After 5 Months of Study, Judicial Commission Rules Against Midway Session, Recommends Apologies

The judicial commission of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery assigned to the complaint of Stuart Michaelson vs. Session of Midway Presbyterian Church has distributed its written decision to the parties.

This judgement finds in favor of the complainant, concurring that the constitutional violations allegedly perpetrated by the Session at Midway in July 2020 did occur. Namely, BCO 20-2, BCO 20-4, BCO 20-5, and BCO 43-2 were all violated.

The commission also recommended that the Session “offer an apology to both Mr. Michelson and the congregation”. The commission remanded the case back to the Session for “adjudication consistent with this decision.”

Here are some highlights from the judicial commission’s judgement with emphasis added:

“BCO 20-2 does not distinguish between associate or senior or solo, unknown to the congregation or known to the congregation, currently serving or not. BCO 20-2 directs the church to elect a pulpit committee. In effect, the session elected itself as a pulpit committee and thus took away the congregation’s constitutional privilege to determine the pulpit committee. This muting of the congregation’s constitutionally given voice is a theme in the actions of the session. We note that the respondents for the session expressed concern in their brief that a pulpit committee could make choices contrary to the majority will of the session. This suggests to us that the choice to avoid a pulpit committee was, at least in part, a maneuver to control congregational input in the process of electing three associate pastors. The congregation must be allowed to decide which pastor, or pastors, is “most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation” and that begins with a pulpit committee.”

“…the session knew they were entering a contended vote that would reshape the leadership of the church. They should have been sticklers in following the BCO and given the congregation their constitutional right to vote by ballot…the burden is upon the session, not the congregation, to ensure that the meeting and election are conducted according to the constitution.”

“The BCO in 20-5 is seeking to maintain the peace of the church by recommending orderly delay while a congregation works through its differences…The fact that so many of the voters were opposed should have been a strong signal for the moderator to observe the principle and at the least caution the majority to delay the election to continue seeking unity in the congregation.”

In summary, this judicial commission judgment seems to imply that the three Assistant Pastors transitioned to Associates Pastors were elected improperly.

It remains to be seen what actions will be taken locally at the church to remedy this situation, and whether the Session will call for a second election since the pastoral election has been declared improper.

Before any action can be taken, the entire Northwest Georgia Presbytery must accept this judgement which will codify it.

Such a vote is likely to be procedural since the Presbytery is likely inclined to accept the hard work and study of the judicial commission that is most familiar with the details of the case.