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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 23 : The Dissolution of the Pastoral Relation

Paragraph 1 :

23-1. When any minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church to appear by its commissioners, to show cause why the Presbytery should or should not accept the resignation. If the church fails to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted and the pastoral relation dissolved.
If any church desires to be relieved of its pastor, a similar procedure shall be observed. But whether the minister or the church initiates proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the congregation called and conducted in the same manner as the call of the pastor. In any case, the minister must not physically leave the field until the Presbytery or its commission empowered to handle uncontested requests for dissolution has dissolved the relation.
The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a congregation when the pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but they may not normally succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor. However a congregation by a secret ballot with four-fifths (4/5) majority vote may petition Presbytery for an exception which by a three-fourths (3/4) majority vote Presbytery may grant. Presbytery needs to determine if the dissolution of the pastoral relationship with the senior pastor was brought about in Christian love and good order on the part of the parties concerned.


[DIGEST: Changes to this paragraph have been effected in 1983 [M11GA, 11-9, Item 2, p. 66] and most recently in 1985 [M13GA, 13-18, Item 7, p. 80.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
PCA 1973, 24-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 142
and
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 24-1, Proposed text, p. 32
When any Minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church to appear by its commissioners, or the church may so appear upon its own motion, to show cause, if it has any, why the Presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the church fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its Pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any church desires to be relieved of its Pastor, a similar procedure shall be observed. But whether the Minister or the church initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the congregation called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a Pastor is to be made out.
The Associate or Assistant Pastors may continue to serve a congregation when a Pastoral relation of the Senior Pastor is dissolved, but they may not succeed the Senior Pastor without an intervening charge.

PCUS 1933, XXV, § 142

and
PCUS 1925, XXV, § 142

When any Minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church to appear by its commissioners, or the church may so appear upon its own motion, to show cause, if it has any, why the Presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the church fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its Pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any church desires to be relieved of its Pastor, a similar procedure shall be observed. But whether the Minister or the church initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the congregation called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a Pastor is to be made out.
The pastoral relation of Co-Pastor, if there be any, shall be dissolved on the dissolution of the pastoral relation of the senior Pastor.

PCUS 1879, VI-5-13
When any Minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church, as in the preceding directions, to appear by its commissioners at the next meeting, to show cause, if any it has, why the Presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the church fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its Pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any church desires to be relieved of its Pastor, a similar process shall be observed. But whether the Minister or the church initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the church, called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a Pastor is to be made out.

PCUS 1869 draft, VI-5-14
When any Minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the Congregation,
as in the preceeding directions, to appear by its commissioners at the next meeting, to show cause, if any it has, why the Presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the Congregation fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its Pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any Congregation desires to be relieved of their Pastor, a similar process shall be observed. But whether the Minister or the Congregation initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the Congregation, called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a Pastor is to be made out.

PCUS 1867 draft, VI-5-14
When any minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge, if the congregation is not then ready for the issue of the case, the presbytery shall cite it, as in the preceding directions, to appear by its commissioners at the next meeting, to show cause, if any it has, why the presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the congregation fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any congregation desire to be relieved of their pastor, a similar process shall be observed. But whether the minister or the congregation initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there must always be a meeting of the congregation, called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a pastor is to be made out.


PCUSA 1789, XVI, 1 - Of resigning a pastoral Charge.
When any minister shall labour under such grievances in his congregation, as that he shall desire leave to resign his pastoral charge, the presbytery shall cite the congregation to appear, by their commissioners, at their next meeting, to shew cause, if any they have, why the presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the congregation fail to appear, or if their reasons for retaining their pastor be deemed by the presbytery insufficient, he shall have leave granted to resign his pastoral charge ; of which due record shall be made, and that church shall be held to be vacant, till supplied again, in an orderly manner, with another minister : And if any congregation shall desire to be released from their pastor, a similar process, mutatis mutandis, shall be observed.

OTHER COMPARISONS:
BPC 1946

When any minister shall desire leave to resign his pastoral charge, the presbytery shall cite the congregation to appear, by its commissioners, at its next meeting, to show cause why the presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the congregation fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its pastor be deemed by the presbytery insufficient, he shall have leave granted to resign his pastoral charge, of which due record shall be made; and that church shall be held to be vacant, till supplied again, in an orderly manner, with another minister; and if any congregation shall desire to be released from its pastor, a similar process, mutatis mutandis, shall be observed.

OPC, XXIV - DISSOLVING MINISTERIAL RELATIONSHIPS
1. When a minister desires leave to resign a ministerial charge in order to accept a call to similar service in another charge within the Church the provisions of Chapter XXII, Section 12, shall be observed.
2. If any congregation desires to be relieved of its pastor it may, through a duly called meeting of the congregation, ask him to resign. If the pastor agrees to do so, the presbytery shall be requested to dissolve the pastoral relationship as of a mutually agreeable date. If the pastor is not willing to resign the congregation may petition the presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship and may send representatives to the meeting to support the request. The presbytery may grant the request, but only after giving the pastor opportunity to present his reasons for not concurring, or it may urge the congregation to reconsider its action.
3. If a presbytery, or an agency of a presbytery or of the general assembly, decides to dissolve its relationship with a minister who is serving it under terms of a call it shall inform him of its decision and of the date on which the dissolution is to take place. It shall also provide adequate care of his needs to permit him to find another field of service.
a. If the minister agrees to leave his service with a body that is not a presbytery the body shall inform his presbytery of the dissolution.
b. If the minister does not agree to leave his service with the body he shall consult with it in person or by correspondence to clarify the reasons for the dissolution and to seek agreement.
If the body is a presbytery and the minister continues to withhold his agreement, the presbytery may nevertheless proceed to dissolve the relationship.
If the body is an agency of a presbytery or of the general assembly and the minister continues to withhold his agreement, he may request his presbytery to consult with the agency in the matter. If the presbytery agrees that the relationship should be dissolved it shall so inform the minister and the agency he serves and the dissolution shall be implemented as of the date originally set or, if that has become impractical, a later date established by the agency.
If the body is an agency of a presbytery and the presbytery does not agree with the dissolution the presbytery shall determine what redress is appropriate.
If the body is an agency of the general assembly and the presbytery does not agree with the dissolution it may, nevertheless, counsel the minister to accept the decision in the circumstances or it may overture the general assembly, seeking redress.
Continuation of the minister's financial support in such cases shall be determined by the body in the light of the existing circumstances.
If the matter is concluded by dissolution of the relationship the minister's presbytery shall be informed and the fact entered in its records.
4. If a minister desires permission to resign a charge in order to take up a different kind of labor he shall offer his resignation to the body he serves and shall seek its concurrence, and shall ask his presbytery to approve the contemplated labor. Presbytery shall require him to inform it of the kind of work he would perform, with a view to determining if the work is the work of the ministry and if it would be in accord with his ministerial vows.
If the presbytery approves his doing the contemplated work, and if the body that he serves has agreed to his resignation, he shall be free to leave at a mutually agreeable date, and the presbytery shall be informed. If the body that he serves does not agree to his resignation he may withdraw it or ask the presbytery, at a meeting to which the body may send representatives to plead its cause, to dissolve the relationship. The presbytery may ask him to reconsider his request, or deny it, or grant it.
5. When a minister desires to resign a charge without other ministerial work in view the procedures of Section 4 shall be followed. If the presbytery grants the request it shall advise with him concerning his resuming ministerial labor, taking into consideration Chapter XXVI of this Form of Government.

ARPC 2004, 10.F PROCEDURE FOR THE DISSOLUTION OF PASTORAL RELATIONSHIPS
1. The dissolution of the pastoral relationship shall be by action of the Presbytery. Such action may be initiated by the pastor, the congregation, or the Presbytery.
2. When a pastor wishes to be released from his pastoral charge, he shall first inform the session in writing of his wishes. The session shall then call a congregational meeting to act upon this request. He shall then present the same request in writing to the Presbytery. The action of the congregation shall be presented in writing to the Presbytery. [Amendment No. 13 effective June 13, 1989]
3. When the congregation concurs in this request, the Presbytery may dissolve the pastoral relationship. |
4. If the congregation does not concur in this request, it shall submit its reasons in writing to the Presbytery. The Presbytery shall give careful consideration to all such reasons and take whatever action is in the best interests of the church and the pastor.
5. If the session desires the dissolution of the pastoral relationship, it must by calling a congregational meeting first notify the congregation of its desires and then the congregation, if concurring with the session, shall proceed according to paragraph six for this section. [Amendment No. 13 effective June 13, 1989]
6. If the congregation desires the dissolution of the pastoral relationship, it shall first notify the pastor by written request and then make the same written request to the Presbytery. The Presbytery shall then take whatever action is in the best interests of the church and its pastor. [Amendment No. 13 effective June 13, 1989]
7. The Presbytery has authority, acting on good information, to dissolve a pastoral relationship without formal application from either party, if in its judgment the welfare of the congregation (Church) so requires. [Amendment No. 13 effective June 13, 1989]
8. The Presbytery may request an installed pastor to take up the work in another field of labor, but cannot require him to do so. Any pastor so requested shall give prayerful consideration to such a request for an indication of the will of God. [Amendment No. 13 effective June 13, 1989]

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Prior Actions taken within the PCA :
GA 2001, pp. 190-93 Overture 4 from Eastern Carolina Pby sought to amend the first two paragraphs, seeking to clarify that dissolution of the pastoral bond is a power of Presbytery only, that Presbytery is not to simply affirm the request as received without carefully weighing the situation. The amendment sought also to limit consideration to the whole Presbytery and not simply a commission. Overture 4 was answered in the negative, but with that action “adopted as amended”. The Minutes at pages 190-93 do not reference the CCB report on page 139, which states:

“It is the opinion of CCB that Overture #4 is not in conflict with the other parts of the Constitution. It is also the opinion of the CCB that the offered revision offers very little substantive change to our present standards when they are properly understood and carried out—except for the proposed provision that a Commission can never be used by a presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship which seems unnecessarily restrictive for perfunctory cases without objection from any party.”

OVERTURES AND AMENDMENTS:
1980
GA 1980, pp. 112 Chapter 24 renumbered as chapter 23, due to the merging of the former chapters 8 and 9.

1982
GA1982, pp. 45, 102 Overture 16 from Ascension Pby argued that 23-1 implied a TE should not leave the field until his resignation was accepted by both the congregation and the presbytery, yet Ascension contended that present wording led to confusion, with TE’s leaving the field before Presbyteries were aware of dissolutions. Thus BCO 23-1 was proposed to be amended and read:

“When any minister shall tender his resignation…In any case, the minister must not physically leave the field until the presbytery has approved his resignation. If any church desires to be relieved of its pastor….”

Overture 16 was then answered in the affirmative, as amended, §10-75, III, 19, p. 102:

“When any minister shall tender his resignation… If any church desires to be relieved of its pastor….In any case, the minister must not physically leave the field until the presbytery or its commission empowered to handle uncontested requests for dissolution has dissolved the relation.”

1984
Overture 29, from Delmarva Presbytery [M12GA, 12-10, B., p. 52]
Whereas, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) states that "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for...faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture..."; and
Whereas, the requirement of BCO 23-1 that an associate or assistant pastor may not succeed a senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor has neither express warrant in the Word of God, nor is implied by good and necessary consequence; and
Whereas, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) states "there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed"; and
Whereas, the requirement of BCO 23-1 stated above does find some warrant as governing circumstances in the government of the Church which Christian prudence commends; and
Whereas, nevertheless such prudent governance should not preempt the Biblical and Constitutional rights and responsibilities of congregations and Presbyteries, nor should it establish an infallible rule to prejudge all circumstances by a presumption of guilt; and
Whereas, it is the right and responsibility of the congregation to recognize by election to office those it judges to be called to ministry (16-1, 2) and it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to permit a call, if in its judgment the call is found in order and is for the good of the Church (16-1 and 21-1); and
Whereas, in its current form 23-1 unreasonably restricts the rights and responsibilities of the congregation and the Presbytery to determine that in particular circumstances a call to an associate or assistant to succeed a senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor would be in order, and it uncharitably adopts a presumption of guilt;
Therefore, the Presbytery of Delmarva overtures the Twelfth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to amend to the BCO 23-1, the third paragraph, by replacing 23-1, third paragraph, with the following paragraph:
"The status of an associate or assistant pastor is not affected by the death or resignation of the senior pastor, and no implication of any right of succession, nor necessity of resignation, may be inferred, promised, or required in the call to such associate or assistant pastors. The presbytery may approve a call to an associate or assistant pastor to succeed a senior pastor if the presbytery, after careful consideration, determines by a two-thirds vote that the dissolution of the pastoral relation with the senior pastor was brought about in Christian love and good order on the part of the parties concerned."
Attest: Thomas G. Webb, Stated Clerk.
See answer to Overture 4, Recommendation 29, 12-53, II, 29, p. 133.

Overture 4, from the Presbytery of Southern Florida [M12GA, 12-10, B., p. 47]
Whereas, the Biblical precedence for the ascendancy of an assistant to his senior's position of ministry is demonstrated by the lives of Paul and Timothy, II Timothy 2:2, Elijah and Elisha, I Kings 19:19, also, Eli and Samuel, I Samuel 2:11-3:18, and
Whereas, an historical precedent for this practice was established by many of our fathers in the faith, and
Whereas, there was no restriction in the Standards of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod as to this practice, and
Whereas, the statement in the BCO 23-1 presumes that God wills not to have an associate or assistant pastor succeed a senior pastor; yet nevertheless it is recognized that an associate or assistant pastor must not usurp the office and authority of the senior pastor of a particular church, and the unity of the body of Christ is to be sought and maintained in all situations;
Therefore the Presbytery of Southern Florida respectfully proposes that Chapter 23 of the BCO Section 23-1. . . "The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a congregation when a pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but they may not succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor," be amended to read. . . "The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a congregation when a pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but they may not normally succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor. However, a congregation may petition Presbytery for an exception, which by a three-fourths majority vote, Presbytery may grant."
Attest: Ralph Mittendorff, Stated Clerk.
Answered in the affirmative as amended, 12-53, II, 29, p. 133.

29. That Overture 4--from the Southern Florida Presbytery, p. 47. Re: BCO 23-1, be answered in the affirmative as amended as follows:
That BCO Chapter 23-1 be amended by substituting the following for the present 23-1:
"The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a congregation when a pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but they may not normally succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor. However a congregation by secret ballot with 4/5 majority vote may petition Presbytery for an exception which by a 3/4 majority vote Presbytery may grant. Presbytery needs to determine if the dissolution of the pastoral relationship with the senior pastor was brought about in Christian love and good order on the part of the parties concerned.
Adopted and sent down to Presbyteries for advice and consent. [M12GA, 12-53, II, 29, p. 133.]

1985
GA 1985, pp. 80 BCO 23-1 amended by a vote of 32 yea and 5 nay, substituting the following for the present 23-1:
“The associate or assistant pastors may continue to serve a congregation when the pastoral relation of the senior pastor is dissolved, but they may not normally succeed the senior pastor without an intervening term of service in a different field of labor. However a congregation by a secret ballot with four-fifths (4/5) majority vote may petition Presbytery for an exception which by a three-fourths (3/4) majority vote Presbytery may grant. Presbytery needs to determine if the dissolution of the pastoral relationship with the senior pastor was brought about in Christian love and good order on the part of the parties concerned.”

COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, pp. 155-156), on VI-5-13:

128.--XIII. When any Minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church, as in the preceding directions, to appear by its commissioners at the next meeting, to show cause, if any it has, why the Presbytery should not accept the resignation. If the church fail to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its Pastor be deemed insufficient, his resignation shall be accepted, and the pastoral relation dissolved. If any church desires to be relieved of its Pastor, a similar process shall be observed. But whether the Minister or the church initiate proceedings for a dissolution of the relation, there shall always be a meeting of the church, called and conducted precisely in the same manner as when the call of a Pastor is to be made out.
A Pastor resigns to the Presbytery, and not to the church; and the church applies to the Presbytery for a dissolution, and does not ask the Pastor to resign. It is the Presbytery that establishes and dissolves the pastoral relation, and not the Minister and the church. These two parties have no negotiations with each other directly concerning the pastoral relation, but only through the Presbytery.
At the same time, according to the principle indicated in paragraph 126, that the church may have already had a meeting and prepared its answer to Presbytery, in case some other church has made out a call that aims at the removal of the Pastor, the church may likewise, if its Pastor gives notice of his intention of tendering his resignation to the Presbytery, hold a congregational meeting and appoint its commissioners to answer in the matter to Presbytery, before that meeting of Presbytery at which the Pastor's resignation is to be presented ; and the issue may then be determined.
The church, when cited by Presbytery, must be convened in congregational meeting, but it may decide to make no opposition, and in that case may decide not to send any answer to the Presbytery. And this requirement of a congregational meeting does not forbid the Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relation on its own motion, without consulting either Pastor or church, "where the interests of religion imperatively demand it." (See 77:6.)



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