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3 Hispanic churches in Texas withdraw, may face eviction

Three churches in Mission Presbytery may all lack a center for worship this Sunday as their presbytery has responded to their “renunciation of jurisdiction” by serving an eviction notice.

The three churches, El Principe de Paz Church in Mercedes, Iglesia Presbyteriana Getsemani in San Benito and Iglesia Presbyteriana San Pablo in Brownsville, sent a joint letter to the Mission Presbytery office on Friday, February 10, declaring that they have renounced jurisdiction of the PC(USA) and plan to join another Presbyterian denomination.

The four-page letter was signed by two pastors, Hector Reynoso and Tom Johnson, and the three clerks of session, Carmina Flores, Rosie Garcia, and Emma C. Garcia.

In a Feb. 13 letter of response to Reynoso, Karen Stocks, the presbytery’s stated clerk, acknowledges Reynoso’s reununciation of jurisdiction and directs him to vacate the facility within a few days after retrieving his books and personal items. (Her letter cites the deadline to vacate as “Friday” but also as Feb. 16, which is Thursday.)

The letter cites the Book of Order, G-2.0509: “Renunciation of jurisdiction shall remove the teaching elder from membership and ordered ministry and shall terminate the exercise of that ministry.”

The letter from the churches cites theological differences with the PC(USA) as their primary reason for departure.

Officials of the three churches also state that they sought with others in the presbytery to explore the formation of an “overlay presbytery, which would provide differentiation while still being part of the PCUSA.” This was met with “great hostility” and accusations of being “divisive and schismatic.” Soon thereafter, such efforts were declared unconstitutional, their letter states.

They claim the presbytery also adopted a dismissal policy that “does not allow a session or congregation to freely discuss the option of leaving.” That policy forced them to meet “and hold conversations secretly in order for presbytery not to intervene,” their letter says.

The letter acknowledges that the congregations hold their property in trust and that the presbytery has the right to seize it from them. “Therefore, we appeal to your sense of mercy and implore of you to dig deep within your hearts, and allow us to keep our properties, our assets and bank accounts.”

Nevertheless,” they add, “if you decide that it is important for you to keep our buildings and our finances please know that we stand ready to hand everything over to you.”

Hector Reynoso, pastor of El Principe do Paz and moderator of the session of San Pablo (which has no installed pastor), told the Outlook that the three congregations have all voted to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

In a Feb. 16 letter to the presbytery leaders, Reynoso explains that the renunciation of jurisdiction was, in fact, taken by all three congregations, not just the pastors. They have been “officially received into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as transitional members,” and are now “under the care and jurisdiction of the EPC now.”

Reynoso’s Feb. 16 letter says that, since the renunciation was taken by all three churches and not just the pastors, the congregations are interpreting the clerk’s directive for Reynoso to vacate as “asking the session and congregation of El Principe de Paz to vacate the building as well.” Further, his letter says, “In asking one church to vacate its building it is our understanding that you are asking the 3 churches to vacate their buildings.”

However, the letter claims, given that the churches have already joined the EPC, Mission Presbytery, “can no more remove one of our pastors, or sessions than [they] can remove the pastor or a session from a Baptist or Methodist congregation.”

Stocks told the Outlook that the presbytery did, in fact, adopt a gracious separation policy at a meeting last fall but that the churches have chosen not to follow it. “The presbytery stands ready to work with them on a gracious separation process,” she said.