Gilchrist's Actions Called into Question by Church and Presbytery
Correspondence Sent to Administrative Committee to Try to Resolve Situation
Meeting in Winterville, NC, on August 23, 1997, Eastern Carolina Presbytery voted to take action with regard to Stated Clerk Paul Gilchrist for alleged failure to perform his duty in relation to a congregation. The court voted to instruct the Moderator to write to each of the members of the denominational Administrative Committee, requesting an explanation for Dr. Gilchrist's actions as reflected in various pieces of correspondence. The court also directed the aggrieved Session "to lay charges against TE Paul Gilchrist before [his presbytery] according to BCO 32-9 if their conscience so demands."
The Presbytery took this extraordinary action after receiving a letter from one of its constituent congregations. Dated March 28, 1997, the letter, written by Pastor Carl Brannan and addressed to Mr. Austin Leake, Clerk of Presbytery, reads as follows:
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ! I am writing at the request of the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church in Winterville, NC. This letter is intended by our Session to be the implementation of the third step of disciplinary process as recorded in Matthew 18:17. A summation of the history of the matter before us is as follows.
On June 17, 1994, I wrote Dr. Paul Gilchrist, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, requesting advice regarding the issue of pastors having to testify in court concerning matters discussed in counseling situations. Dr. Gilchrist replied in a letter dated June 27, 1994, that he was unable to help advise me. His reasoning was based on the lack of time and resources of the Stated Clerk's Office followed by a rebuke lodged against Christ Presbyterian Church for not financially supporting the Administrative Committee of the PCA. Prior to my request of the Stated Clerk the Administrative Committee had sent an appeal to our church for financial support. The Diaconate addressed this appeal and while corresponding with the Administrative Committee concluded that certain salaries and expenses of that committee were too high to justify an appeal for more money. Our Diaconate, therefore, after investigating the request declined to send a contribution accompanied by its reasons for not doing so. It should be noted that the action of the Diaconate in this matter was independent of Sessional involvement and independent of my particular request of the Stated Clerk.
Our Session was convicted that we needed to respond. After months of letting the issue remain on the table the Session mailed the Stated Clerk a lengthy letter dated January 24, 1995, in which we took issue with the Stated Clerk's reasoning of his letter dated June 27, 1994. We intimated that a reply was desired. No reply came. In December we received a form letter from the Stated Clerk dated December 15, 1995, which included another appeal to support the Administrative Committee. In this letter the request was made that if we decided not to support that committee to respond listing anything that the Administrative Committee or the Stated Clerk could change or do to get our support. I responded with a letter dated December 22, 1995, in which I reminded the Stated Clerk of our previous correspondence with him that explained our decision not to support the Administrative Committee at that time. I restated that we were still awaiting a reply from him. Still no reply came.
In a letter dated July 22, 1996, I wrote the Stated Clerk that I was approaching him in the spirit of Matthew 18:15 with the backing of the Session. I simply requested a reply to our concerns. I also requested assurance that in future crises for me or any other PCA pastor that he and his office would be there to assist us regardless of the level of financial support for the Administrative Committee. Still no reply. In a letter dated January 23, 1997, the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church wrote Dr. Gilchrist a letter along the lines of Matthew 18:16. We requested once again a response from him addressing our concerns. Still no reply.
The Session of Christ Presbyterian Church in a meeting on March 22, 1997, adopted the following action in an attempt to seek a biblical resolution to this matter:
It was moved, seconded, and passed that we ask Eastern Carolina Presbytery to overture General Assembly concerning an apparent failure on the part of the Stated Clerk to fulfilll his responsibilities specifically RAO article III section 3-2k [which reads: "He shall be available to give advice to the boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church in America if, as, and when so requested."], and an apparent failure to meet the qualifications for the office of Stated Clerk, article III section 3-5f [which reads: "He must be able to work in a capable, sensitive manner with persons who are in positions of responsibility in the Presbyterian Church in America organization structure."]. As evidence we include all correspondence over the last two years with the Stated Clerk as well as a summation of the history of this matter.
Austin, please direct this to the proper committee in our presbytery. The Session of Christ Presbyterian Church awaits the action of Eastern Carolina Presbytery. We realize that this matter will probably come up at the summer meeting due to the late date in light of the spring meeting. We only ask that our request is handled in the usual orderly manner in which all requests are addressed by our presbytery.
Thanks and may our gracious God continue to bless you in your labors for Him.
Sincerely, your co-laborer in Christ,
Pastor Carl D. Brannan, Jr.
The first piece of correspondence mentioned in the letter above is a June 17, 1994 letter from Dr. Brannan to Dr. Gilchrist.
Recently I was subpoenaed to testify in court on behalf of a counselee. Apparently the law is written such that if the counselee waives his privilege and right to confidentiality, then the counselor has no claim to the privilege of confidentiality (evidential privilege). Are there any PCA guidelines regarding counseling? We are seeking to protect ourselves from having to violate principles of conscience inherent in our counseling ministry. Any words of wisdom would be most welcome.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
In Christ's service,
Pastor Carl Brannan, Jr.
The second piece of correspondence is Dr. Gilchrist's response, dated June 27, 1994.
I received your letter of June 17 regarding the subpoena to testify in court on behalf of a counselee. You ask for PCA guidelines regarding counseling.
Unfortunately, we are very pressed for time in getting work done following the General Assembly. I wish that we had the time to do the research for you and pull the materials that might be helpful to you, but unfortunately we simply do not have the time nor the resources.
There are quite a few churches like your own for whom we have provided services such as your own Ministerial Date Form to your church in 1992, the request for assistance in finding a youth pastor, and materials regarding judicial cases involving Eastern Carolina Presbytery.
We have requested and implored of you and your church for help in supporting the Administrative Committee of General Assembly which handles all of these things on your behalf. And yet we have gotten nothing but a negative rebuff from you all.
Brother, I suppose that you as pastor expect your members to give to your church (if not to tithe) in order to support the ministry of the local church which includes administration, salaries, etc. In the same manner, most churches recognize their responsibility to give (if not to tithe) to support the ministry of their denomination which includes administration, etc. Both Old Testament and New Testament principles would indicate that this is a biblical norm. If Christ died for His church, if He is building the church, isn't there an appropriate response suggested by 2 Corinthians 8:9,
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich."
Once again, I would simply ask that you would seriously consider supporting all the agencies of the denomination including the Administrative Committee so that we can in turn help you. Let me close by quoting 2 Corinthians 8:7,
"But as you abound in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us--see that you abound in this grace also."
Paul R. Gilchrist, Stated Clerk
On January 24, 1995, the following letter was sent in response:
Dear Dr. Gilchrist:
We, the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church, are writing to you in hopes of bringing some resolution and to seek some additional answers concerning the enclosed correspondence between our Board of Deacons, Ross Cook and yourself, and the correspondence between Pastor Carl Brannan, Jr. and yourself. Please note that our copy of Keith Williams' letter to Ross Cook of Cotober 16, 1993 is missing. We do however have the gist of that letter from the CPC Deacon minutes of October 1993.
As you know these rounds of letters began with your request of a $100.00 gift from Christ Presbyterian Church. This gift was to go to erasing the $40,000.00 operating deficit of the Administrative Committee of General Assembly. We were one of the 750 PCA churches who had not been supporting the ASKINGS budget for your committee and thus we were earmarked with this request.
Christ Presbyterian Church is still in its youth and while the Lord graciously provides for our needs we have been limited in being able to support all the worthy causes and ministries that come to us requesting financial aid. However, the other side of the coin is that we are not ashamed of our consistent support of ministries and benevolences outside of Christ Presbyterian Church. Such support began even prior to CPC becoming a particular church. The total ASKINGS of $127.20 per member for 1993 was met although it was not budgeted in the specific ways the General Assembly requested. Christ Presbyterian Church's support of the ministries of the PCA is healthy and increases each year. The ASKINGS for the Stated Clerk's office has a line in the CPC 1995 budget. Action on approving the line is currently tabled until we can bring some resolution to the issues addressed herein.
As requests come to us for non-budgeted items, the Session has a practice of referring these matters to the Deacons for their investigation and recommendation. A part of this decision-making process is to take a look at the budgets of organizations making requests. This is done to insure the numbers in the budget appear to be in line with proper business practices.
In reviewing the Administrative Committee Budget, our Deacons were affected by the amount of the Stated Clerk's package. When comparing that package in 1992 of nearly $75,000 to the medium annual earnings for the business world of that same year only two occupations exceeded that amount. While Ross Cook's letter of October 28, 1993 indicates that the Stated Clerk's package is comparable to the high end packages of Teaching Elders in the PPCA, his package is still well above the median packages of those Teaching Elders at the largest PCA churches. The CPC Deacon board felt it would be imprudent to neglect other projected and non-projected needs in order to support a shortfall in an organization in which the key person's salary was excessive.
This is how the CPC Deacons came to their decision to deny your request. We recognize that your request of $100.00 was rather modest; however, the decision-making process was based on the aforementioned regardless of the amount.
The issue with which we, as a Session, have a strong concern is the response you gave to Pastor Carl Brannan, Jr. in your letter of June 27, 1994. Pastor Brannan wrote to you on June 17, 1994 in regards to a legal matter as it relates to the role a minister has as a counselor. (Copies of Pastor Brannan's letter and your response are enclosed.) From the tone of your letter it appears to us that the Administrative Committee is now operating on the basis of individual paying customers only.
Please allow us to address the suppositions which you assumed in your letter.
First of all, the matter of your request for financial assistance was turned over exclusively to our Deacons. The correspondence generated from CPC on this issue did not involve Pastor Brannan. The only information that was passed by Pastor Brannan from the Deacons on this matter was what appeared in the Deacon's minutes; the fact that your request had been denied.
Your second supposition is that Pastor Brannan would withhold the work of his calling as a minister of Jesus Christ to a member of CPC if they were not giving financially to CPC. While our members take a vow to support the church in its worship and work to the best of their ability, we do not keep a running tab as to whether each member has given. We are not in the practice of denying support, ministry or benevolence to any of our members based on their financial donations to the church. In fact we go out of our way to insure that such information is held in confidence. We think it is not prudent that Pastor Brannan of all people be aware of who gives what amounts lest he be tempted to be biased in his personal ministry.
The third supposition is that Christ Presbyterian Church would be the only beneficiary from our participation in areas such as: the placement of ministers to a specific call, the resolving of judicial cases which can affect our entire denomination, and requests for opinions in legal matters which concern kingdom work beyond our denomination. How would you feel if a PCA church had a vacancy or a new ministerial position open and your office was not contacted?
In your initial letter of August 18, 1993, you indicated that the provision to run the Administrative Committee came from the Lord. We assume you feel called by God to your position in the PCA. The fact that you are refusing to address matters which come to you based on the financial giving of the person or church raising the issue gives the appearance that you are a hireling.
As a Session in the PCA, we are alarmed at your response to Pastor Brannan's letter of June 17, 1994. While the footnotes on the budget page for the "Approved 1993 ASKINGS for the PCA General Assembly Ministries" indicate that "when contributions are less than the amounts of the ASKINGS, the committees, agencies and institutions cannot fulfill the programs and services which the General Assembly approved. . ." there is nothing included in this footnote which indicates that this is some type of church by church ala carte arrangement. If you have been given the authority from General Assembly to fulfill or not fulfill the duties of your calling based on the particular giving of individual churches, please make this session aware of that commission. If such authority has not been given to you, may we exhort you not to continue in this practice with other churches in our denomination.
Again let us state that Christ Presbyterian Church has a budget line for the Administrative Committee in our 1995 budget. Approval of that amount is tabled awaiting your reply.
Christ Presbyterian Church
The next piece of correspondence is a letter dated December 15, 1995.
Dear Rev. Brannan:
You might remember receiving a letter from me early last month in which I shared our financial situation.
I am writing again to appeal to you as a connectional, PCA church to support the Administrative Committee. Our office provides many services for the PCA which are critical to functioning as a denomination. Many of our functions are of indirect benefit, and others provide direct support to you or your church.
Pastor, have you you not benefited from our pastor search services by our distribution of your MDF [Ministerial Data Form--Ed.], and providing you with the monthly vacant church list?
Session, have you not used our pastor church services--by our providing guidelines for the search process, and providing you with Ministerial Data Forms?
Many of you have also called me for advice on the Book of Church Order, or asked our office for advice on financial and tax matters. Many of you have also needed our letter identifying your church as a part of the PCA thereby establishing your tax exempt status as a 501(c)3 organization. Others of you have sought our counsel and used our information on incorporation.
This list is incomplete but these are frequently used services.
Our records show that your church has not contributed to the Administrative Committee for at least the last two years. Your statistical report also shows that your church has at least 100 members.
Our ASKINGS for 1995 are $4.85 per member. We ask you to prayerfully consider sending us $500 from your Benevolence Fund by year's end. In addition, we again ask that you approve the AC for the Partnership Share (ASKINGS) for your 1996 budget.
Sincerely, in His service,
Paul R. Gilchrist
Stated Clerk of General Assembly
P.S. If this letter has crossed in the mail with a gift from your church, we are deeply grateful. We still want to be considered for a budget commitment for 1996. If you have decided not to support the Administrative Committee financially, I would appreciate a note from you telling me if there's anything we can change or do to get your support.
On December 22, 1995, the following letter was sent:
Dear Dr. Gilchrist,
Thank you for your letter dated December 15, 1995. In response to your quiry [sic] as to why we are not supporting the Administrative Committee financially at the present time I have been directed by the Session to refer you to our latest communication with you dated January 24, 1995. A copy of this correspondence is enclosed to refresh your memory. We are still awaiting your reply to our letter. Therein lies the reason for our present lack of financial support at this time. The Session had the funds reserved during 1995 awaiting your response. We are still awaiting and would very much welcome a reply to our letter dated January 24, 1995.
Sincerely in His service,
Pastor Carl D. Brannan, Jr.
The next correspondence is dated July 22, 1996.
Dear Dr. Gilchrist,
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus. It has been over two years since I initially wrote you seeking advice in my hour of need. My hour of need came and passed and by God's grace I made it through a most difficult challenge in my ministry. To refresh your memory I have enclosed copies of correspondence dated June 17, 1994, and June 27, 1994, and January 24, 1995, and December 15, 1995, and December 22, 1995. I have purposed to remain separate from the correspondence between our Diaconate and your office. Nevertheless, I realize that the courtesy of such a separation was not aforded to me. With the permission and blessing of the Session I serve, I am writing you in the spirit of and according to oru Lord's dictates of Matthew 18:15. I simply ask for a reply to all of our letters and requests. This would go a long way toward reconciliation of the brethren. And if you are so bold I would like to know that in future crises of ministry that I could count on you and your office to be there for me or for any other minister of the PCA in their hour of need regardless of their church's level of monetary support of the Administrative Committee.
This is very important to me as I have not sensed the freedom to attend General Assembly since this impasse between you and me and between you and your office and the officers of the church I serve. So I dare ask again, would you please respond to my concerns and better yet the concerns of our church's officers?
Sincerely in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Pastor Carl D. Brannan, Jr.
The final piece of correspondence referred to is dated January 23, 1997, as follows.
Dear Dr. Gilchrist,
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church in Winterville, North Carolina, are writing you along the lines of Matthew 18:16. As you may remember we have had a long correspondence with you dating back as far as our Pastor's initial request for help on June 17, 1994, and as recent as our Pastor's letter dated July 22, 1996, in which he sought to approach you along the lines of Matthew 18:15. We along with our Pastor have yet to succeed in receiving a response from you. Our concerns enumerated in our correspondence to you dated January 24, 1995, are still valid concerns for us. Therefore, we ask once again that you please respond to our concerns. Should we still not hear from you concerning these matters we will place these matters before our presbytery along the lines of Matthew 18:17 and seek its counsel and oversight. We are enclosing once again copies of our correspondence dated June 17, 1994, and June 27, 1994, and January 24, 1995, and December 15, 1995, and December 22, 1995, and July 22, 1995.
Your Fellow Servants in the Lord Jesus Christ,
The Session of Christ Presbyterian Church
[signed by] Ruling Elders Skip Cummings, Jeff Jarvis, Tom Lamprecht, Keith Williams, Teaching Elder Carl Brannan, Jr.
According to informed sources, several members of the Administrative Committee (AC) have responded to the most recent letter sent by the Moderator of Eastern Carolina Presbytery. However, that letter had not been received in time for the AC itself to consider at its October meeting.
A spokesman for Dr. Gilchrist indicated that this matter was between Eastern Carolina and the AC, and that the Stated Clerk had no comment on it.