Of concern is how the Parliamentarian of the local presbytery could allow such procedural missteps…
Readers may already be aware of the contentious congregational meeting called by Midway Presbyterian Church’s Session to elect three Assistant Pastors as Associate Pastors. The lack of the election of a pulpit committee for this purpose generated lots of communication across the congregation. Moderator and Senior Pastor David Hall declared in the meeting that the provision called for in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) regarding pulpit committees (BCO 20-2) did not apply to this election.
Despite conducting an election of pastors apart from the procedures described in the BCO, this meeting, which was held on July 19, 2020, was characterized by a number of procedural irregularities that call into question the validity of some of the actions taken. It has also raised questions about how the Moderator, who also serves as the parliamentarian of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, could have allowed this to occur. The parliamentarian serves the role of assisting when questions of procedure arise and is considered to be an expert on the proper procedures to be followed.
Of particular concern was the method of voting allowed at the meeting. Historically, Midway has used ballots for the election of officers. Despite being necessary per the church’s constitution (BCO 20-4), and being a wise approach to protect the voters, ballots were not used in this election which presented three pastors as a single slate. Morton Smith states in his commentary on the BCO that “a ballot vote allows for complete privacy of the voter to vote his personal convictions, without concern of what other may think about his vote.”
There is no provision in the PCA’s constitution to allow for the voting of pastors as as slate despite Session members insisting during the meeting that this was their intention. They claimed they did not want the vote to be about the individual candidates but about what their office represented. Perhaps this is why BCO 20-2 was never used to elect a pulpit committee. Since it is the duty of a congregation, not a session or a presbytery, to call a pastor, and since the BCO makes clear the purpose of the committee is to allow the congregation to determine who is “most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation”, it is perhaps no surprise that the session in taking this power for itself also changed the intent of the vote.
Morton Smith also states in his commentary regarding the pulpit committee that “The Session should never assume this function [becoming a pulpit committee], without having been so designated by the congregation.”
SESSION ACTIONS CREATED EXTRA TENSION
Additional problems have caused division related to the method of voting.
Given that the method of voting was to ask members to stand to indicate their preference, voting members of the congregation were forced to stand in opposition to their fellow members on a divisive topic.
BCO 25-1 defines who is allowed to vote during such a church meeting and no verification was made who the individuals standing were. The Moderator made light of this troubling situation stating “you are on your honor, if you are not a member do not cheat.”
This lack of seriousness around a matter of supreme importance to a Presbyterian church (that is, the election of those who are to serve as pastors in Christ’s pulpit) should concern every Midway member. Because no effort was made to determine who was voting, how many individuals were present to begin with, what the number of abstentions were – the true vote outcome cannot be known.
MODERATOR NEGLECTED HIS DUTY
BCO 20-5 describes with great specificity what actions a moderator is to take in the event a divided vote during a pastoral election. Despite the inherent confusion about the method of voting, the declared vote tallies indicated that roughly 40% of the congregation was averse to one or more of the candidates presented on the slate.
At the end of the meeting, the Moderator declared that BCO 20-5 did not apply and declined to follow this important procedure in the BCO. In fact, he advocated for the opposite through the means of additional stand votes. The role of the moderator in relation to BCO 20-5 is critical, because when applicable, it is he that must activate this action for the peace and unity of the body that is divided.
In this instance, Moderator David Hall was called on by the constitution to attempt to “dissuade the majority from prosecuting” the call further. This did not happen. Further, if the majority insists on proceeding, then the BCO states that “the moderator shall proceed to draw a call in due form, and to have it subscribed by them, certifying at the same time in writing the number of those do not concur in the call, and any facts of importance, all of which proceedings shall be laid before the Presbytery, together with the call.” This also did not happen.
How is it possible that the parliamentarian of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery as moderator of this meeting could have allowed such procedural missteps to occur? To date, there are no recorded minutes available from this meeting available to members. It is unknown to the degree that these procedural missteps will be reflected in that format or if any action will be taken to correct in the future.