BIRMINGHAM — Supporters of the Presbyterian Historical Society office at Montreat, N.C, fought until the end — but did not prevail.
The General Assembly voted 348-147 on June 21 to approve a plan to close the history office at Montreat, a move that some argued was financially necessary, but others said would be stripping the denomination of an important piece of its heritage.
In the fall of 2005, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly voted to close the office at Montreat. The plan, as it evolved, was to consolidate the holdings at the Presbyterian Historical Society office in Philadelphia and at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia.
Opposing the closing of the office, 21 presbyteries from 10 states sent overtures to the assembly — with many trying to find some way to transfer responsibility for the Montreat office to a group located there, which had launched a fund-raising campaign and said it would assume financial responsibility for the office.
“Records from Presbyterian Women historians all over this country are at Montreat,” said Peggy McGachy Roberson, a commissioner from Shenandoah presbytery, who approached the microphone with a written speech in her hand, but put it aside when she got there, saying she wanted to speak from the heart.
At Montreat, “people come to conferences, which as far as I know are not in Philadelphia and not in Decatur, Georgia,” Roberson said. Many records relating to Presbyterian mission history have been kept at Montreat, she said — and visitors who come to gatherings at the conference center at Montreat stop in at the history center, something they could not do if it is moved.
To close it, said Eric Skidmore of South Carolina, would be an “irreversible” loss.
But COGA had argued that, in a financially-stressed denomination, keeping two history offices open is too expensive. “In the end, it came down to a question of stewardship,” said Donald Wagner, a minister from Chicago presbytery and a member of the General Assembly Procedures committee, which considered the Montreat proposal for hours.
“This recommendation was not based on some cold notion of the bottom line,” but on stewardship for the entire church, said Robert McClellan, a theological advisory student delegate from Columbia seminary. “It’s a hard decision, but we can make it with a gentle hand.”
After the vote, Joan Gray, moderator of this assembly, led the gathering in prayer — acknowledging that some are grieving this decision. Gray said she and Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), would write a pastoral letter regarding the closing of the history center at Montreat.