Presbyterian Promise News


9 December 2013 -- The Decision in the John Merz case has been released and is available here. The discussion provides both insight and some background.

This "issue" has been reverberating around the judicatories/governing bodies/councils/committees and parking lots of this presbytery almost from the day John's article was published. Taking the matter to trial may not fully resolve the concerns, but it has provided a full opportunity for consideration and decision.

23 November 2013 -- Cromwell, CT -- The Presbytery of Southern New England's Permanent Judicial Commission today heard the case brought against its minister member, the Rev. John Merz. The Commission found Rev. Merz not guilty of all charges. The verbally reported decision was unanimous. When it becomes available, the written decision will be posted here.

At issue was whether the Rev. Merz's marriage to Bill Starkowski violated his ordination vows, the Directory for Worship and/or the Confessions. The particular charges are identified in the pre-trial documents, available below. Elder Sam Hamilton, PJC Moderator, explained that the Commission had not ruled on the motion to dismiss as they felt that the arguments about the motion were likely to be substantially the same as those at trial. 

The Rev. Parker Williamson represented the prosecuting committee. Mark Robertson, of Fulbright and Jaworski, was council for Rev. Merz. The room was filled to capacity. Approximately seventy-five presbyters witnessed the trial. The majority of them were supporters of Rev. Merz.

The charges as filed were improperly stated, with several alleged violations listed in a single charge. The PJC granted prosecution's request that they be restated so that each citation would be listed separately. The three pretrial charges thus became seven.

In his opening statement, Rev. Williamson noted that we were all under the authority of scripture and that scripture supersedes all authority in this room. Further, that existing cases have not addressed what scripture says about this matter.

Mr. Robertson countered that the issues had been decided in the cases concerning Rev. Laurie McNeill (Newark, Synod of the Northeast and General Assembly PJC decisions) and that these decisions were further supported by Benton, White v. St. Angelo, Spahr and Southard.

The prosecution called Robert Gagnon, New Testament professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to testify about what scripture has to say. Although there was question as to the appropriateness of such testimony, and the PJC indicated that it would be subject to later review, they decided to allow brief testimony.

Gagnon cited Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as the foundation for Jesus' and other Biblical teachings on marriage. He argued that many citations are not needed. When the matter is not in dispute in the Bible, a single statement is sufficient.

The defense noted that these issues were not among the charges specified. 

Closing arguments largely restated what had been covered, with the defense pointing to established cases and the prosecution claiming the authority of scripture. Surprisingly, in his response to the defense closing, Rev. Williamson introduced the censure of the Rev. Graham Robinson, the pastor who had presided at Rev. Merz's wedding and a matter that had been resolved without trial by this PJC. Defense was allowed to state that polity is different for officiants and for those getting married.

The pre-trial documents are:

The charges
The Motion to Dismiss
The Reply to the Motion to Dismiss
The Response to the Prosecution's Rejection of the Motion to Dismiss

7 September 2013 -- The 35th edition of Presbyterian Promise News was mailed today -- our first color edition!

3 August 2013 -- A rainy day turns sunny for the Presbyterian Promise retreat at the Sanctuary at Shepherdfields. See the photo story in the September Presbyterian Promise News.

4 May 2013 -- Presbyterian Promise News #34 is mailed.

2 May 2013 -- Rhode Island becomes a smae gender marriage state!

25 March 2013 --

Presbyterian Promise co-moderators Jane Hindenlang and Dick Hasbany, accompanied by board member Ralph Jones, journeyed to New York City to meet with Presbyterian Welcome staff, the Rev. Mieke Vandersall and John Russell Stanger, Welcome's Organizer of Mission and Advocacy. Conversation was wide ranging about the activities of the two organizations, and the challenges. John's work with the youth of New York Presbytery was a particular interest.

Pictured are the co-moderators with Mieke and John making Presbyterian Promise's contribution to this year's Candidates and Inquirer's retreat. Pres Welcome has taken the lead on this ministry for several years. Bringing candidates and inquirers together in a safe space where they can join in worship and share their experiences has been a truly powerful and necessary time for many. Pres Promise has supported this program since 2005.

13 January 2013 -- 

The 12th Presbyterian Promise annual meeting was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, CT. The Annual Report is available here

Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Evangelist with That All May Freely Serve, spoke to us about his hopes for the work of TAMFS and the many others in this movement. Ray had been serving the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House in New York City for over three years when he felt called to his new work.

News from 2000