Judicial commissions, hearings, and judgements sourced from Midway seem to be becoming a permanent agenda item…
The Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s latest meeting was held on August 21, 2021 at Grace Presbyterian Church PCA in Canton Georgia. Once again, judicial actions related to Midway Presbyterian Church and its Session were central to the meeting’s agenda.
Presbyters received a report of the Ecclesiastical Commission assigned to the complaints of the Michaelson brothers of Midway. The report again concurred with them that Midway Presbytery Church’s Session violated the Book of Church order in a variety of ways during its conduct of a Congregational Meeting in July 2019.
They also received a report from a different commission that heard the appeal of charges of Midway Ruling Elder Philip Dudt who has been suspended from office and prevented from exercising functions of it, without censure.
The Presbytery accepted the commission’s written decision regarding Ruling Elder Philip Dudt, upholding the lower court’s conviction. Curiously, this case seems to be intrinsically tied to Deacon Crouse whose name appears twice as many times as Ruling Elder Philip Dudt’s on the opening page of the written decision. Northwest Georgia Presbytery readers may recall Deacon Dan Crouse filed two complaints against Midway Presbyterian Church previously, one of which was upheld by the Standing Judicial Commission in 2019-03. Deacon Dan Crouse also recently withdrew a complaint that the Northwest Georgia Presbytery refused to hear (an action that was an apparent violation of the church’s constitution).
CONTROVERSY AND TENSION OVER COMPLAINTS
The Michaelson brother complaints were considerably more controversial than the appeal of Ruling Elder Philip Dudt. A time consuming process at the meeting apparently resulted in certain Presbyters walking out of the meeting in disgust.
Despite the clerk of the Presbytery making clear that the written decisions were not be debated (per Book of Church Order 15-3), the Presbytery argued about the particulars of the written decision at length. There was sharp disagreement over whether to accept the decision in whole or in part.
This debate concluded with the Presbytery individually voting up or down on each alleged violation that the ecclesiastical commission determined had occurred. A member asked that ballots be used and that the vote be held privately, but this motion was defeated. The chairman of the ecclesiastical commission implored the Presbytery to respect the hard labor of the commission, consider their reasoning, and not seek to alter the written decision. His plea was not heard.
Of particular interest is that, though the church’s constitution prescribes that the presbytery approve or disapprove the judgment without debate, the judgment was debated and voted on piecemeal.
Despite the ecclesiastical commission concurring with the violations that the Michaelson brothers alleged had occurred, the Presbytery voted to annul two rulings against Midway’s Session and uphold 2 others. Perhaps the most consequential action was ruling #3 in the written decision that concluded that “TE David Hall, as moderator of the July 19, 2020 congregational meeting” did “err, in violation of the Constitution, in prompting a second vote whereby he afforded the minority (42.3%) of dissenting voters an opportunity to change their vote without attempting too dissuade the majority (57.7%) as in BCO 20-5.”
This ruling was dismissed by a close vote of the Presbytery but notably abstentions were not counted. The Presbytery upheld that the Session did err in providing pastors to be voted on as a slate and by failing to use ballots. It did not vote on other rulings including whether or not the Session erred by refusing to hear the complaints of the Michaelson brothers in July of 2019. The Moderator of the Presbytery ordered that another revised written decision be produced in the future.
It would not be surprising if, given the procedural anomaly that occurred regarding the Michaelson complaints, the actions are later heard by the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA. If so, this would join other Midway-related actions coming before the SJC that are looming over the presbytery.
A final action related to Midway Presbyterian Church that occurred at the August 21, 2021 meeting was the reception of two Overtures. Presented by a Teaching Elder at the meeting on behalf of one of the Michaelson brothers, these Overtures appear to be related to the events that have occurred in the last year at Midway Presbyterian Church.
The overtures were titled “Amend BCO 25-2 with Provision to Preserve Congregational Voice” and “Amend BCO 32-3 with Provision to Preserve Openness in Church Courts”.
Readers are encouraged to join their prayers to those offered recently at Christ Covenant Church PCA: “grant that we would be perfected in unity so that the world may know Jesus” and that our churches might “remain faithful under pressure.”