Update to the Presbytery, May 18, 2017

To our brothers and sisters in the Presbytery of Boston,


The Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church is happy to start this update on its work with the unsurprising information that the Newton Presbyterian Church continues to gather weekly for worship, and to share fellowship together.  The Administrative Commission especially thanks the Rev. Dr. Ward Holder for steadily serving as the church’s worship leader during this time when the congregation is rebuilding, and the Sudbury and Fourth Presbyterian churches for providing NPC with copies of The Presbyterian Hymnal.


For now the Newton Presbyterian Church is still meeting in the chapel of the Eliot Congregational Church UCC in Newton Centre, while the Presbytery and the NPC await resolution of the legal complaint filed against the Newton Covenant church which has occupied the NPC’s building without permission since mid-January.  The Administrative Commission continues to work on the church’s case with the Presbytery’s counsel from Ropes & Gray.  Such legal proceedings typically go slowly, so we do not know exactly when the Massachusetts court will hand down its decision on the NPC property.


Among other steps in its redevelopment, the congregation has adopted new bylaws, and recently elected a nominating committee which soon will be recommending members for election to office. The Administrative Commission has functioned as the church’s session since January and will assist and support newly ordained and installed officers as the NPC enters that phase of its redevelopment.  Those NPC members who are already ordained as ruling elders have been serving as commissioners to meetings of the Presbytery.


As the Stated Clerk has announced, in March the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Northeast dismissed a formal complaint against the Presbytery filed by a teaching elder who was active in support of the schismatic group.  The Synod PJC’s decision is posted on the Presbytery’s website along with this update from the Administrative Commission.


We ask that you continue to hold in prayer the members and friends of the Newton Presbyterian Church in this challenging time.


Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church


Sharon Wright, chairperson, newtonac@presbyteryofboston.org

Samuel Chung

Catherine MacDonald

Mary Lou Smith

Alexander Wei

Letter to the Presbytery of Boston, January 17, 2017

To Our Brothers and Sisters in the Presbytery of Boston:

As you may have heard, the Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church found it necessary on January 12, 2017, to respond to certain actions of the church’s Session by formally declaring that the congregation is in schism, with the Commission then assuming original jurisdiction of the Session. The Commission’s decisions to do so were made with deep regret for their necessity, but were arrived at prayerfully and in keeping with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as it faithfully expresses our Presbyterian membership in this Reformed part of the Body of Christ.

The Administrative Commission is sending out this letter in order to provide accurate information about its decisions to our presbytery community. In addition, documents relating to its work will soon be made available on the Presbytery of Boston website; this material will be updated periodically as the Commission continues to serve in accordance with its charge from the Presbytery.


In September 2015 the Session requested that a Response Team from the Presbytery be sent to assist in the Newton Presbyterian Church’s consideration of its future (Presbytery of Boston Standing Rules E.14-15); that effort was to include studying the option of requesting that the Presbytery dismiss the church to another Reformed denomination. The Response Team worked with the church as it soon focused on various possibilities for dismissal, as well as on an option to enter into an agreement for joint congregational witness (Form of Government, G-5.05) with a church belonging to the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). It is important to note that both the Stated Clerk and the Response Team had informed the Session that the ECC is not a Reformed denomination to which the Presbytery can dismiss a member church from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) under G-5.05c. In Fall 2016, with the congregation sharply split rather than united, the Session voted to seek dismissal of the Newton church to the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination.

At its November 14, 2016, stated meeting, the Presbytery of Boston voted unanimously to approve this Administrative Commission to work with the Newton Session to resolve issues dividing the congregation as it sought to complete discernment of how God is calling them forward together.

Commission’s Charge:
(1) The Administrative Commission has the power to enter a time of discernment with the session and congregation and recommend next steps to the Presbytery.

(2) The Administrative Commission has the power to determine if there is a remnant and recommend how the two groups, the remnant and the schismatic group might move forward.

(3) The Administrative Commission has the authority to assume original jurisdiction over Newton Presbyterian Church. (Book of Order G-3.0303e)

(4) The Administrative Commission has the power to declare schism as well as declare which of the two groups is the true Newton Presbyterian Church. (See Book of Order G-4.0207, See also, Advisory Opinion on Schism from 2013)

(5) The Administrative Commission may recommend that the Presbytery dissolve the congregation, but does not have the power to actually dissolve it. That power is reserved for the Presbytery (Book of Order G-3.0109b)

(6) It has the power to participate in session meetings, including when the session goes into executive session.

(7) It has the power to meet with representatives of the Evangelical Covenant Church on behalf of the Presbytery.

(8) It has the power to interview any person involved in Newton Presbyterian Church from the past and from the present time.

(9) It has the power to work with legal representation if necessary retained by the Presbytery Council.

From the Commission:
On January 10, 2017, the Administrative Commission wrote to the members of the Newton congregation in response to published notice that a special meeting of the Corporation of the Newton church had been called for January 15, 2017, to vote on (1) withdrawing from the PC(USA), (2) affiliating with the ECC and (3) amending the Corporation’s bylaws to remove existing denominational references. The Commission reminded that under our Constitution the relationship to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of a congregation can be severed only by constitutional action on the part of the presbytery (G-4.0207); that the Presbytery of Boston may not dismiss a church to the ECC; that a church’s corporation cannot and may not take the church into the ECC; and that a vote to edit the corporation’s bylaws would not remove a church from the PC(USA).

On January 13, 2017, the Administrative Commission wrote again concerning the Session’s intentional and irregular permission of the Newton corporation for the stated purpose of trying to disaffiliate the con- gregation from the PC(USA). “...Therefore, as you are permitting the meeting of the NPC Corporation in order that it might take steps which it and you have held out as disaffiliating from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Administrative Commission now finds it necessary to declare that the Newton Presbyterian Church is in schism (Form of Government, G-4.0207) and to assume original jurisdiction in accordance with G-3.0303e in the Form of Government. The Commission took these actions on January 12, 2017. ... We inform you of these actions of the Administrative Commission in hope that you will understand that they were taken out of our concern for the whole Newton Presbyterian Church, in fellowship with you in the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in response as Presbyterians to the ‘mission of God in Christ that gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church’ (from the Constitution of the Pres- byterian Church (U.S.A.), Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.01).’”

January 15 meeting:
The Newton Corporation met following the worship service on January 15, moderated by the Corporation’s elected moderator. Following opportunity for church members to speak, there was a 107:26 vote in favor of a motion “That the Newton Presbyterian

Church withdraw from the PC(USA) effective immediately, commence the process to be accepted into the Evangelical Covenant Church, authorize the trustees to take the necessary steps to do so and use our property for our ongoing ministry.”

Situation today:
Under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a congregation cannot dismiss itself to another denomination. The vote taken on January 15 does not change this, despite insistence by the Newton trustees that it does. The Newton Presbyterian Church continues to be a member church of the Presbytery of Boston. The Administrative Commission continues to be working to assist the church in its work of discernment of its future, and will at the appro- priate time be making recommendations to the Presbytery.

Individual members of the Newton church continue to have the freedom to change their own church membership; the Administrative Commission will provide letters of transfer to other Presbyterian church- es or to churches in other denominations, including in the ECC. Those church members previously or- dained as deacons and elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continue to be set apart for those min- istries when elected to active service by their congregation; the Newton elders who were serving on the Session on January 12 continue to meet as they wish, but they are not empowered to act as the Session at this time. The officers and staff of the Newton church continue to provide for services of worship there; the Administrative Commission with the Committee on Ministry will help provide for the administration of the Sacraments.

The Presbytery of Boston through this Administrative Commission is addressing the matter of the invalid vote of the NPC Corporation to withdraw the church from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to take ownership of church property. The Presbytery and its member churches are governed by and function under the provisions of the Form of Government in the PC(USA) Constitution, which states:

All property held by or for a congregation, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher council or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (4.0203)

What to do:
The prayers of us all are needed as the members of the Newton Presbyterian Church work through the discernment issues before them. It is painful to be a divided church family. This is our family, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Administrative Commission for the Newton Presbyterian Church

Sharon Wright, chairperson, newtonac@presbyteryofboston.org
Samuel Chung
Catherine MacDonald
Mary Lou Smith
Alexander Wei