(Sixth in a series.)
Below is the transcript of the statement the Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church wrote and posted on Vimeo, explaining why they cancelled the congregational meeting they’d called for this past Sunday, January 7, 2024. In this article, I make some comments hoping they will be helpful to those involved in the mess, helping them to see why the session must resign and presbytery must send in a commission to take over the sessional responsibilities for a time.
These statements made by sessions through a spokesman always have much time put into their writing and editing. It is a mistake to think they are the work of the spokesman himself. This is said to emphasize that every word of this statement has been carefully considered and every word is significant in showing the session’s current state.
Hi, everyone. I’m Jamin Ferner, interim moderator of the Tenth Session.
“Interim” because the senior pastor, Liam Goligher, has abandoned his calling and is not present to fulfill his own duty to moderate meetings of the session and congregation. Members of Tenth need to be reminded that Goligher did this unilaterally, meaning without the permission of either of the two entities that share the authority to act on this resignation: the congregation of Tenth Presbyterian Church (not the session) and Philadelphia Presbytery.
Whether Mr. Ferner was appointed by Sr. Pastor Goligher (yes, he still is Tenth’s senior pastor) to moderate the session after his departure, whether the session itself appointed Mr. Ferner, or whether the presbytery and Tenth’s session agreed in his appointment, is not known. Nor is it known whether Mr. Ferner has also been appointed to moderate the congregational meeting that may, eventually, be held.
I want to thank you for taking a moment to listen to this important update. I want to let you know that Tenth’s Session met on Friday to cancel the congregational meeting called for Sunday, January 7th, and there’s two reasons for this.
Session minutes are public records and members of Tenth should be reading them after they are approved. In the case of this session meeting Mr. Ferner refers to, it had to have been a “special called meeting” of the session and these meetings must include the purpose of the meeting in the call sent out to session members. This purpose of the call must be recorded in sessional minutes and these minutes must demonstrate that the discussion and actions of the session did not range beyond the purpose of the meeting stated in its call.
So, for instance, since the purpose for which this “special called meeting” is stated by Interim Moderator Ferner as follows, “Session met on Friday to cancel the congregational meeting,” the minutes should record that this was the only substantive business acted upon. No other substantive business is allowed to be carried out unless it, too, was stipulated in the call for this meeting.
These stipulations are important because “special called meetings” typically are held on short notice so that session members have to rearrange their schedules in order to be present. If they have a conflict with the time and date of the meeting, elders will often weigh their attendance by the meeting’s purpose. If they make the decision to maintain their prior commitment and not attend the special called meeting due to it’s call being stated “to cancel the congregational meeting,” but they find out after the fact that the session also voted to pay their current senior pastor, Liam Goligher, $150,000 severance pay, it would be understandable that the elder who had decided not to cancel his prior obligation would be upset and state that the meeting went beyond its proper limits. He might well say that, had he known severance pay for Sr. Pastor Goligher was part of the agenda, he would have decided to attend in order to oppose this.
It’s also worth noting, in connection with special called meetings of the session, that these same rules apply to special called meetings of the congregation. The call must stipulate the actions which will be considered, and the business must be limited to what was stated in the announcement of the meeting.
First, snow had been forecast throughout the week on Sunday morning, and we were concerned that the weather might be an impediment, at least to some of you who would want to participate in that meeting.
But second, Session heard from a number of Tenth members that they’re looking for more information and more time to make a prayerfully informed decision about how to vote at this meeting.
The Session wants to do everything it can to listen to you and give you both the time and the information needed in order to vote. And so we decided to cancel the meeting, called for Sunday.
Note that the session is quite insistent that its member elders want to “listen” to members of the congregation. This seems to indicate the session is conscious of its need to reclaim the trust of the congregation.
Note also that this vote is not postponed, but cancelled. The purpose of the meeting was “in order to vote.” “Cancel” is the word they used, and it’s worth asking them why it was cancelled rather than postponed?
It’s likely this was due to the session feeling at sea in a storm, and not feeling capable of predicting a date when this vote could be held without possibly contributing to the anger and distress of the congregation.
Now, I do want to tell you a few more things, though. One, the meeting originally called for this Sunday will be rescheduled and called for another date.
It would have been possible simply to postpone the meeting to some future date, but they have no proposed date.
We don’t know exactly when, but we want to give ample opportunity for everyone to get to the point where they feel seen and heard and where they feel they have the information needed to move forward.
Speaking of their flock, Tenth’s session says, “they feel.” Twice. Not good. Not good because “everyone” and “they feel” is not “you” and “you feel.” This is a sad indication of what has long been obvious at Tenth concerning the distance between Tenth’s shepherds and their sheep. “They.”
But worse, in a crisis when church officers’ betrayal of their responsibilities has been as painfully revealed and documented as has been done with the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church, it is presumptuous and condescending to talk down to that congregation by stating that you are concerned about how “they feel.”
Truthfully, it’s not the congregation’s feelings the session should concern itself with, but the congregation’s judgments.
May I be permitted to say this?
Can anyone alive today learn to stop talking about people’s feelings when the matters at issue are doctrinal and moral? It is God and the fulfillment of His commands concerning the Church and her officers at issue, here. These are not matters calling for the massaging of feelings, but rather addressing and then submitting to the congregation’s judgments: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1Peter 4:17).
And two, if weather conditions permit, we invite you to attend worship on Sunday, have communion together, and to stay, if possible, for a special informational meeting following the 11 a.m. service.
In other words, all that changed is that the vote is removed from the congregational meeting. They didn’t want to allow the vote, so although they cancelled the vote, they went ahead and used the meeting to give the congregation the “information” they thought was needed.
Now then, what happened to the session’s desire to “listen” to the congregation? A vote would have allowed the congregation to speak, declaring its will, but now the vote is cancelled and the elders, instead, dispense “information.”
This meeting will give the Session an opportunity to explain why the congregational meeting was cancelled and what we plan to do moving forward. In addition, elders will be available to talk with you after that meeting.
It would be more truthful to say the Session was going to give out information about “why the congregational vote was cancelled.”
Also, note the Session is stating the method for questioning the elders will be to do so individually, in private. “After that meeting.” So it appears the Session is not willing to be questioned publicly, but only privately. Yet cancelling the vote and allowing only private listening makes for no accountability. Pay attention to this.
Three, eh part of making sure we see and hear you is to have a series of listening sessions throughout the parishes over the coming weeks.
Note their repetition of their commitment to “listen,” to “hear,” to “see.” The “sessions” they say they will hold are private. They are not announcing any congregational meeting where a vote will follow.
We want you to have the opportunity to talk with your elders, ask questions, and hear all the information that’s available to share.
“That’s available to share.” To this Session, controlling the train wreck seems to be their only concern. Bring the cherry picker in and let’s get these wrecked cars off the track and the rails relaid as soon as possible so business can resume.
“That’s available to share.” These questions might be asked:
- What areas of information are you “unable to share?” Please be specific.
- Which persons are you “unable to share” information about?
- What sins or crimes are you “unable to share” information about?
- Who is keeping you from giving us, the congregation, the information we request?
- Is any of this withholding of information something our church’s insurance company is requiring of you?
- Is any of this withholding of information something our church’s legal counsel is requiring of you?
- Is there anything you are withholding because you have made an agreement with Sr. Pastor Liam Goligher to withhold it?
- Is there anything you are withholding because you have made an agreement with Mrs. Susan Elzey to withhold it?
- Is there anything you are withholding because Philadelphia Presbytery has advised you to withhold it?
- Is there anything you are withholding because the Office of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America has advised you to withhold it?
- Would you please give us a list of the categories of information you are refusing to give us, along with your stated reasons for doing so?
The session’s statement continues:
We’ll get those parish meetings scheduled and announced to you as quickly as possible. And four, we want to be absolutely transparent with you about the process we’re all going through.
This is the worst part of the Session’s statement.
Claiming you want to be “absolutely transparent” is never a good look in communications given out by officers of the corporation in the aftermath of a public scandal. What brought everyone to this point is the entire lack of transparency, which is to say honesty, on the part of the Session and its pastors. This is what the G.R.A.C.E. report documented exhaustively. How embarrassing that the Session hawks its transparency at the very moment that everyone half aware of that report knows they have done everything in their power to avoid transparency for over twenty years, now.
But then it gets worse. The Session speaks of “the process we’re all going through.”
This scandal is a “process?” This scandal you men created and maintained?
But worse, you claim your congregation is in solidarity with you as you suffer the shame and humiliation of your actions?
“We are all going through?” It’s as if you men are just as much victims as your congregation, yet you are the ones responsible for who have presided over this scandal.
You’re “going through” this scandal with your flock? Poor you. Shall your congregants pity you?
Even from a communications standpoint, this stuff is to tone-dead. Stop to consider it spiritually and it’s damnable.
So that means getting you more timely information about, not only what’s going on, but why it’s going on and ways that you can speak into it. The Session wants to love you well, and a big part of that is communicating effectively.
If the Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church truly wants to love their flock “well,” they should resign. They have betrayed their office and sheep. Again and again. For more than years.
It is good and right to forgive them for this, but the Session should be requesting forgiveness.
So lastly, I just ask you to pray for your elders as we try to navigate this process with all of you, pray that the Lord would give us wisdom and grace—not only to lead you well, but to love you well also.
Again, this word “navigate” is infelicitous. “Navigate this process” is an undignified expression describing the responsibilities Tenth Presbyterian Church’s pastors and elder face at this time as a result of their own betrayal of their Biblical duties.
Thank you for listening and I hope to see you on Sunday.
Nothing more to comment.
(Sixth in a series.)