Newton Administrative Commission

The Presbytery of Boston chartered the Newton Administrative Commission at its Stated Meeting, November 14, 2016.  The elected members of this commission are Sharon Wright, Chair (RE), Cathy MacDonald, Secretary (TE), Alex Wei (RE), Mary Lou Smith (RE), and Sam Chung (TE).  You may contact the Newton Administrative Commission via the Chair at newtonac@presbyteryofboston.org.

Declaration of Schism/Assumption of Original Jurisdiction

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.

For more information, please visit the "AC Communications" page in order to read the letter to the Presbytery of Boston dated January 17, 2017.

Synod PJC Decision

Permanent Judicial Commission
Synod of the Northeast, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Determination of Preliminary Questions 26 March, 2017

The Rev. Dr. Jean Risley Complainant


The Presbytery of Boston Respondent

This is a remedial complaint regarding actions taken by an Administrative Commission (AC) of the Presbytery of Boston empaneled to resolve a dispute in the Newton Presbyterian Church (NPC) over dismissal from the PCUSA.

Pursuant to D-6.0305, the Vice Moderator and the Clerk pro tempore have examined the papers and report the following findings:

  1. This Commission has jurisdiction of this matter.

  2. The Complainant, being a member (Teaching Elder) of the Presbytery of Boston, has standing to file in this case.

  3. The complaint was filed in a timely manner.

4. The Executive Committee (EC) of the Commission finds that this Complaint states a claim upon which no relief can be granted.

The EC bases its decision regarding the irregularities alleged in the Complaint on four criteria:

a. b.


Is there an actual allegation?

Does the allegation claim that an irregularity has occurred that violates the Constitution of the PC(USA)? A reference to an actual provision in the Book of Order is helpful in this respect.
Is there a plausible basis that this irregularity has occurred? This does not require actual proof (this is reserved for the trial phase), but under the
prima facie assumption that the statements in the Complaint are true, do the actions indeed rise to the level of an irregularity?

Clearly, the situation at Newton Presbyterian Church has been complex and painful. We

Can relief be granted on the basis of a complaint that satisfies all three previous criteria?

SNE 2017-02

acknowledge the distress. And we commend all who have given time and effort to care and compromise. The EC has determined that the specifications of error, if proved at trial, would amount at most to a difference in administrative strategy rather than violations of the Constitution. This is not to make light of the issues and the feelings, but rather to face clearly the Complaint and the limits of the responsibility of the Permanent Judicial Commission.

The Complainant requests relief in three parts:
That the Presbytery of Boston dismiss its Administrative Commission (AC),
Return jurisdiction to the former session of Newton Presbyterian Church (NPC), and Consider dismissing the NPC to the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).

With regard to the Administrative Commission, the Complaint states no error in the appointment of the Commission, an action which is the prerogative of the Presbytery. A Standing Rule of the Presbytery provides for the appointment of an AC as an early step in negotiations about dismissal of a congregation. The Synod PJC has no authority to direct the Presbytery either to appoint or to dismiss an AC. No relief can be granted.

With regard to returning jurisdiction to the former session of the NPC, the power to assume Original Jurisdiction was specifically granted to the AC in accordance with G-3.0303e. In Exhibit F(found in the Respondents Response), a letter from the AC to the NPC Session, the AC expresses regret that the Session permitted the calling of a meeting of the Corporation to vote on disaffiliating from the PC(USA). That action constitutes a renunciation of jurisdiction, leaving the AC in the unfortunate position of taking Original Jurisdiction. Since the Session of NPC has voluntarily disaffiliated from the PC(USA), there is no session to which jurisdiction can be returned. No relief can be granted.

With regard to considering dismissal to the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Presbytery is guided by an Authoritative Interpretation on Dismissal (Exhibit D- found in the Respondents Response) which constrains the dismissal of a Presbyterian congregation to an ecclesiastical body outside the World Association of Reformed Churches. Since the ECC is not a recognized Reformed body, the Presbytery is not at liberty to dismiss NPC to that organization. [See Authoritative Interpretation, Item 07-01, from the minutes of the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA)] No relief can be granted.

In summary, the findings regarding these Specifications of Error and Requests for Relief are found not to have stated a claim upon which relief can be granted because we find there are no violations of the Constitution of the PC(USA).

Appeals to these findings may be filed within thirty days of receipt by the parties.

In Christ’s service,

R. Blair Moffett
pro tempore of the Permanent Judicial Commission