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Changes ahead for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

Original post made on Feb 25, 2014

One hundred and forty years ago, the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church first took shape in a small building on Santa Cruz Avenue. Now, MPPC is looking for a new home -- both spiritually and physically. Make that homes, plural.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 8:46 AM

Comments (45)

Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2014 at 9:01 am

Nicely done article Sandy.

Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Feb 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Its interesting to note what John Stott had to say about leaving the Anglican denomination as an evangelical - Web Link - he stuck with the mainstream denomination.

See "Without John Stott, UK Evangelicals would resemble the Tea Party" - Web Link

Posted by Political and Cultural
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm

So is this local Church looking to change it's affiliation because they support gay rights in their congregation (allowing Gays to marry, ordaining Gay ministers, etc) or are opposed to those ideas? Getting the feeling that it's the latter. Jesus is alright with me. Exclusion and discrimination not so much.

Posted by Pete Sommer
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Actually, the issue for most of our friends at MPPC is this: the PCUSA says that having a Mission, Vision, Values, and Faith statement is considered "confusing and an obstruction to governance."

If that sounds crazy, it's because it is. It's an organization writing a suicide note. We aren't allow to hold specific beliefs, or interview possible leaders about their own. That's why the PCUSA is in steep decline across the USA, and why Menlo Pres needs to leave in order to have any future at all.

Posted by Katherine
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 25, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I find it so disgusting that in the name of God, MPPC judges Gays and Lesbians.. Aren't we here to love one another?

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 6:33 am

John Ortberg is part of a small group of pastors of wealthy congregations who have planned for over a decade to strip them of their property.

Web Link
Web Link

Others signers of the document above have tried and failed to do the same. As a member of one of those congregations I'm glad.we voted it down a year ago. First Presbyterian in Houston just did last week.

Web Link

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 7:03 am

As someone who has gone through this process one thing is not obvious. The upcoming vote is ADVISORY ONLY. The presbytery holds the property in trust for the denomination for the people who stay. It's the vote of the San Francisco Presbytery that matters. This same presbytery was chastised by the Permanent Judicial Commission for giving Community Presbyterian Church of Danville a sweetheart deal on their property.

In the recent General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) case, Tom v. Pby of San Francisco, the GAPJC authoritatively interpreted how the Trust Clause found in the Book of Order at G-4.0203 interacts with Gracious Dismissal Policies. The GAPJC held that while a presbytery has broad discretionary authority under the Book of Order to determine property rights [within the context of determining the mission of Jesus Christ in the world (G-4.0201) and in its district (G-3.0303a) to dismiss a particular congregation within its geographic region (G-3.0301a)], **the presbytery must fulfill its fiduciary duty under the Trust Clause (G-4.0203) to consider the interest of the PC(USA) as a beneficiary of the property.**

Web Link

This is why the dollar figure is so high. Another consideration will be a clear supermajority wants to leave. If this is not the case San Francisco Presbytery will be back before the GAPJC.

Posted by JIm
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 9:36 am

The PCUSA has been in decline for 45 years straight and it is only getting worse. The issue isn't sexuality, the issue is a failure of leadership and a lack of vision. Every church with any sense at all is trying to get out.

Posted by Choices
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2014 at 9:46 am

And Eco is the only alternative?? Not the case.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 10:40 am

The Gay Maffia needs to settle down and stay out of this. Not every issue today is about you! This "reporter" clearly is trying to induce the gay agenda here and there just is no cause or evidence of such action. Why not run a story on what PCUSA plans to do with the windfall extrusion of nearly $9M? They clearly view MPPC as their cash-cow and the $$ is the only issue that they ever cared about. MPPC is about expanding its message and providing help to those that need it. PCUSA is worried about where the checks are coming from in their dying population.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:11 am

Evangelical? Yuck. What's their plan to help the poor, sick and disenfranchised? If they want to leave their org, and they're against gays, just become Catholic! That way they have access to all of the art, culture & history.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Hey Bob,
I have inside information on both the reporting and the PCUSA's intent, and I am pleased to tell you that you are wrong on both accounts. The reporter did not seize upon the "gay agenda" but instead went in that direction rather than quoting damningly faint praise for John Ortberg and his kingdom building agenda in the name of ECO. As for the PCUSA viewing MPPC as a cash cow, wrong again. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but I'll give you points for seeking to defame the PCUSA in the name of Jesus. Do your homework, pal, and ask why Church of the Pioneers Foundation was ever created in the first place. The answer was and continues to be to cheat the presbytery out of monies and properties that should otherwise be held in trust for the denomination.

Posted by Stuart
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 4:55 pm

In response to Jim, the PCUSA is by no means the only denomination in decline. Asa matter of fact, even self-identified evangelical denominations are in decline. For example, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) is declining at about the same rate, once you adjust for congregations joining from the PCUSA. About 2/3 of their congregations are in decline. The problem is not the PCUSA or a lack of leadership. Church membership across all denominations in America is in decline. The truly sad thing to me is that the response of churches like Menlo Park, First Houston, Highland Park Dallas and others is to divide our forces. How much better off we'd all be if we stuck together, even with our differences.

Posted by Reformed Catholic
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm

One thing that the reporter didn't include ... that the houses the Church of the Pioneers Foundation owns and are used to house the pastors are going to be sold as part of the settlement with the Presbytery.

Readers should also be informed that the so-called trust clause has been overturned in many states as being illegal as a trust cannot be imposed by a first party on a second party without the agreement of the second party.

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:36 pm

It saddens me greatly to see MPPC in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. I first joined this church when it was under the extraordinary ministry of Walt Gerber, and was a haven of hope, humility and grace for anyone, and for everyone seeking a deeper relationship with God. It was a church utterly focused on outreach; on supporting, caring for, and ministering to the needs of not only the immediate community, but people in many areas of the world. Gerber is a man of extraordinary empathy, a man of wisdom, and a man with a deep and abiding sense of reverence for all people. His leadership established MPPC as a cornerstone of Christianity in the most elementary definition of the word, to be followers of Jesus, advocates of the teachings of Christ.

John Ortberg is a very talented speaker, an exceptionally bright guy, and a man who clearly has a highly ambitious agenda for the future of MPPC. I do not doubt his desire to take the best course forward, nor do I doubt his sincerity in his faith, in his ministry, and in his message. I do, however, believe that the Menlo church is caught up at a critical juncture, and that to a large extent, we have lost our way. There is clearly a deep divide in the opinions and feelings of the membership, and I find myself squarely in the camp which believes that leaving PCUSA is a mistake, a mistake not only for MPPC, but for the body politic of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. I have obviously not been privy to the discussions between MPPC leadership and PCUSA, but I firmly believe that compromise was not truly the end goal; not then, not now, not in the future. It is strikingly apparent that the groundswell of activity and direction has been resoundingly directed to breaking off, and joining the fledgling ECO, no doubt as the largest fish in a juvenile pond.

There was another event some years back, a proposal which involved a major overhaul of the existing building on Santa Cruz, spending substantial money to create a feel which was more "auditorium", considerably more flashy than the staid interior in place for years. The church, led by Ortberg, allowed an open comments section, in which members could post their thoughts, pro and con. It was shocking to see the out powering of discontent, but I really applauded the transparency of the process. There has been no such effort in place this time around, but rather, members are directed to contact deacons if they wished more information, or to express their feelings. I personally did just exactly that, and suffice it to say that the experience only served to deepen my concerns over the process, and the proposed split. It was a particular disappointment to me that very direct, very civil questions which were presented in writing were never answered in like kind, with my assigned deacon freely admitting that no written response would be forthcoming.

I will be voting on Sunday, and I will continue to be a member of this church regardless of outcome, and I strongly suspect the outcome will be dismissal from PCUSA. I would be the first to tell anyone that God walks, talks and lives in this church, and that every person would, I believe, find a warm reception at the front door. It will be tragic if people observing MPPC through the prism of this event see it as justification for turning away from a church home, or further evidence that organized "religion" is both damaged and damaging. Many thousands of people brought their hearts. spirits and backs to MPPC over the past 140 years, and many lives have been immeasurably touched and lifted up by this church community. I have no doubt that the same spirit of compassion, and of inclusion, will continue to burn brightly for the next one hundred years, regardless of the stumbles along the way.

It is worth remembering, however, that the message of Christ is utterly simple, and the non-negotiable commandment is to love one another. We are not called to judge. We are called to serve.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is a very thoughtful piece on this issue by a high school sophomore posted on the sister PA Weekly Forum:

Web Link

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I agree,Peter, that is a wonderful piece, and very impressive for such a young person to have written.

I also agree completely, that the issue of same sex union, while perhaps not paramount, is certainly a factor in this decision. I have had multiple conversations with individuals who are senior within the church, and they have often cited same sex unions as one of the driving forces behind this movement. It may be, may not be, but the fact remains that the church has taken a stand against both same sex marriage, and gay ordination. The ECO is clearly a far more conservative body than is PCUSA, and it is reasonable to assume that this position will be a rallying point for the churches joining the organization.

It is very odd to me that MPPC would take this position, as well as the position on celibacy outside of marriage, given our demographics, and the level of education and cultural exposure which characterizes our congregation. The church is saying, in essence, that while gays are welcome to participate in the life of the church, they are not welcome to be married there, to be a part of any married couples activity, or to enjoy the privileges reserved for heterosexual married couples. We have overwhelming evidence that a person's sexuality is not a lifestyle choice, but is determined by genetics. I cannot imagine that people find it appropriate, nor just, to deny that most fundamental of human relationships to an individual who is simply trying to live his or her life in peace, and with a loving partner. Regardless, it should be readily apparent that taking this position will be a major hurdle for the church in the Peninsula Bay Area, and again, particularly with a younger congregation. This situation will become more complex when full civil rights are accorded to the gay community on a federal basis, just as protection was given based upon race. I respect and understand the conflicts surrounding this issue, and have likely heard every possible argument, pro and con. What emerges for me, however, is as I said earlier, we are not called to judge, but rather, are called to serve. There is not one circumstance in the life and times of Jesus which saw him forsaking the wounded, or marginalizing those whom society chose to castigate. He came to bind up wounds, to care for the disenfranchised, to love and to protect those for whom these gifts had long been denied. I cannot imagine that Christ would stand in judgment of gay couples who chose to honor their union by the sanctity of a marriage ceremony in the holy spaces of their church. I cannot imagine that He would turn aside a minister gifted to preach the message of Christianity because that individual had been born gay. Who are we to sit in judgment, to deny these liberties to any one of our colleagues, our families, our friends? Supposing the prevailing attitude had been opposition to inter racial marriage? Opposition to marriages for people of different faiths? Opposition of marriage for people who had a prior divorce? There is no reason to think these examples are far fetched, as the broad interpretation of religious freedom allows churches to hold exemptions from civil rights protections which are state and federally based.

There is a strong backlash against organized religion in the United States, and the results have been devastating for nearly every major denomination. A good part of that backlash has been spearheaded by the grotesque emergence of far right wing "evangelicals", a term which has become a synonym for bigotry in many circles. MPPC is my church, as it is the church of thousands of other people. I am sorry that we have reached this point of division, sorry that the leadership is anxious to exit a governing body which so desperately needs unity and direction. I am sorry because I believe that the financial overtones will dictate the tenor of the conversation, and perhaps influence the eventual vote. I am sorry that $9M will be spent in this costly divorce at a time when so many are in such need. Regardless of outcome, I hope very much that we can collectively find our way home again.

One of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. It is the chapter describing the sacred importance of love, and specifically the love which Christians are called to hold; both for one another and for mankind. It should be the mantra of any church, anywhere, who strives to be more Christlike in their outreach.

"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love".

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:46 pm

The issue of homosexuality is at the heart of this. All you need to do is look at the polity and essential tenets of the ECO:

From ECO's Polity and Discipline:

"2.0101 Qualifications of officers
Elders and deacons are ordained and installed by the session. Pastors are ordained and installed by the presbyteries. Ordaining bodies must ensure that **all officers adhere to the Essential Tenets of the ECO. Failure of officers to continue to adhere to these standards is grounds for a session or presbytery to remove an officer from service** according to the Rules of Discipline in this Constitution."

So what do the Essential Tenets say?

"We therefore hold one another accountable to: ... maintain chastity in thought and deed, being faithful within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman as established by God at the creation or embracing a celibate life as established by Jesus in the new covenant."

All this talk about love and tolerance is all smoke. The Presbyterian Church has also accumulated centuries of confessions in its Book of Confessions. ECO has subtly changed the ordination vows to be guided the historic confessions with this:

"Do you receive and adopt without hesitation the Essential Tenets of the ECO as a reliable exposition of what Scripture teaches us to do and to believe, and will you be guided by them in your life and ministry?"

All the elders of MPPC should be asked on Sunday if they have read the Essential Tenets and be prepared to take this vow and explain why the Book of Confessions was replaced.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Thank you Fashion for speaking out in manner that many others will not raise their voices to say. As for the reader stating that all the pastors homes will need to be sold, I think you need to ask your Elders and Church leaders why they aren't willing to liquidate the $40 million in cash they have sitting in banks and hidden trusts around the country. Wake up folks and quit drinking the Kool-Aid. Somebody needs to call for a full financial disclosure of both MPPC and COPF. Why in the world would a group of highly educated lawyers and business folks agree to pay the PCUSA a penny if they had a legal leg to stand on? The answer is because they know they don't.

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Anonymous, the reason they will take the $9 million dollar settlement is the California Supreme Court already has affirmed the trust clause.

Web Link

"The California Supreme Court in 2009 ruled in favor of the Los Angeles diocese in its battle against St. James in Newport Beach, stating that the property was held in trust for the diocese and national church.

Though deeds showed St. James owned its property, the congregation had agreed to be part of the national church and was bound by its rules, the court said. The Episcopal Church in 1979 adopted a rule making clear that local parishes owned their properties only as long as they remained within the larger church body."

Now the best thing for everyone involved is the people who are disaffected with the PCUSA leave and start over with a new ECO church if that's what floats their boat. But that would mean leaving the golden calf, err building, behind. And in the case of the pastoral staff a gold-plated PCUSA pension. Christianity teaches sometimes you need to sacrifice in order to do what's right. When my church voted this down a year ago it ended with a whimper and not a bang. I predict the same will happen here.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Excellent comments by Fashion. I am very disappointed in lack of transparency. I am concerned by ECR including infallibility of old and new testaments in its tenets. I think Church can do everything it wants to without the Billy Graham crusade with no real discussion. I anticipate meetings on sunday will lead to a crescendo stand up and be counted. I note in the website about the Los Angeles Case involving Episcopals that "The Episcopal Church in 1979 adopted a rule making clear that local parishes owned their properties only as long as they remained within the larger church body." If staying in the presbytery allowed ownership and use of property, why give away $9 million.

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Fashion is a registered user.

My understanding of the financial settlement is that MPPC will use $2.5M of reserves, and will sell one home, and one home only, which is the residence rented by the Ortbergs and owned by the Church Of the Pioneers Foundation. The balance, again as I understand it, is to be made up by the Church of the Pioneers Foundation, and no further debt will be incurred. It is also my understanding that the Pioneers own the remaining residential properties, with ownership to remain in their name. It is disingenious, in my opinion, to portray the Ortbergs volunteering to move as a sacrifice, as their residential concerns will clearly be addressed in a highly satisfactory fashion. My apologies if my understanding is in any way incorrect.

It is very obvious that MPPC believes that litigation would result in a favorable decision for PCUSA, and it is offensive to me that an essential "bounty" of $35 per member will be paid in the settlement, In addition to the payment negotiated for the building. There is a caveat which suggests that the $9M be used for beneficial purpose. This is admirable,of course, but how much more
appropriate if we put discretionary funds to work for the benefit of the underserved, and without the stain of what amounts to a divorce settlement. There is no question in my mind of the answer, were it to be put to the man from Galilee.

Concerned, I hope you are correct that Sunday will result in a "stand up and be counted" movement, in every facility, for every person. It could well be that the majority of members support this decision, and MPPC will proceed as desired by the leadership. If this is the case, my fervent hope is that the collective decision will be made after thorough study, great introspection, and a prayer for guidance. I hope that no one casts their vote, pro or con, as a result of perceived intimidation, a feeling of ennui, or a perception that one voice could not possibly matter.

My personal guiding principle is that attributed to Margaret Mead, and paraphrased as follows:

"Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing which can."

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Fashion, it's not just a majority. All of the above have to happen for this to go through.

1. Over 50% of the members show up.
2. 75% of those there agree that it is worth spending 9 million dollars to leave.
3. San Francisco Presbytery approves the deal after the vote since your vote is ONLY ADVISORY.

In red Texas a $350,000 deal failed to make a 2/3 majority.
In purple Colorado 60% surveyed wanted to stay even before a deal was negotiated.
Blue California with a heavy mix of young people are going to get to 75%? I seriously doubt it.

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Fashion is a registered user.

Yes, I agree, Rich. If the required majority votes for dismissal, however, I think it unlikely that PCUSA will refuse, particularly given the exhaustive settlement negotiations. We shall see.

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 2:02 am

You are correct. When we went through this process a year ago I sensed a distinct asymmetry in the pastoral care of the parties. The presbytery administrative commission (like your PET) cared about the souls of both those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to leave. Those who wanted to leave only really cared about their own issues of conscience. It was only after it was clear we were staying that the issue that people were hurting became relevant. The purpose of the settlement is to care for the people who want to stay and the presbytery is there to provide the financial and spiritual resources needed for hurting people after the vote regardless of of how it goes. For example, they helped us find an interim pastor after the pastor who instigated the attempted split left for another call. Through our new pastor's care and after many tears it is starting to feel like home again.

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 6:30 am

Some comments on the story of First Presbyterian in Houston voting down leaving the PCUSA:

A denomination spending my money on social justice causes like promoting ObamaCare, greenhouse gas reduction, sanctions against Israel, anti-oil and gas causes and encouraging me to pray to Sophia, the "feminist aspect of God" is not a denomination I want any part of. Hence why I voted with 1084 of my fellow FPC members yesterday to leave it. So sad that our voting numbers were very likely skewed by a few members still on the rolls recruited yesterday to vote their ultra-liberal agenda despite not having darkened the door of FPC in years.

And on the other side:

If they think that young people will be enticed by being discriminatory, maybe they should visit Central Presbyterian in Austin. We're "Deliberately Diverse & Fully Inclusive" and have gone from a church of declining membership of mostly over 50's just 15 years ago to one that is growing by leaps and bounds. We have young and old joining, and almost all of them reference our inclusiveness and our mission work in downtown Austin. If you follow Jesus, instead of just worshiping Him, amazing things happen.

Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I am so sorry to the members of MPPC that this private matter is being publicized in this way. It seems to me that it is a private matter and should not be covered in the Press. It makes this thoughtful newspaper look more like a supermarket tabloid.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I am so sorry to the members of MPPC that this private matter is being publicized in this way."

As a tax exempt organization which has a substantial presence in and impact on the community this matter is clearly not just a private matter.

Posted by Palo Alto MPPC former member
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Having attended MPPC and becoming a member for over 25 years (1983-2010), I have this observation. The church went from having a humble, common-man salt-of-the-earth leader (Walt Gerber) to an ambitious, spotlight-centered empire builder who seemed to be emulating national evangelicals with mega-churches to their credit (John Ortberg). I left because the mission seemed more of the man than the spirit. Helping form ECO then leading the congregation to join it seems improper with mixed messages of ambition and grandiosity, certainly not humility.

In style a d in substance, the present senior pastor has been reshaping MPPC to conform to a church that will rival the other mega-churches; it struck me as extreme hubris and I left rather than support it. I wince now at all my tithes and contributions over 25 plus years to MPPC and, yes, Church of the Pioneers. I am not country club or wealthy. Nine million dollars to support a vanity project?? Granted, the national Presbyterian church was too "lefty," but that doesn't make this divorce right. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!

Posted by Marie
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:53 pm

I'm an Mppc attendee

I want to y that the request to be dismissed was first approved back in Augusr 2010 but then the gracious dismissal policy was changed by pc USA. That was before Eco before all the other changes.

Next- here is an example of what will be reviewed at the pc USA general assembly in June.

Why would we want to be apart of an organization that funds this?
Web Link

Posted by mab
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 11:10 pm

As a member of MPPC I feel the church is going down the wrong path in their attempt to follow Jesus because Jesus said that he wanted us all to be one, so the world would believe God had sent him. The breaking apart of the body of Christ because of theological and practical issues is a terrible testimony. It matters if we cannot work together with a denomination where there is some diversity of belief and it matters that we are participating in the development of yet one more denomination.

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2014 at 2:20 am

Marie, if you are against a denomination that supports Palestinian Christians who are being oppressed then why are you supporting a senior pastor who says this? Web Link

It's amazing how ignorant people are riled up to leave over areas of agreement! This is not surprising though since billionaire-financed organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy use political wedge issues and disinformation to attack churches and promote dissension. It's time for conservatives and traditionalists to realize they are being played. Let's work together to advance the Kingdom and against the greedy corporate interests.

Web Link

This was said in 2004:

As Presbyterians prepare to gather for their General Assembly in Richmond, Va., next month, a band of determined conservatives is advancing a plan to split the church along liberal and orthodox lines. Another divorce proposal shook the United Methodist convention in Pittsburgh earlier this month, while conservative Episcopalians have already broken away to form a dissident network of their own.

In each denomination, the flashpoint is homosexuality, but there is another common denominator as well. In each case, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a small organization based in Washington, has helped incubate traditionalist insurrections against the liberal politics of the denomination's leaders.

With financing from a handful of conservative donors, including the Scaife family foundations, the Bradley and Olin Foundations and Howard and Roberta Ahmanson's Fieldstead & Company, the 23-year-old institute is now playing a pivotal role in the biggest battle over the future of American Protestantism since churches split over slavery at the time of the Civil War.

Posted by Rich
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2014 at 2:45 am

I don't bemoan media attention. For example, here was a media article on my church:

Web Link

From this story many of us realized the march to schism was not inevitable. In the end good sense prevailed. After voting down the insanity media articles on our church looked more like this:

Web Link

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

I understand the general feeling of distaste which comes from publicly airing what is typically a private concern. That said, this decision is too critical to be brushed aside, or to proceed without interested parties having the opportunity to air their concerns, or state their position. Had MPPC provided a forum in which members and attendees could air their thoughts openly with one another as a general body, this discussion would likely not be taking place. It is enormously regrettable that the church did not provide an internet home for commentary, avoiding any public conversation.

I am not in favor of the church leaving PCUSA, nor frankly, am I in favor of the church focusing time, money and effort in a "five year/five campus" expansion program. I am not in favor, in any sense of the word, of spending a staggering $9M to facilitate this congressional divorce. The human heart should hurt at the thought of how much good could come from money of this sort being spent for those in need.

The membership level of MPPC under the leadership of Walt Gerber appears to have been approximately the same level, if not higher, than what we see today, many years, many divisions, many "satellite campus" programs later. There are a number of things which have changed, some positive, some negative, It is my opinion that principal among them is the feeling of unity, the sense of purpose, the common drive for humility and compassion which were hallmarks of the MPPC congregation of ten years ago. What has changed is the stability of the leadership team, the cherished traditions of the service, the unshakable bond of joy which went hand in hand with walking through the doors of one of the most life giving, life sustaining churches in the Bay Area, and arguably in the country.

I respect the talents of John Ortberg, and there is no denying his capability in many important areas. He is an intelligent, creative guy, an excellent speaker, and a prolific author. He is also a man who clearly sees himself as the leader of a movement far beyond the scope of the treasured church he now pastors, and a man whose ambition, both personal and professional, is beyond dispute. I do not begrudge him his goals in any sense of the word. I do, however, firmly resist his desire to remake MPPC into a church which suits his agenda, and one which I do not believe reflects the basic tenets which have governed us so successfully, and so lovingly, for decades.

There are obviously several driving forces behind the desire to leave PCUSA, and it is clear that PCUSA is in glaring need of reformation, revamping, and quite likely an overhaul of leadership. I understand the concerns which have been raised by Ortberg and his leadership team as justification for the departure, but I flatly disagree that departure is the solution. MPPC is one of the brightest stars in the PCUSA firmament, and at a time when Presbyterian churches are fleeing the organization, this church could fill a critical gap in capability. John Ortberg could direct his multiple talents to fixing what is broken, repairing what no longer works, bringing a new face to an organization badly in need of assistance.

It is apparent to the most casual observer that mainstream denominations in America are on a dramatic, and perhaps irreversible decline. We have seen leading denominations, including the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Catholic church, and the Presbyterian church all racked by strife, torn apart by fundamental disagreement on any number of subjects. The "go to" solution for most of these organizations has not been to work with passion for reconciliation and progress, but rather, to essentially take their toys and go away. There are no winners in this type of divisive, tragic behavior. People for whom the church is, as it should be, a lifeline, are left broken hearted at the relationships severed, the bonds torn apart. Denominations lose the collective, prodigious power of unity, while small, disparate, splinter groups pop up here and there, all touting their particular version of the "right path". People who are outside of the church either shake their heads in disgust, or feel, often justifiably, that their perception of organized religion as both damaged and damaging is perfectly correct.

It is time, in my opinion, to stop this hemorrhaging tide of damage. It is time to remember that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us. It is time to stop focusing our efforts on aggrandizement, and remember instead that those who lead by example are, as they should be, the true beacons of light in the world.

MPPC is not called to be on the front page of the papers for suspected discrimination against any group of people. It is not called to be a point of concern for neighboring churches due to expansion efforts. It is not called to be a platform for this pastor, or for any pastor, to overlay personal goals on a church whose charter was written by larger hands.

Rather, we are called to justice. We are called to, and for, social outreach and compassion. We are called to take the astonishing blessings of our location, our wealth, and our talents as what they are; gifts to be used to and for the benefit of the communities we serve. We are called to protect those most vulnerable, to shelter those in need, to care for the sick, to provide for the homeless. We are called to bring the word of Christ in living, breathing, vibrant display to those not familiar with His message. We are called to welcome, to embrace, and to celebrate every person equally, leaving the duties of judgment to the God we serve. We are called to stand as a unified body, joyful in our faith, faithful in our joy.

We are losing our way. This needs to be the last time in which our church plays out unaccustomed discord in such a painful, bleeding fashion. I don't know what tomorrow's vote will bring, and we can only hope that every single person voting does so with thoughtful analysis, great courage, humility, and a sincere desire to return MPPC to the loving, united body it was for so many years. If the vote goes to join ECO, then I hope we will bind up our wounds, and move forward to make the organization a source of joy and comfort in a world so desperately in need. If ECO proves contrary to our fundamental beliefs, then I hope we stand with courage in opposing any charter, any instruction, any direction which erodes our foundation. If the vote goes to remain in PCUSA, then I hope that Reverend Ortberg either accepts the challenge to embrace the decision wholeheartedly, or makes the decision to find a platform more in keeping with his personal goals and philosophy.

The one thing I do know is that the power of God permeates this church, and has from the first day of existence. Menlo Park Presbyterian has changed lives for generations, provided a spiritual home for thousands of people, and become a cornerstone of outreach and leadership in the Peninsula Bay Area. It is a wonderful church, made up of decent, good, caring people. It has been a living, vibrant symbol of all that is good, all that is responsible, all that is caring, all that is beneficial in a denominational gathering. It will remain as such, simply because so many people believe now, as they have believed for years, that the God we serve is, and must always be, the defining force of all that brings us together.

The working definition of being a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. To follow this man is to understand that we are called to serve, called to stand, called to love, called to shelter.

Nothing can shake that foundation. This church belongs to God, and He, thank goodness, remains as He was, as He is, as He will always be; perfect in His love, steadfast in his fidelity.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I continue to be prayerful that this whole movement by MPPC is going to fail, primarily because they so badly bungled the process with continuing lack of transparency and factual manipulation. When all is said and done, I hope my God is bigger than John Ortberg's ambitions.

Maria, the original gracious dismissal policy provided for a $700K payout for a church the size of MPPC and was mediated by negotiators who were familiar with actual value of MPPC's real estate and COPF holdings (and yet still agreed to the sweetheart 700K buyout). The presbytery withdrew their complicity after they discovered the true value of MPPC's holdings. It is also my understanding that MPPC was looking to go with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, until they realized that denomination did not allow women in leadership. Since the PCUSA will only release pastors--and their pensions--to another denomination, another solution was concocted. I give MPPC's Elders and Session credit for picking and choosing who they are going to shun--no to women, yes to gays and lesbians, meanwhile calling into question the faith of anyone who dares challenge their view of the Christ and Jesus.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Back in the days when we all went to hear Walt Gerber preach and Ed Jones Pray, we learned that, through God, what should happen would happen without church pressure. For example, our faith offering was double what was necessary to run the Church and half of the amount collected went to mission to help others. Another example, was Walt's suggestion for a Senior Care Center, which did not happen. I am praying that, even with all the current Church pressure and lack of Church forum for discourse, the same principle will hold true.

Posted by MenloRes
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 1, 2014 at 9:26 pm

"The Gay Maffia (sic)? Bob, using such a derogatory term utterly undermines any point that you would try to make. There is an abiding bitterness in your post (toward the reporter, the PCUSA, gays). I am sorry that you are trapped by that. God's blessings on your future ministry, and I hope that these scars are healed.

Posted by ConcernedPresby
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 1, 2014 at 9:46 pm

While I acknowledge the concerns that have led this vote, I suspect that it will damage MPPC and PCUSA in the long term. For PCUSA, losing a vital ministry like MPPC is a source of great sorrow, and will probably cause a greater left-ward shift. For MPPC, they have lost a chance to remain as a necessary voice in a still important denomination, and have utterly abdicated decades of ministerial cooperation and leadership. This split mirrors perhaps the greatest malaise in the US, which is an increasing level of partisanship (political/geographical/theological). Rather than being a powerful voice for bringing Christians together, MPPC merely becomes a mirror of sectarian discord.

The move to ECO will be rather problematic, as it is a denomination borne of a dispute over homosexuality. While this is not a very important issue for the MPPC congregation, their ministry in the Bay Area will be diminished in the long-term by their affiliation with a denomination rigidly defined by this small issue. The issue will only get worse over the next decade (before it recedes in importance). Hopefully many other churches in the area will be able to pick up the slack and provide alternatives for young Christians who fully support the rights of gays in church and society.

Posted by Julie
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2014 at 9:34 am

I was baptized, attended Sunday School and youth group, was married and spoke at my parents' funerals at the Menlo Park Presbyterian church. Now at 65 I am so grateful for the lessons of kindness and compassion I learned there, for all no matter what their ethnicity or sexual orientation. It laid the foundation for a life of community service and compassion. I no longer live in the community but I am saddened to think if this vote goes through. It is so counter to what this church, and as I see it, what Jesus taught.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2014 at 11:13 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I was told by a long time member of MPPC that when that member went this morning to participate in the vote that the member was informed that the member was not 'registered' and denied a ballot.

Sounds like there may be some active manipulation of the voting.

Posted by Fashion
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2014 at 11:41 am


I was at Menlo this morning, and every possible care was taken to ensure that the voting process was flawless, totally objective, and with no room whatsoever for the slightest hint of bias.

Members of the church were asked to present themselves at registration tables, and to confirm their name and address. Hands were stamped, and ballots given out. No ballot could be submitted prematurely, no person could submit a ballot on behalf of anyone else, and even in the case of a couple, if two ballots were folded together, both were discarded. Honestly, the process of voting was completely transparent and very well done. If the person in question did not receive a ballot, I would assume it was because they are not an official member of the church. If they were, I cannot imagine why there was difficulty, or worst case, there were many people there ready to help and assist.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Fashion - thanks; sounds like everything was done quite properly.

Posted by Long Time MPPC Member
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm

MPPC spent many months making sure its membership list was accurate. To join MPPC, people need to attend a membership class. The class was called 'Seekers and Joiners' when I took it decades ago. Just attending MPPC services isn't equivalent to joining. People were asked repeatedly to make sure they were signed up as members, because only registered members would be allowed to vote. Many more people attend our services and Sunday school classes than the 3400+ people who are actual members. I'm sorry that anyone was surprised this morning to find out that he/she isn't on the membership list. I hope that anyone who is in this situation will contact MPPC and sign up for a membership class, assuming that the individual agrees with the vote today.

For everyone who posted negative comments about MPPC on this article, please note that the vote this morning was 93% in favor (2024 'yes' votes and 158 'no' votes) of leaving the PCUSA. In speaking with people who sat near me in the sanctuary this morning, it was clear that people really did understand the issues. For many, the cost of leaving the PCUSA was a deciding factor in voting 'yes'. The issues of property ownership and control over our local congregation - for example in the area of planting additional churches - were top priorities. We have been talking about this issue for many years.

And note that the Church of the Pioneers Foundation is a completely separate legal entity. I do not believe the PCUSA would have prevailed in court in trying to get COPF assets because COPF is a separate non-profit. But, MPPCs staff and elders and COPF members didn't want to get into a court battle; they felt that Christians should be able to come to an agreement without involving the courts. They chose instead to find a mutually agreed upon dismissal policy. I pray when the Presbytery votes that they will honor the supermajority of MPPC members who voted 'yes' today.

Posted by Mel
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2014 at 11:16 pm

So glad IF the reason they are leaving is for moral decay in the denomination and blurred vision.

To clarify some of the comments there is no judgment of gay and lesbians, and yes we are called to love every single human - period! Every Christian knows it is God's job alone to judge - BUT we are called to call sin what it is. Homosexual relationships are a sin, as is adultery, murder, lying, etc. Let's be clear it's not a judgment it's a sin. The Lord said it best now go and sin no more. Amen!

Posted by Edward
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Well what can I say. This is really sad to me. Went to this church as a child when it was traditionally Presbyterian. This looks like some kind of non-denominational evangelical church. And what raising hands in the service? And this type of non liturgical praise music with big screens? You have taken a beautiful lovely church that was wonderful in its liturgy and turned it into a modern day seeker friendly church. So sad, they did the same thing for their other campus in Mt View and to the south Cupertino I believe?

I mean the way way you are going and your ministers vision, why dont you just leave being Presbyterians all together. You split over things that you did not deem as biblical, understand. But God is all loving. This is really so sad. No words can express what my heart feels.

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