of us would have chosen to enter this stormy period of uncertainty as regards the suit about our property’s ownership and our relationship with our denomination. However, we know Him who calms the storms and who holds the future in His hand, as each of us is trying to serve Him faithfully.

At the suggestion of your Church Relations Committee, and with the full concurrence of your Session we are asking that all members enter a season of prayer to specifically pray for the future of First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio. Let us all pray for God’s will as regards our future, and for His guidance as we each endeavor to worship and serve Him in “spirit and in truth.” Let us pray that He will continue to be honored at Fourth and Alamo, and that future generations at FPC will continue to “Make Jesus Visible” to San Antonio, Texas, and the whole world.

In addition to the season of prayer, there will be an opportunity to gather for a time of corporate prayer in the sanctuary on Tuesday, October 20, at 5:30 – 6:30 PM. When God’s people pray, God’s hand moves.

Earnestly in Christ,
A. Stuart, III, MD
Clerk of the Session

Rev. Ronald Scates
Interim Senior Pastor

 

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September 15 Letter - Response to the Session of University Presbyterian Church

To read the Session Letter from University Presbyterian Church this letter was in response to, click here.


September 15, 2015
Response to the Session of University Presbyterian Church

Ms. Betsy Pasley, Clerk
University Presbyterian Church
300 Bushnell Ave.
San Antonio, Texas 78212

Re:   First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio v. Mission Presbytery, Cause No. 2015-CI-07858

Dear Ms. Pasley:

We received your letter dated September 4, 2015 from the Session of University Presbyterian Church (UPC). We regret UPC’s perception that the Session of First Presbyterian Church (FPC) “might see us, as a session committed to the PCUSA, as somehow less than faithful in our service of Christ in the world.” This Session does not hold such a view and does not encourage its members in such beliefs. Rather, for a second time, it is UPC’s Session that has sent a letter to FPC regarding its perceptions of FPC’s actions and doctrinal positions.

What UPC’s Session has called the “elephant in the room” (PCUSA’s position on LGBT issues) is not at issue in the legal dispute between FPC and Mission Presbytery, nor was it FPC’s motivation in filing suit for declaratory judgment. As UPC acknowledges in its letter, the PCUSA currently allows the session of a particular church to determine the policy on marriage for that particular church. Likewise, ministers currently are allowed freedom of conscience on whether to perform same sex marriages. Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the courts do not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical issues such as marriage policy and FPC has made no mention of it in its petition.

Moreover, we disagree that FPC was motivated to fight over “earthly spoils,” as you implied in your letter. FPC has always held title to its property and has always had control of its finances, independent of any review by Mission Presbytery or the PCUSA. It has never taken any action to transfer this property for the use, benefit or control of the PCUSA. It exercised the exemption to the Trust Clause in the Book of Order in 1984 and incorporated this exemption in its by-laws in 1990. Mission Presbytery acknowledged this exemption in 1991, as it did for many other churches in this presbytery.

Regrettably, the PCUSA has made property a central issue by tying dismissal of a church to the value of a church’s property and by requiring participation in an onerous process that does not recognize the legal rights of the local church. We are not aware of any other Presbyterian denomination that asserts a claim of beneficial ownership in the property of constituent churches. Mission Presbytery has asked the court to declare that it is entitled to the control, use and benefit of FPC’s property. To our knowledge, neither Mission Presbytery nor the PCUSA has ever contributed funds to the purchase of FPC’s property or toward its finances. To the contrary, since 1999, FPC has contributed approximately $1.67 million to the PCUSA. There have been instances in which a presbytery (here and elsewhere) has divided a church, reduced the size of the church so that it is no longer viable, or even closed a church rather than allow it to continue intact as a “people of faith” in another denomination.

Our concern is for the membership and the health, mission and future of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. We did not file the lawsuit without considerable thought, analysis of Scriptures and prayer. FPC representatives met with representatives of Mission Presbytery on two occasions to explore options. FPC has continued to express its willingness to meet with Mission Presbytery to discuss other options. Mission Presbytery’s only response, however, has been to send a letter announcing it had formed an investigating committee to look into allegations The Rev. Ron Scates has violated his ordination vows.

We respect the Session and members of University Presbyterian Church. We also respect the right of its Session to determine the policies and finances for University Presbyterian Church. We, in turn, ask for your respect, patience, tolerance and forbearance as we, like hundreds of other churches in the denomination, work through these complex legal, Scriptural and theological issues.

On behalf of your Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A. Stuart III, M. D.
Clerk of Session
First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio

 

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September 14 Report - Update on Property Litigation Suit

September 14, 2015
Report to Session: Update on Property Litigation Suit

As you know, the trustees of First Presbyterian Church authorized the filing of a declaratory judgment action asking a court of law to determine who has the ultimate right to determine the use and control of the church’s property. It seems to be undisputed that title to the church’s property is in the name of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. The Book of Order, however, contains a clause that says all property held by any church, no matter how title is taken, is for the benefit for the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), the denomination with which FPC became associated when the northern and southern Presbyterian denominations merged in 1983. This is referred to as the “trust clause.” The Book of Order also contained a provision allowing churches to be exempt from that provision if exercised within eight years of the merger. At a congregational meeting on June 10, 1984, FPC timely exercised that exemption. The exemption was carried forward in the church’s by-laws adopted by the Session in December of 1990. Based on these actions, FPC rejected the PC(USA)’s trust clause claim.  Thus, many members of FPC believed the church owned its property in fee simple title without any sort of beneficial right of the PC(USA) in FPC’s property.

The issue FPC raised in the court action is to determine whether the PC(USA) claim of some beneficial interest in FPC’s property is valid under Texas law. A 2013 decision by the Texas Supreme Court clarified that courts can decide church property issues based on “neutral principles,” i.e. the same principles that apply to ownership of property by any other corporation or person. The court can review the deeds and articles of incorporation of the church and the constitution of the denomination (Book of Order) and, after applying Texas trust law, determine ownership, benefit and control of the church’s property. A number of churches in Texas and across the country have filed suits to determine their property rights. FPC filed this suit asking the court to declare that it holds its property for its own sole use, benefit and control. In order to give the court an opportunity to rule on this issue, First Presbyterian Church has asked the Court to issue an order (injunction) preventing Mission Presbytery, the district representative of the denomination, from:

  1. Interfering with FPC’s ownership, use, control or disposition of its property (including real estate, personal property or financial assets);
  2. Interfering with FPC’s corporate officers in the exercise of corporate powers designated to them under Texas law;
  3. Appointing an administrative commission or committee to assume jurisdiction over FPC’s governance or control of its property; or
  4. Taking disciplinary action against the ministers or members of the church that pertains to the ownership, control, use or disposition of FPC’s property.

Mission Presbytery and six members of FPC (Ed and Paula Bondurant; Bob and Anna Wise; Miriam Ellison and Don Drummond or “Intervenors”) filed a counter-claim against FPC. They have asked the Court to create a “constructive charitable purpose trust” declaring that FPC’s property is restricted for use as only a Presbyterian Church (USA) church and to issue an order (injunction) preventing FPC from using any donation subject to the “constructive charitable purpose trust” for any denomination other than the PC(USA).

The hearing on these requests was held on August 26-27 before The Honorable Judge John Gabriel. The trial team for FPC was David West, Dykema Cox Smith; Kent Krause, Craddock, Davis & Krause LLP and Elder at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas; Lloyd Lunceford, Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips, L.L.P., Baton Rouge and Elder at First Presbyterian Church, Baton Rouge, La. and author of A Guide to Church Property Law.  Counsel for Mission Presbytery and the Intervenors were Jose de la Fuente, Lloyd Gosselink Rochelle & Townsend, P.C., Austin; and Keith Kendall, David Troilo Ream and Garza, San Antonio.

Witnesses for the church were Barbara Anne Stephens (Elder, Trustee and member of Every Member Canvas and Missions Committee); Jeanne Douglas (Elder on rotation, Trustee and member of Stewardship and Finance); Kelley Terry (Elder and member of Church Relations Committee); and Prof. Stanley Johansen (professor of Trusts and Estates, University of Texas Law School). In addition, FPC submitted deposition testimony from the Rev. Ray Tear, First Presbyterian Church, Ingram; Rev. Hector Reynoso, former pastor with El Principe de Pas, in Mercedes, Texas; and Rev. Tom Johnson, San Benito Presbyterian Church, San Benito, Texas. Witnesses for Mission Presbytery and six church members were the Rev. Bill Poe, Interim Stated Clerk; Mr. Ruben Armendariz, Interim Presbytery Executive; and church members and Intervenors Bob Wise; Paula Bondurant and Miriam Ellison.

For purposes of this hearing Mission Presbytery and the Intervenors did not argue that the trust clause in the Book of Order was valid. They agreed, for purposes of the hearing, that FPC had a probable right of success on that claim. They argued instead that the judge should impose a “constructive trust” (a remedy the court can impose for wrongful actions) on the property of the church and declare that it can only be used for the benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Excerpts of deposition testimony and trial briefs were submitted to Judge Gabriel last week. The Judge took the matter “under advisement” to review the evidence and law, and indicated he expects to issue a decision in approximately two weeks.

David West, Co-Counsel, First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio

 

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August 31 Report to the Congregation

August 31, 2015

A Report to the Congregation on the Status of the Declaratory Judgment Action with Mission Presbytery

The Litigation Committee, consisting of Dr. Clayton Hudnall, Boxy Hornberger, Dr. Dirk DeKoch and Dr. Tripp Stuart has authorized the following report to the congregation on the status of the recent hearing on the temporary injunction.

As you know, the trustees of First Presbyterian Church authorized the filing of a declaratory judgment action asking a court of law to determine who has the ultimate right to determine the use and control of the church’s property and in particular to determine whether the PC(USA) claim of some beneficial interest in FPC’s property is valid under Texas law.

As you may also know, in order to give the court an opportunity to rule on this issue, FPC has asked a state district court judge to extend legal protection of FPC’s property pending the outcome of a lawsuit between FPC and Mission Presbytery by preventing Mission Presbytery, the district representative of the PC(USA), from interfering with FPC’s ownership, use, control or disposition of its property, including real estate, personal property or financial assets, and appointing an administrative commission or committee to assume jurisdiction over FPC’s governance or control of its property.

FPC initially obtained a temporary restraining order in May to safeguard the congregation’s ownership and use rights to church property during litigation.

More recently, Mission Presbytery and six members of FPC (Ed and Paula Bondurant; Bob and Anna Wise; Miriam Ellison and Don Drummond or “Intervenors”) filed a counter-claim against FPC asking the Court to create a “constructive charitable purpose trust” declaring that FPC’s property  is somehow forever restricted for use as only a Presbyterian Church (USA) church.

While Mission Presbytery and the Intervenors agreed, for purposes of the hearing, that FPC had a probable right of success on its declaratory judgment claim, they argued instead that the judge should impose a “constructive charitable trust” on the property of FPC and declare that FPC’s property is restricted to only PC(USA) authorized use.  FPC vigorously denied such a “trust” claim existed or applied to FPC.

The hearing on these requests was held on August 26-27 before The Honorable Judge John Gabriel.  The Judge took the matter “under advisement” to review the evidence and law and indicated he expects to issue a decision in approximately two weeks.

This report was prepared by Kent Krause, Lloyd Lunceford and David West, Counsel First Presbyterian Church.

 

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June 24 Letter to the Congregation

June 24, 2015

Dear members and friends of FPC-San Antonio,

As your Elders, we want to continue to keep you informed about what is going on in our church and in the denomination.

As you know, Mission Presbytery appointed a committee to investigate an allegation that our Interim Senior Pastor, Ron Scates has violated his ordination vows. Details regarding this investigation were sent to church members by letter dated June 18, 2015 and may be found below.

The Session held a called Session meeting on Monday, June 22, 2015, to discuss a response. At that meeting the Session unanimously approved three motions:

  1. To stand behind our interim pastor with a vote of confidence and the full support of the Session.
  2. To ask the FPC Foundation to provide monies to provide for the legal representation of Reverend Ron Scates in church courts of the PC(USA) should that become necessary.
  3. To ratify the current contract of Reverend Ron Scates including his recent increase in salary. This provides for at least a full year from his start date and two additional renewable periods of six months each

We believe many good things are happening at First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. Attendance and giving have improved. The church has expanded mission opportunities by sending funds to flood victims in central Texas and those displaced by political turmoil in Iraq. Our goal is to stay the course and to continue the work of the church. At the regularly scheduled Session meeting on June 8, we approved hiring a pastor for congregational care to help Ron and Scott. This position will be filled on a contract basis in a manner similar to that in which George Sturch served the congregation.

At the same time, we realize many of you want a decision on the future of FPC’s affiliation with the PCUSA. To provide information to the congregation about the process and alternatives, the Session has scheduled a series of meetings, beginning this Sunday to help provide information about the broader Presbyterian community. We have invited representatives of Mission Presbytery and Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians to communicate viewpoints. We are extending invitations to other speakers for July/August meetings. While speakers are being finalized, we can tell you that meetings have been scheduled on the following dates:


(PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING TIMES AND PLACES HAVE SINCE CHANGED. UPDATED SCHEDULE FOUND HERE)

 

Sunday, June 28 | 12:15 PM | The Sanctuary          
Update on the status of the declaratory judgment regarding property and Mission Presbytery’s investigation of Ron Scates.

Sunday, July 12 | 8:30 AM | Geneva Room (Room 208)
If guests, TBA

Sunday, July 26 | 9:30 AM | Covenant Hall (Room 315)
If guests, TBA

Sunday, August 9 | 11:00 AM | Covenant Hall (Room 315)
If guests, TBA

Sunday, August 23 | 12:15 PM | Westminster Hall (Room 234)
Speaker: Rev. Dana Allin, Synod Executive, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians

If you prefer to discuss issues one on one, please reach out to any member of the Session, CRC committee, Trustee or pastoral staff.

We earnestly seek your prayers for guidance in the weeks ahead. We also solicit your love and support for our dedicated staff.

Steadfast in Jesus Christ,
Session Members, First Presbyterian Church San Antonio

 

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June 18 Letter to the Congregation

June 18, 2015
Letter to the Congregation

Dear Members of FPC,

This past Monday, June 15, 2015, our Interim Senior Pastor, Ron Scates, received a letter from Mission Presbytery informing him that a member of presbytery has accused him of violating his ordination vows. The allegations are (1) Ron violated his promise to be governed by church polity and (2) he broke his promise to “further the peace, unity, and purity of the church.” Mission Presbytery has appointed a committee to investigate these allegations and recommend action. If the investigating committee finds probable cause to support the accusations, it could bring disciplinary charges against Ron. Mission Presbytery would then conduct a trial under the PCUSA’s disciplinary rules. In its letter, Mission Presbytery advised Ron that he has the right to remain silent during this process and that he has the right to counsel, but must bear the cost of his legal representation.

As you may know, as part of the suit to determine the rights of the church in its property, Judge John Gabriel signed an order restraining Mission Presbytery “and any persons or entities in active concert or participation with it” from taking any action that could affect the property rights of First Presbyterian Church, including “initiating any disciplinary action against the ministers of the church…” or otherwise “interfering with the normal duties and responsibilities of the officers, ministers, and employees of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio.” We believe Mission Presbytery’s letter is facially in violation of this order.

The Trustees of the church previously appointed a team to oversee the declaratory judgment action. The team includes Clayton Hudnall, as Chairman of the FPC Trustees; Boxy Hornberger, as the representative of the FPC Foundation; Tripp Stuart, as Clerk of the Session; and Dirk DeKoch, as Chairman of the Church Relations Committee. In response to Mission Presbytery’s actions, the litigation committee authorized the retention of Kent Krause, of the firm of Craddock, Davis & Krause, in Dallas, to act as co-counsel for First Presbyterian Church in the action against Mission Presbytery. Kent represented the Rev. Joe Rightmyer, former interim pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, when Grace Presbytery brought similar accusations against him. Kent will defend Ron against these allegations. In addition, the litigation committee has asked Lloyd J. Lunceford, of the firm of Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips, L.L.P., Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to work with us in the declaratory judgment action and in defending Ron. Lloyd is the author of the book A Guide to Church Property Law and is one of the foremost authorities in the country on church property law issues and the polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The Trustees of the church have set up a Property Protection Fund to help defray the legal expenses. We recommend that these funds also be used to defend Ron against any accusations asserted by this unnamed member of Mission Presbytery. If members would like to contribute to this fund, you can make a tax-deductible contribution payable to First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio, with the notation “Property Protection Fund” on the check. Checks should be sent to the church to the attention of Janet Slayden. Any contributions should be in addition to the tithes and offerings for the operation of the church.

As the Interim Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Ron is employed by the Session of the Church. A meeting of the Session will be called to consider an appropriate response to Mission Presbytery’s actions. Buddy Johnson, Chairman of the Personnel Committee, has been notified about Mission Presbytery’s actions. Buddy and the Personnel Committee will consider the necessary steps to ensure the continuity of Ron’s employment with the church. As counsel for First Presbyterian Church and Ron, Kent, Lloyd and I will take appropriate legal action so that the church can keep Ron as its Interim Senior Pastor and protect the interests of this church in its property.

The presbytery’s retaliatory action is unnecessary and misdirected but not unanticipated. We remain confident in the church’s position with respect to its property and that the action against Ron will be terminated in due course.

Sincerely,

Dr. Clayton Hudnall
Chairman, FPC Trustees

Dr. Dirk DeKoch
Chairman, Church Relations Committee

David West
Counsel

 

May 14 Letter to the Congregation

May 14, 2015
Letter to the Congregation

Dear Members and Friends of FPC:

On Monday, May 11, after many months of deliberation, after careful consideration of your input to the survey conducted last Fall, and following a series of meetings with Mission Presbytery—the CRC (Church Relations Committee) presented the elders of the Session with a report which included alternatives for next steps related to the future of our worshiping community at FPC-San Antonio and our church property.

Following, the Session voted unanimously to ask the Trustees of FPC to take decisive steps to determine ownership of our property at 404 N. Alamo by requesting that the civil court system make a ruling in this regard. This decision was a result of MUCH prayer, careful deliberation over months/years, and many hours invested exploring every possible alternative to determining the future of our church.

After the unanimous vote by the Session, the Trustees of FPC-San Antonio voted unanimously to support the recommendation of the Session to ask the courts for a declaration of the church’s property interests. The Trustees also voted to engage Dykema Cox Smith to represent the church in this action.

On Tuesday, May 12, a suit was filed to declare the church’s rights in its property at Fourth and Alamo and in all of its personal property.   Judge John Gabriel signed an order that maintains the status quo so the court can hear the property issue, and so we can discuss freely all the issues affecting our church.

It is important to know that the court action taken by the Trustees on Tuesday is not a decision to leave the PC-USA, it is to determine who rightfully owns our church property. The civil legal system has no jurisdiction over theological and denominational matters.

We also feel it is important for our congregation to know that discussions with representatives at Mission Presbytery are ongoing. Your Session and Trustees do not take lightly the action taken these past few days.

A first of several informational meetings to allow you to ask questions and learn more will begin this Sunday during the 9:30 Sunday School Hour.

 

Date: May 17, 2015

Time: 9:30 a.m.

Place: Covenant Hall, 3rd floor (Room 315)

 

There will be multiple opportunities over the next few weeks to meet. We encourage you to take advantage of one of these meetings so that you feel fully informed. Keep an eye on our website to find out when these meetings will take place.

We covet your prayers for wisdom and guidance as we seek to follow God’s will for our church and be true to His word.

Earnestly in Christ,
sig
Norton A. Stuart, III, MD
Clerk of the Session,
First Presbyterian Church San Antonio

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March 27 Report to the Congregation

March 27, 2015
Report to the Congregation on Session Actions

Dear members and friends of FPC,

As many of you know, there have been several changes affecting the Presbyterian Church (USA) in recent months.  The Church Relations Committee (CRC) continues to monitor these events, decisions and actions of Mission Presbytery, Synod of the Sun, as well as the PC(USA), which impact First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio.  The CRC is also tasked with making recommendations to the Session, and the Session has duly considered and acted on these recommendations.  Recent actions include:

On November 10, 2014, the Session approved a report from a task force consisting of David Peeples, Polly Spencer, Walter Walthall III, Lynnda Barnes and David West on the election of officers at our church.  The goal was to ensure the Session and Diaconate would be representative of the church.  A copy of that policy is available on the church website here.

On January 12, 2015, the Church Relations Committee presented the results of the congregational survey to the Session.  The survey results reflected that 59% of our members favored leaving the denomination; 22% favored staying in the denomination; and 19% were undecided.  A copy of the survey results is available on the church website  here.

In anticipation of the passage of the change to the Book of Order, the Session of First Presbyterian Church adopted a Wedding Policy at its February 9, 2015 meeting, which reaffirms and restates the views of this church that marriage is between one man and one woman.  A copy of that policy is available on the website here.  In taking this position, we recognize that many may disagree with this position and encourage all members to act toward one another with love and mutual respect.  We recognize that this policy is contrary to cultural and legal trends, but we believe the policies of the church must be guided by the teachings of Scripture.  At that meeting, the Session, on the recommendation of the Church Relations Committee, stated that its goal was the preservation of the health of this church and the unity of its members as a single, worshipping body.

Also on February 9, 2015, the Session asked that a task force on election of officers be formed to prepare a policy on the election of officers.  This policy will incorporate the policy for election of officers (attached to our former bylaws) with the task force recommendations adopted by the Session last fall.

On February 27, 2015, members of the Church Relations Committee met with representatives from Mission Presbytery to discuss the results of the congregational survey, hear their advice, counsel and wisdom on how we as a session and congregation might respond moving forward, and hear options from Mission Presbytery on how we can hold this congregation together in light of the fact that our recent Congregational Survey indicated approximately 60% of our membership desires that FPC leave the PC(USA).  This meeting helped establish a cordial rapport with our friends at Mission Presbytery and we will continue discussions with them in the near future.  The CRC believes this is an avenue through which we can make future progress.

  • The CRC is working on the Home Gatherings format and we are close to getting those started. One of the primary objectives will be to engage the members in conversations about the various Presbyterian denomination options, as was frequently requested in the comments section of the survey.

 

  • The CRC has appointed a Property Issue Task Force to study the issues and case law on ownership of church property.  Members of the task force are the three highly capable and qualified attorneys on the CRC, namely David Peeples, George Spencer and David West.

 

  • On March 16, 2015, in response to the March 7, 2015 adoption by Mission Presbytery of Amendment 14-F to the Book of Order, approving a change in the definition of marriage, from “one man and one woman” to “two people,” the Session adopted a statement to be sent to the congregation and to Mission Presbytery. Since then, on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, this amendment was approved by the requisite number of presbyteries to become part of the Book of Order. It will go into effect on June 21, 2015. This historic vote is contrary to the historic beliefs of this particular congregation held since our founding in 1846; contrary to the beliefs of Presbyterians for hundreds of years, as expressed in the Book of Confessions of the PC(USA); and contrary to our Presbyterian Directory for Worship (as a part of our Presbyterian Book of Order). Thus, passage of this amendment puts the entire denomination in direct conflict with its own Constitution and with our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries. That statement reads as follows:

“The Session of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio expresses its strong disappointment with Mission Presbytery’s March 7, 2015 vote to approve Amendment 14-F to the Book of Order, which changes the wording of the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “two people.” This vote is contrary to the historic beliefs of this church – which have been held since our founding in 1846, and reaffirmed by the Session last month – that the Bible is clear that a marriage is between one man and one woman. It is contrary to the Presbyterian Directory of Worship, and contrary to the Constitution of the PC(USA) as found in our Book of Confessions. Most importantly, we believe this vote is contrary to Biblical authority, and will lead to schism within the Church. Our pastor, Ron Scates, sent a letter to the congregation stating his response to this action to attempt to redefine marriage. We fully support him and his statements. Your Session takes its leadership responsibilities seriously and is diligently working to formulate a lasting solution, which will keep this congregation together. We will keep you informed as progress is made in the near future.”

The CRC will continue to deliberate and recommend steps to be made in the near future which will keep this congregation both unified and committed to Biblical theology and morality, living to make Jesus visible in matters of what we believe and how we are to live out our lives as sinners who are saved solely by God’s grace.

In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please contact Dirk DeKoch at dirk.dekoch.dds@gmail.com or Tripp Stuart at clerkfpcsat@gmail.com.

 

Faithfully in the love of Christ,

Tripp Stuart
Clerk of the Session

Dirk DeKoch
Chairman, Church Relations Committee


March 10 Letter to the Congregation

March 10, 2015
Letter to the Congregation on Mission Presbytery actions

Dear members and friends of FPC,

Today I write to you with a heavy heart. The action taken by Mission Presbytery last Saturday (specifically voting to affirm the PCUSA General Assembly’s recommendation that marriage be redefined as being “between two people” rather than the current “between one man and one woman”) has inflicted wounds across our presbytery. This “redefinition” is expected to pass at the national level,thus not only redefine what marriage is, but also Who God is. I am extremely concerned that these GA and presbytery actions, external to our congregation, threaten to further tear the already-fragile fabric of individual churches across the land and the entire denomination as a whole. This letter is being written to assure you that your Session and pastoral staff are not in agreement with these actions by Mission Presbytery and the larger PCUSA.

This action by Mission Presbytery and the GA is only one of many symptoms that indicate that the PCUSA is in a continual drift away from her Biblical/Reformed theological moorings; moorings that are clearly laid out in Scripture and our Book of Confessions.

In regard to matters of human sexuality, I am far more concerned about what appears to be a lack of certainty by the denomination concerning the Person and Work of Christ (i.e. that Jesus is fully God/fully man, that He alone is Savior, the necessity of the cross, His bodily resurrection, etc.) and a lack of confidence in the Scriptures as truly being the inspired, infallible Word of God -our supreme authority for what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives. That lack is what is leading to actions like those taken last Saturday by Mission Presbytery.

I want to assure you that FPC will remain faithful to the Scriptures, and to our Presbyterian Book of Confessions, especially regarding the issue of what constitutes marriage in God’s sight. Action taken by you at a congregational meeting in January changed our by-laws to explicitly ensure that any and all marriages at FPC will only be between one man and one woman who are followers of Jesus Christ.

Your Session will continue to do everything we can to pursue the peace, unity and purity of FPC in the face of these external forces. Part of that will involve deepening our commitment to The Fellowship, and exploring other partnerships that will connect us with kindred spirits in the larger Body of Christ; in order to ensure that we remain a Christ-centered, Biblically orthodox, disciple-making, missions-driven congregation — a congregation that majors in vibrant worship and life-transforming servanthood ministries that take the Gospel of grace to the least, the last and the lost.

That said, I also want to assure you that we will remain a place of grace, where anyone and everyone is welcome to come through our doors and worship with us, as well as participate in the life and mission of our congregation. We are merely a “hospital for sinners,” all of us are in need of a Savior. Though the Lord loves and accepts all of us unconditionally as we are, we believe He loves us too much to leave us that way. Thus, He calls you and me to lifestyles that attempt to move toward what is His best for our lives, in every area of our lives.

We ask that you pray for, and trust your Session as we attempt to navigate this current whitewater and what this may mean concerning the future of FPC. Be assured that our utmost loyalty will,as always, remain with Jesus Christ and His Word.

I am convinced that the Lord’s Hand is upon our congregation in many and amazing ways, and that He is calling us to be a Gospel light in center-city San Antonio, a beacon to the entire world, and an alternative to churches and denominations around us that appear to be plunging head-long into a cultural captivity that puts them at odds with what God has revealed, through His Word, to be His best for our lives and those we minister to and with. The Lord’s Hand is clearly on the helm of FPC, therefore I encourage our entire congregation to move forward together with a gracious and loving spirit. Doing so in faith, not in fear.

If you have any questions and/or concerns please feel free to contact me. I’d love to meet with you and talk with you about them.

 

Faithfully in the love of Christ,

RonsSig

Ron Scates
Interim Senior Pastor

Open letter to save/print here.

 

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