FINDLAY - Disputes over the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of gay unions by churches often are worked out in big denominational assemblies amid protests and votes on resolutions.
But a smaller, more subdued aspect of the controversy has been playing itself out in this northwest Ohio community since 1998, when Norcrest Presbyterian Church decided to withhold its annual assessments from the General Assembly and Synod of the Presbyterian Church (USA) because of concerns with the moral leadership of the national church body.
Even though the General Assembly has agreed to prohibit the blessing of same-sex unions, Norcrest members believe the close vote by which it was done indicated there was still considerable support within the denomination for such unions, especially after some presbyteries or regional bodies of the church voted to approve them.
To voice their disapproval, the Norcrest session, or governing body, voted to withdraw its per-capita assessment from the national church body and redirect it to mission work in the denomination. The church has continued to support its regional body, the Maumee Valley Presbytery, in the meantime.
The congregation's decision has not been allowed to lie fallow, however. When Norcrest sought approval from the Maumee Valley Presbytery for a $950,000 mortgage to finance an expansion project in June, 1998, presbytery members pointed out that the church wasn't paying its required assessments.
In a narrow vote, the presbytery approved the mortgage, but decided to appoint a special commission to mediate the question of the assessment payments, which amount to about $3,500.
Earlier this month, the commission presented a report to the presbytery saying it had reached an impasse with the 500-member Norcrest congregation. The commission recommended that the practice of redirecting assessment funds continue and that the commission be dismissed.
The presbytery rejected the report and the matter now goes back to the presbytery's committee on administration, which meets again Dec. 4.
Arthur Porter of Tiffin, a retired arbitrator and mediator who served as chair of the commission, said the presbytery was concerned that letting the decision stand would set a precedent and so prefers that discussions continue between Norcrest and the presbytery. Mr. Porter has since resigned from the commission. “I just felt that I had gone as far as I could given my background and my age, so I thought, let somebody else give it a whirl.”
The Rev. Ben Borsay, pastor of Norcrest, said his congregation appreciates its Presbyterian heritage and has not formally discussed leaving the denomination over the issues about which it is concerned.
Members of the church took the action, he said, because they have been uncomfortable with the failure of some of the leadership to take stronger stands on issues that are clearly spelled out in the book of order or are part of the Presbyterian heritage.
“We don't want to stir trouble. We just want to peacefully do our ministry and stay connected to other Presbyterian churches and maintain that connection. We don't want to be a divider of the body.”