This recording of the January 2021 Presbytery meeting definitively proves that the four besieged Elders’ credible report was indeed accurate!
This recording was provided to The Midway Guardian. In the recording, David Hall and other commissioners from Midway Presbyterian Church, in overt violation of the BCO, attempt to thwart justice. For some context, this is the portion of the meeting wherein the Presbytery was supposed to adhere to the provisions of BCO 15-3 when deciding whether to accept the Commission’s report on the Michelson complaint. The Commission concurred that multiple elements of the July, 2020 congregational meeting were indeed unconstitutional. BCO 15-3 requires that a Commission’s findings be handled in a specific manner that disallows re-adjudicating the case. BCO 15-3 requires that “the Presbytery without debate shall approve or disapprove of the judgment.” “Without debate” is a key and central aspect of that paragraph.
Presbytery, instead of “without debate” approving or disapproving the judgment, allowed David Hall, Marc Harrington, David Barry, and Bob Whitaker to grandstand in opposition to the Commission’s report, thereby circularizing the court (in violation of BCO 43-2 which states that “no attempt should be made to circularize the court to which complaint is being made by either party.”) Even worse than that, the Moderator even asked David Hall what was allowable, showing clearly how David Hall effectively controls what happens at Presbytery through his network of allies. These grossly unconstitutional actions ultimately delayed the approval or disapproval for months as it was sent off to a study committee. Since the Midway Session did not like the Commission’s findings, this was their way of delaying justice, muddying the waters, and sewing confusion into the minds of the other Presbyters. All of the Midway Session representatives at that meeting, as Respondents in the case, should have been barred from speaking on this matter, yet the Moderator of the Presbytery did not disallow Midway from undertaking this clearly unconstitutional act. Meanwhile, the complainants were ejected from the room for this portion of the meeting. All of these facts were later found to be accurate by the PCA’s Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) Commission, the report of which was again sidelined by Midway ally, Dominic Aquila’s confusing and inaccurate speech on the floor of General Assembly. The pattern of Midway leadership sidestepping justice is consistent and egregious.
Below is the recording. Decide for yourselves. Listen to David Hall and Marc Harrington, in their own words, willingly violate and shred the Book of Church Order; the book to which they took a vow of adherence. Listen to how David Hall speaks behind closed doors and pay special attention to his efforts to keep everything masked in secrecy, his efforts to overturn the findings of the commission, and his complete willingness to debate a non-debatable item.
The recording is a little over an hour long, but key excerpts are shown below with timestamped transcript demonstrating just how much debating the Midway contingent offered to avoid the Presbytery’s rightful justice. Remember, no one, especially not the Midway respondents, are allowed to discuss the merits of the case at this meeting.
Moderator Joe Fowler
Excuse me for a moment a Mr. Chairman, BCO 15-3 says that we approve or disapprove the judgment without debate. So, you each have the report. You’ve seen it? Is there motion?
Rev. David Hall
If it will please in court, we’ve distributed this. We’d like to make a motion to refer the strictly constitutional matters. Nothing the chairman does. That’s where we’re going. And I think that would be in order before we take up the commission’s report?
Moderator Joe Fowler
I believe so.
Rev. David Hall
So, I would, I would move within the language of was distributed yesterday pursuant to BCO 15-3 that we referred to Study Committee, the following constitutional questions and that refer to our letter of January 15th.
Moderator Joe Fowler
We’ll come back to that in just a moment, is there a second to refer. Alright, it’s up for discussion. We’ll have a speech for the speech again, David, would you please proceed with the justification for the referral? Matthew? Thank you.
Rev. David Hall
Brothers, I regretfully stand before you with respect to our commission. And this is intended in no way to minimize or diminish their work. In fact, I think that if we refer this to study committee it could strengthen their work, it is not our primary desire that the commission’s report be voted down. If, however, the constitutional issues are not studied first, that should occur, but we believe that commission could still work. We’re hoping to work cooperatively, constructively with them. But we have identified six issues. There are some in our session who would identify others. But we humbly ask you to refer these matters to a Study Committee before proceeding with any action on this commission report. There are at least six items noted. I won’t go over all those, you have that, you have copies. If anybody needs a copy, we have print copies, but just just to mention a few of them, for example. While I appreciate the Commission’s revision, seeking to clarify that they were not intending to annul the installation of these men, I fear that upon appeal, that might not be taken as seriously as we did. And so our our first constitutional inquiry has the wording with or without a search committee in there by design, because we saw ourselves as operating under a totally different paragraph than the complainants were alleging. We believe that we have only one small sliver of guidance for the change in the pastoral relationship. This was not a new election, wasn’t a new pastor, these are pastors who among the three of them had over 20 years of exposure to our congregation. Our session, considered whether or not we should do that. And again, I don’t want to get into the merits of this case, but just to let you know, there’s a profound constitutional issue if any court would proceed based on BCO 20 instead of chapter 22, which defines the pastoral relationship. And that’s, that’s very important in this case, it’s at the heart of it. We have another issue that we think has not been dealt with sufficiently, which was our major issue. And that is we don’t see in the book of church order where a court of the church can review and alter or give advice to a congregational meeting. Up to you and to sometimes, to me, that seems odd. And it does seem odd. But I will suggest to you that we have a case here in 2007 ruled on the same basis. And it’s one thing, a complaint is against an action of the court. And as you read through this material, you’ll find that most of the items of the complaint are against actions of the congregation. And we suggest to you that there should be some some concern for the congregation before this move ahead, that they should be respected. We had a number of issues I’m sad to tell you that were circulating in our church and our still, which painfully you’ll become aware of in the months to come that grieve us greatly, that cause was concern. But nonetheless, we feel like we need to serve our congregation and these three pastors were installed by this presbytery, rightfully so and as brothers. And my last thing to note for you is that upon appeal reason we should get this right. This will be appealed, you can just pretty much bet a lunch on anything coming from Midway is going to be appealed all the way to the SJC, I’m sorry to tell you. But it would be unwise for you to act unaware of that. And upon appeal, if we don’t get some of these issues correct, they will reflect poorly on the prebytery, and does have the potential of annuling the status of these three fine pastors. What we’re asking our presbytery to do and I won’t be much longer, Mr. Moderator, excuse me, because it’s very, very important to us with what we’re asking the presbytery to do, is appoint a constitutional Study Committee to deal with these issues, come back, leave the commission where it is, let them continue. They’ll be needed for other work, I’m sure. But hear from constitutional issues first, that’s on the analogy, what we’re saying. We have a constitutional business committee that reports on anything that reflects the Constitution. Before we take these actions, any one of these issues, just one or two or three, I believe we justify all six, certainly, I think mandate that we do this. And I urge you finally as a pastor that the, in my opinion, the best chance if you care about the unity of Midway Presbyterian Church, you care about the unity and the ability to do our ministry is to grant our requests humbly lodge with you in all respect to the commission. And I believe that we could serve others as well by answering these questions appropriately. So it grieves me, I’ve shared with our chairman in over 40 years of pastoral ministry, I don’t think I’ve ever voted against the commission of presbytery. I appreciate his willingness to let me make this motion. And we humbly tender it to you and ask you to appoint through the moderator a constitutional Study Committee before proceeding with the commission report and that’s exactly what that BCO 15-3 stipulates, and I believe that’s the reason it’s there. Thank you sir.
Rev. Marc Harrington
In a number of places in the commission report, I think you have, and maybe I’m misunderstanding what a constitutional issue is in distinction to what pastoral issue is. My belief and understanding of what judicial Commission’s are called to do is to rule on constitutional basis, not, though we regarded as important, not pastoral issues. And we can’t reference the report. We’re not here to debate that. But there are a number I think of constitutional issues that are raised. And then treated pastorally. The one that was just referenced, the voting threshold we received or let’s say the minority at 42%. Minority now you get the Book of Church Order does not give us a threshold at all. That is our Constitution. 42% is, if you were to ask any politician on the state or federal level, they’ll take that any day. 62-42 is a very, 58-40, is a welcome threshold. My concern and our concern is there is no specific language in the book of church order. It just says a sizable minority. I believe, I think it’s clear in their report that there are pastoral judgment, and that’s good, but to fault us based on a constitutional error, I think is wrong. I think that’s a pastoral judgment and I think for us to go back and somehow correct that, we would need constitutional based reasoning. I think there are a number of other issues that again, pastorly sensitive, and we may very well be faulted and actually apologize. But when you ask is that a violation of the Constitution? I am under the impression that that is what traditional commission should do. They all rule based on our Constitution. The biggest concern that we all have, there’s six concerns, but the biggest is simply a commission, a judicial commission, in making this decision, even though they don’t intend to undo an election, I can promise you that is the intent, that is the expressed stated purpose of the complaint. And I’ll read to you, I brought it. He has two versions of this complaint and the first version says this. He asked specifically for the calling of a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing a pulpit committee to consider each assistant pastor individually. That is his stated purpose in the second version of his complaint as well. And I can promise you more than a lunch, we can wager more than that if you like, that is where they’re going even though the commission doesn’t intend that, it will go there. And if it doesn’t go there I will admit that I was wrong. But even if it doesn’t go that question still remains the constitutional question remains, can you or can you not move one from the status of assistant to associate pastor? And our position is the Constitution does not contemplate that question at all. It is not in the constitution. I think a Study Committee would have to get into that issue. I think we all know that members of our own presbytery, not just at Midway, have done the same thing. They’ve moved from assistant to associate. I know, I’ll say this for the record. I’ve been in the PCA almost 20 years as an ordained pastor. I’ve never heard of a pulpit committee in such cases. The Midway session through its pastors sought counsel on precedents in our courts, what do you do, what has presbytery approved. We didn’t find one case where a pulpit committee was used. Now, if I’m wrong about the commission, substituting pastoral sensibilities and judgement for the constitution, then I’ll admit it; but if you would indulge me in a little bit of pastoral concern. We have to look beyond strict constitutional realms in any area, and say, what are the people trying to accomplish? Well, the complaint states very clearly what he’s trying to accomplish. And so I would urge you to, to view it constitutionally, more than anything else. And if their pastoral judgment and recommendation, we are more than open to that. There are more issues but I think yield it back. Thank you.
Rev. David Hall
But I do want to respond to a question to our chairman. We learned something again, many years I’ve been a pastor, I keep learning. When we have ruling elder elections this year, we elect elders from a slate. We’ve had elders elected with 51% of the vote, because there’s multiple candidates. Now, here’s what I learned. And I’m sorry that I’m learning so many things so late in life, but there’s wisdom in the BCO and not want to find, we can’t have that opinion, there’s real wisdom because our contextual environment, factors for there are environmental things that you have to understand every church is different. You have to understand this church, this election is really unique. You might not do it that way. One brother on the commission made a good statement, he said, that’s pretty big ask and I appreciate that it is a big ask, these are fine men. Here’s the phrase, it’s a constitutional phrase, to answer your question, if a significant minority is averse. So please don’t focus just on the number, everyone said they weren’t averse to these men. It was a matter of process and political struggle and control. No one had said they were averse to these men. So so that’s a constitutional issue. Again, if you want to flesh it out and study like, I’d rather have some flexibility in the BCO. And we were operating under Chapter 22. And everyone admits there also this gray area, and there’s nothing, there’s nothing that’s that’s that’s clear on this. Help us brothers, I urge you. I urge you with every pastoral sensitivity, with all respect for each of you that I love as brothers, please, for your constitutional Study Committee, So we can get this right, because it will go up and despite the good intentions. It will damage the ministry at Midway, we got to do something to keep that from happening.
Rev. Marc Harrington
And that is why I mean, there were other important points. Number one is we have men in our own Presbytery and on the commission, who have done the same thing that we’ve just gone through. I would just ask the court, can you tell me I’ve been a Midway, 13 years in March? Do you really think the Book of Church Order requires that I go through an interview process? That, you know, I might and the other candidates would be brought in. I might not be hired, that would be what the constitution require of us. Now, I admit I’m completely biased up here. But that’s why I put it forward to you. Do you really think that’s what the book of church order requires? A pastor that, you know, there’s an easier way to get rid of me. You don’t have to bring in a pupit committee and well, just fire me. I can give you cause. But that’s the one that keeps me up at night. And it keeps me up early, is that it just doesn’t come up in our constitution. It’s not in there. And we believe, biased as we are, that the controlling language is when a pattern searches without a pastor, do a pulpit commitee. That is right from out constitution. We’re asking for studies committee on this because I feel like I’m wrong on this issue of the framers our book of church order actually require a pulpit committee in this case. What else am I wrong on? I really have, I stay that night wondering, how can we have missed this, you know, a man whether it be me or others who are widely known that the book of church order requires this? That is the question that is in my mind, that is why I would ask you for Study Committee. There are other reasons. The voting threshold is another concern, but I’m not going to take the time. Thank you.
Rev. David Barry
Fathers and brothers. This is a weird situation for me to be 33 years old. This is my first call, and who would have known I was coming to a church with so much wrong.
Rev. Joel Smit
I could have told you.
Moderator Joe Fowler
They got an opening in Smyrna. It is a custodian’s position.
Rev. David Barry
That’s right. And I came as an assistant. Midway is requesting a constitutional inquiry. And I’d like as my final point to simply illustrate why I think this is so necessary. I won’t name our own Presbytery churches, but we have at least one other church in our Presbytery that had an election on his on an assistant pastor and he was elected by his congregation to an associate pastor, without a pupit committee. Moving over to Calvary Presbyterian, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church just a few years ago had two assistant pastors, The session made a recommendation, congregation held a meeting and elected them without a pulpit committee. Up in Pennsylvania, near Westminster, where I went to school. Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, very large PCA church, I was speaking with their senior pastor this week. Their practice is to hire assistants, wait a year so the congregation can know these men see their quality. And then at an annual congregational meeting, they always moved to, to elect these men, as associates lest they stay an assistant forever. Again, without a pupit committee. There was research that standard practice across our denomination is to have no pupit committee in these particular circumstances. Why was there a complaint against the Midway session? Well, because of the political and because of the make-up of our church, we have power struggles that are deep rooted and going back at least 20 years, if not longer. It is a contentious church with disagreements about authority. And so this matter was challenged, I expected would have been challenged if the constitutional issues themselves were different. But a quick survey of the BCO to illustrate the constitutional problem, because I would submit to the presbytery that there is constitutional ambiguity. And with all due respect from Commission, Matthew called me yesterday, your brother, love you, Jonathan, and the whole commission. It’s an awkward situation to be in disagreement with men that I respect and love. But here I am in disagreement with men that respect and love. Because the commission decided that the BCO was sufficiently clear that the constitutional issues were not so ambiguous as to decide that there was a constitutional violation. Well, if you permit me a quick little survey, BCO 22-1. BCO 22-1 and the technical document that our BCO is defined for three types of pastors. They are very importantly, Pastor, and then after that, associate, or assistant. When we go vote, go over to BCO 20, which guides the election of pastors, the judicial commission decided that BCO 20-2 which has one sentence at the very beginning, every church should be under, under the pastoral oversight of the minister. And when a church has no pastor, again, that’s the first category, it should seek to secure one without delay. Reading the definitions provided by our own BCO, the session of Midway, before I was on it, decided that because of the definition of the term, that this did not guide the election of associate pastors themselves, in different categories. Now, the commission decided that by the power of a paragraph break, that the subsequent paragraph that defines the nature of a pastoral election was not controlled by that first sentence of BCO 20-2. The power of the paragraph break, proved that when there is no pastor should not govern that which went underneath it. Well, I get that that’s an argument there’s a paragraph break in the language. But as somebody who’s gone to school on hermeneutics for a very long time, I would suggest that the conclusiveness of that decision was perhaps strong and rendering a great deal of exegetical power to the paragraph break that was there. Is it not the case, brothers, that it is possible in faithfulness to the constitution to read BCO 20-2, which says, when there is no pastor, do this? Is it not possible to read it giving due diligence and due respect to that very first sentence, despite the paragraph break and say, Well, our church had a pastor, not only did that didn’t have the pastor already, but this was not the election of a pastor although it was the category of associate which is not being spoken to. Again, you’ve got three types of pastors, this one is speaking to one in particular. Is it not possible to read the BCO in this manner, faithfully. And what I want to suggest to you is that there is ambiguity in our Constitution about what specifically is being said, and in the presence of that ambiguity, which the commission itself admits, to decide so wholly in favor of the complainant and the dispossessions I think, strong on behalf of the Commission. Now you have every right you can read the BCO that way, but does not this illustrate to us the need for constitutional inquiry to see what is exactly going on. I think the ambiguity is strong enough, where further study would help all of us, perhaps protect Midway from the climate that is not a problem for so many of the of the church members listed. But in our church, and the battles that we’re facing, have been all the difference in this case.
Rev. David Hall
I appreciate the fellow’s reading. I think you’re exactly right. And we’re trying to offer this as a way to respect the commission and not displace them. We think they’ve done a lot of work. So we think a better alternative and all these things you want to get to some of the specifics would think you can get to if you will allow the constitutional Study Committee to work. And yes, this will delay it for a quarter, but it will come back. And there are issues here. And I want to tell you, as I’ve been a member of this Presbytery since its inception, this is not a foolish session. These are not deviant or heterodox pastors. We’re happy to be corrected. I’m happy to apologize, you can bring charges against me, flog me, please do. But I urge you, don’t put a dagger in the heart of these other pastors. Don’t put a dagger in the heart for the rest of our ministers. The best solution we can say is to appoint a study committee. If you want to dismiss some of the charges, of course free to do that. If you want to reject the commission’s report, you could do that. My honest advice you’d be better to keep the commission in existence. They’ve done a lot of work. But let this intervening method occur. That’s good process. Forgive me for talking so much.
Moderator Joe Fowler
Now appropriate to arrive out of the executive session? Is there any opposition? Is there a motion to that effect? or second? We’re out of executive session, if anybody would like to invite the other visitors outside? Just excuse me just one moment. Is it appropriate that I announce to the visitors that are coming back in the actions that were taken.
Rev. David Hall
It’s not advised. We need to act on those when we arise from executive session. We need to act on these out of executive session. So I would move Mr. Moderator that we approve those actions as a court and simply publish them in the minutes.
Moderator Joe Fowler
Are you asking that we take public votes on those issues out of executive session?
Rev. David Hall
Right, we have to. After we arise from Executive Session we have to we approve what we do in executive session. I would move that we approve all those in an omnibus and publicize it in the minutes.
Moderator Joe Fowler
Do I express it to the people who were here who are going to be upset about the referrals? That’s my question? All right, we’ll do that. (laughter) We vote on that. All right, we are out of executive session and I will announce the decisions.