MDPC’s Discernment Process

At a Congregational Meeting on September 18, 2016 the congregation voted to adopt new Bylaws in accordance with our affiliation with ECO. See the new Bylaws here.

Final Discernment Report

The Results of the MPDC Session Vote

This communique went out to the MDPC congregation via email on May 24, 2016, and by U.S. Post on May 25, 2016.

Dear MDPC Members and Friends,

On Monday evening, May 23, your Session received a report from ReconMR, a third-party Houston-based polling firm, revealing our congregation’s response to six survey questions. On the final question, the congregation polled 79% to 21% in favor of affiliation with ECO. (See expanded survey results.) Session asked questions, evaluated the material, processed our entire Discernment time, took The Lord’s Supper together, and then voted 47 to 8 (85% to 15%) to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. This was a significant decision, and one not entered into lightly, but only after months (years, really) of dialogue and discernment.

We know you have questions about what happens next. We will be asking New Covenant Presbytery to dismiss us to ECO at its July meeting, and ECO will be contacting us about their process. Rest assured that there will be no time during this process during which your staff is not covered by health insurance, etc. Know that a main reason for making this move is so MDPC can stay the course regarding our core foundational principles: devoted to radical generosity, committed to outreach through dollar-for-dollar, faithful to daily prayer for members and mission partners, and energized by Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.

As a reminder, the Discernment Team I put together to lead this process contained three individuals who wanted to stay in the PC(USA), three who wanted to leave the PC(USA), and four who were undecided—plus myself and Paul Nazarian, our Presbytery representative. The committee affirms this statement: The team represented the demographics of MDPC and the various positions around Discernment. We talked, wrestled, studied, resolved differences, and earnestly attempted to provide a process and factual information to the congregation so informed decisions could be made.

Our goals were to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard, that all the questions and comments were conveyed to Session, and that speakers shared passionately and unhindered for both the position to stay in the PC(USA) and the position to go to ECO. The same was true for the Pro/Con piece which you received in the mail. We then heard from the Pastors in an Informational Meeting, and finally, from the congregation via a survey. Our ability to have vigorous discussion in a godly way not only modeled something for the world, but also is our way forward.

For those who agree with the strong majority of the congregation and Session on affiliation with ECO, this is a time to humbly recommit to Christ’s work through MDPC using  our time, talent, and treasure. And for those who are disappointed with this decision, I have always been counseled by mentors to pause in the wake of real grief. Remember that this move to ECO requires nothing additional in the way of confessional allegiance or prescription. ECO has the exact same theology and polity as The Fellowship of Presbyterians within PC(USA) (which MDPC has been a part of for several years). You have my commitment that all voices will continue to be valued, and that we will seek further ways to be welcoming to all. In this spirit, I’ve asked Pastor Rick Myers to organize reconciliation opportunites to light our congregation’s path as we move forward faithfully.

I love MDPC already, and I know you do, as well. Let us continue to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves” through this special place. Though doctrine can divide us – mission unites us! With that in mind, I am inviting each of us to come together for initial service opportunities on June 5 and 8, and with Sent to Serve avenues all summer long.

In Christ’s Service Together,

Rev. Dr. Alf Halvorson, Senior Pastor
Jere Overdyke, Clerk of Session

A Word from our Senior Pastor

The world is watching to see how we treat each other. It’s easy to treat each other well when it’s a minor point and it’s hard work when we don’t agree, and that’s when Jesus says it’s most necessary. The world will assume that when we get in conversations with each other that we’ll demonize our opponents, and that we’ll use hateful speech and hateful behavior toward each other. Let’s shock the world and make our Savior proud by doing the opposite. That means individually when we catch ourselves going rogue, or using misinformation or tricks, or playing games – that we’re going to name it, we’re going to confess it, we’re going to stop it, we’re not going to fan it. And when we see someone else doing it, we’re going to gently say ‘this is not you at your best, this is not us at our best, we’re going to go another way.’ People have told me for the eight months I’ve been here that MDPC is different. I think you’re right. You are a phenomenal community of brothers and sisters – you are an amazing body of Christ. As we go through discernment this next month, this could be our finest hour. Or not. This will be our finest hour if we show love for one another.

–Alf Halvorson, Senior Pastor (excerpted from his April 10 sermon. Click on the link to listen to the full sermon.)

A Pro/Con Summary of Denominational Issues

This document has been prepared by The MDPC Discernment Team and is intended to provide a side-by-side comparison of the pertinent issues, and how the two denominations, PC(USA) and ECO, stand on those issues. The document was mailed the week of May 9th, along with access codes for a member survey. Click here for more information about the survey process.

Pros and Cons: A Summary of Denominational Issues

Discernment Event & Process Calendar

Event & Process Calendar

The MDPC Discernment Team developed a series of events to inform the congregation regarding key issues, give members and various groups the opportunity to share information from differing viewpoints, and for the MDPC Session to be able to receive feedback from the MDPC membership regarding their desired Presbyterian Denominational Affiliation. For information on these events, peruse the four tabs immediately below.

Informational Meetings (Video Links Included Here)

Informational Meetings

This last informational meeting created a forum for dialog, and an opportunity for MDPC’s pastoral staff to offer comments relative to our options. There also was a time for Q&A, where the audience posed questions to the pastors.

Watch a Video of the May 9 Informational Meeting
To view the individual pastors’ comments, here are time stamps for each of the eight MDPC Pastors, listed in scheduled order.

Rick Myers: 22:00 – 29:00
Mauricio Chacón: 29:15 – 35:35
Rachel Poysky: 35:45 – 43:18
Brandon Gaide: 43:28 – 49:35
Kristin Huffman: 49:45 – 1:02:20
Brett Hurst: 1:02:30 – 1:13:54
Dave Steane: 1:14:00 – 1:28:30
Alf Halvorson: 1:28:35 – 1:52:14

Q&A from the Congregation: 1:52:15 – 2:30:11

Looking for a quick summary of the Pastor’s thoughts on Discernment? The MDPC Pastors, in their own words, have summarized their comments from the May 9th Informational Meeting.
Read the MDPC Pastors’ Summary Statements

Monday, May 9

These first four informational meetings were open to all, and served to update the congregation on our process for dismissal through guest speakers who represented the views of the PC(USA) and ECO using predetermined questions selected by the Discernment Team.

Tuesday Evening, April 26

  • Rev. Dr. Jim Davis, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kingwood, TX (ECO)*
  • Rev. Dr. Theodore Wardlaw, President, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, PC(USA)*

Watch a Video of the April 25 Informational Meeting

Saturday Afternoon, April 30

  • Rev. Dr. Blair Monie, Professor, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, PC(USA)*
  • Josephine Harrington, Past Moderator, Presbytery of New Covenant and Commissioner, 221 General Assembly of the PC(USA) in June 2014. (ECO)*

*For biographical information on each of the four speakers, open the tab below, titled “Meet the Speakers”.

Watch a Video of the April 30 Informational Meeting

Round Table Talks

Round Table Talks

If you are an MDPC member, you were encouraged to attend one each of the two sets of Round Table Talks. The four talks have concluded, and the information gleaned has been provided to the MDPC Session for review.

Tuesday, April 14 | 7:00-9:00 PM | Fellowship (1A)
Saturday, April 16 | 10:00 AM-12:00 PM | Fellowship Hall (1B)

Tuesday Evening, May 3 | 7:00-9:00 PM | Fellowship Hall (2A)
Saturday Morning, May 7 | 10:00AM-12:00 PM | Fellowship Hall (2B)

Additional Information for Round Table Talks

Prayer Sessions

Prayer Sessions

Wednesdays, April 20-May 4, 11, 18, & 25
6:45-7:30 PM | Chapel

As we move through the Discernment Process, a series of Elder-led Prayer Sessions will be offered. This will be a time to seek God’s voice and will, using selected Scripture and guided personal prayer. The sessions are open to all, and will take place on Wednesday evenings at 6:45 in the Chapel. Childcare is provided.

Meet the (Informational Meeting) Speakers

April 26 Speakers

Rev. Dr. Jim Davis is Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood, TX, formally a PC(USA) church, and now an ECO church. He received a B.A. from The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio (1975), an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois (1979), and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Nottingham University, Nottingham, England, (1982). Dr. Davis has served as Adjunct Professor multiple times throughout his career, and is currently serving in that role at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has also served as Senior Pastor at two other churches: Central Kitsap Presbyterian Church (WA) and Piedmont Community Church (CA). Dr. Davis will be representing the views of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

Theodore J. Wardlaw became the ninth president, and professor of homiletics, at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2002. A native of South Carolina, Ted is a graduate of Presbyterian College, and earned his divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (now Union Presbyterian Seminary). At Union, he won a graduate fellowship to continue his studies at Yale University Divinity School, where he earned a Masters of Sacred Theology in American Church History (Magna Cum Laude).

Ted has served Presbyterian congregations in Germantown, Tennessee; Sherman, Texas; Setauket (Long Island), New York; and Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, after twelve years as pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church, Ted accepted the call to the presidency of Austin Seminary. He has served as a member of the Board of Visitors of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, as a member of the Board of Trustees at Union Presbyterian Seminary, and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Montreat Conference Center. During his ministry in Atlanta, he taught as an adjunct professor of homiletics at both Union and Columbia Theological Seminaries. In 2007, he was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by his alma mater, Presbyterian College. Dr. Wardlaw will be representing the views of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

April 30 Speakers

Blair Monie has served as the Louis H. and Katherine S. Zbinden Distinguished Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary since September of 2014. Prior to that, he served as senior pastor of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas for almost twenty years. He previously served churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also a former trustee of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  He served for nine years on the General Assembly Council of the PCUSA, chairing the Congregational Ministries Division Committee and serving on the Committee on Theological Education. He earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he now serves on the Board of Trustees. He also holds an honorary doctorate from Austin College. Dr. Monie will be representing the views of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Jody Harrington is a ruling elder in the PCUSA who currently serves the MDPC  as a member of session in the role of Personnel Committee Moderator Elect, and the congregation as Co-Teaching Leader of Bible Study Discussion program. She served as Moderator to General Council of Presbytery of New Covenant in 2007 and Moderator of Presbytery in 2008. Jody attended the first two meetings of the Fellowship of Presbyterians as a representative of MDPC, one of which included the organizational meeting of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).In 2014 she served as Commissioner to the 221st General Assembly.

Jody was one of the authors of the 2011 Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Procedure of Presbytery of New Covenant. Previously, Jody was a columnist for the PCUSA’s magazine Presbyterians Today. She served as Clerk of Session for MDPC and Moderator of the first Denominational Issues Task Force. Jody served as Director of Christian Education at Southminster Presbyterian Church, Missouri City Texas, for four years. She retired from the active practice of law to raise two daughters but continued to use her legal training as a board member of several non-profit organizations, including the church. Ms. Harrington will be representing the views of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

2016 Communications from Leadership to the Congregation

February 18, 2016

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. (Psalm 107:1-2a) We are privileged to serve and know this God; and also to witness to God’s steadfast love with our time, talents, and treasure. God’s faithfulness and your commitment to Christ were revealed in a wonderful way as MDPC finished 2015. It was my first Christmas here and chance to see the “December- Miracle,” where one-third of our budget comes in the last month of the year–or really the last few days of the last month.

Our budget for 2015 was 10.5 million dollars, and after our year end calculations, we finished 2015 with $317,000 over our anticipated income! Session will choose distributions soon. I was humbled by how you responded to the Spirit’s leading in such a sacrificial and generous way; and such giving in a time of real uncertainty. You have a new senior pastor. The stock market is volatile. Oil and gas are at twenty year lows. And we will be entering into a period of Denominational Discernment in 2016. Thank you for your steadfastness and faithful discipleship to Christ through MDPC.

Speaking of Discernment, some have asked me why we have not started our process yet. It is already February. We have been having conversations with New Covenant Presbytery Staff about what shape our process can take. MDPC voted on Feb. 22, 2015 to enter into discernment under the 2011 Gracious Reconciliation and Dismissal Policy of the Presbytery. Following MDPC ‘s vote, the 2011 Policy was revised in June of 2015. Although we have been told by the Presbytery that MDPC will be grandfathered under the 2011 Policy, there are parts of that policy that have been determined to be in violation of the PCUSA’s Book of Order by the PCUSA legal office—which explains the Presbytery’s decision to make revisions in 2015.

If we instead agreed to follow the 2015 Policy, given the uncertainty associated with the 2011 Policy, it would require us to sign an instrument acknowledging that our property is not our own, but rather is held in trust for the benefit of New Covenant Presbytery. The Presbytery would require that acknowledgement, even though we purchased and paid for each parcel, constructed all improvements on our own, maintain the entire campus without any outside assistance, and even though Texas law clearly provides that each local church owns its property unless it signs an instrument creating a trust.

All this is to say that we cannot start a process until we are assured of the rules and outcomes from New Covenant Presbytery. We are awaiting their response the last week of February, and then will hope to outline our fair and balanced discernment process. Our goal is to honor each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, continue worship, fellowship, and small groups, have midweek meetings where different viewpoints can be shared, and where we seek (above all) to hear God’s will and not simply espouse our own agendas. We seek to move forward faithfully with what is best for MDPC as a whole and for the furtherance of the Gospel through this special Body of Christ. I ask for your patience and a pausing of any campaigning until the process is finalized.

I appreciate your partnership and prayers at this crucial time. May God bless us as we seek to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ and useful servants of his grace and truth.

In Christ’s service together,
Rev. Dr. Alf Halvorson, Senior Pastor

January 17, 2016

It has been shared previously in MDPC publications, that in early 2016, we will as a church family move Denominational Affiliation/Discernment from the back burner to the front burner. We are having informal meetings with New Covenant Presbytery’s staff as expected to explore the details, timing, and implications of that process. As a reminder, MDPC voted by a 75% to 25% margin on February 22, 2015, to enter into a period of discernment in order to ascertain God’s will for our denominational affiliation. As soon as details emerge, we will inform you and invite your positive engagement. In the meantime, please continue to pray for MDPC as we seek to follow where God leads us.

FAQ Response to The Round Table Talks

MDPC has completed the first phase of its Denominational Discernment by conducting two Round Table events on April 14 and April 16, 2016. These conversations were honest, respectful, and gave all who attended a chance to have their voice heard on the questions asked.

The Round Table events revealed that many at MDPC are under-informed on some of the basic information pertaining to the structure and terminology of the Presbyterian Church(USA). This FAQ was put together to provide basic information needed to help our congregation participate in the Discernment process in an informed way.

The information is intended to present the basic facts, and be free from bias either in favor or against MDPC remaining affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The questions included here have been written and approved by MDPC’s pastors.

FAQ Response to The Round Table Talks

Frequently Asked Questions, Part II

Frequently Asked Questions, Part II

Please note that the second question on the FAQ, Part II, research materials assembled by the MDPC Pastors regarding alternative denominational affiliations are referenced. Those materials are linked below:

Brandon Gaide on EPC
Rick Myers on ECO
Brett Hurst on PCA
Dave Steane on Second Tier Denominations
Rachel Poysky on Independent Congregations

Details of the MDPC Property Settlement

April 20, 2016

MDPC Settlement Presentation

I am pleased to announce that we have reached, and Session has unanimously approved, a settlement agreement with the Presbytery of New Covenant and PC(USA).

As a result of the settlement, the Presbytery, on behalf of itself and PC(USA), has forever released any interest in MDPC’s property. This means MDPC now and forever has clear title to its property whether we choose to stay in PC(USA) or affiliate with a different Presbyterian denomination.

In return, MDPC has pledged continued financial support of the Presbytery for the next five years. The terms of the settlement provide that MDPC will pay $825,000 to the Presbytery over a five-year term. MDPC also has agreed to pay $125,000 to a mission partner that will be mutually agreed upon by both MDPC and the Presbytery.

The financial settlement is made in recognition of the long-standing relationship MDPC has enjoyed with the Presbytery and in support of a mission and outreach partner that is important to both MDPC and the Presbytery. The news of this settlement comes less than six weeks after MDPC elected to file suit, and at minimum legal expense—both exceptional outcomes when viewed against the reality that litigation potentially could have played out over several years and resulted in a cloud on MDPC’s property. Our settlement also is faithful to the dollar amount the congregation voted upon in February 2015 as a possible exit fee under the 2011 Gracious Dismissal Procedure, and to the initial settlement offer we made to Presbytery in February 2016. Litigation was always the last resort, but we are thankful for the result that it has allowed and for the Presbytery’s supportive role in this process.

Thank you for your continued prayers during this process. As we continue in Discernment, please pray for MDPC and our commitment to be guided by God’s good and perfect will.

In Christ’s Service Together,
Rev. Dr. Alf Halvorson, Senior Pastor

March 8, 2016

The following communication went out via email and first-class mail on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Dear MDPC Members and Friends,

It is with disappointment and sadness that I report that talks with The Presbytery of New Covenant have not progressed as hoped regarding our Discernment Process.

With the changing of the Discernment Process after our February 22, 2015 vote to enter discernment, the Presbytery was not able to provide assurances that our path under the “grandfathered” process would prevent a constitutional challenge. Anything short of MDPC’s acknowledgment of the Trust Clause allows the real threat of an administrative commission (where the Presbytery would try to take original jurisdiction of our church and remove our pastors). Therefore, your Trustees in a protective move have asked for a defensive order from the court
to protect against such an action. They have also asked the court to reaffirm that we own our property as supported by established law in Texas. Your session has concurred with these steps.

The Declaratory Judgment filed with the court will not prevent us from having a gracious, fair, and inclusive-of-different-viewpoints Discernment Process, which will occur in April and May of this year. In fact, it preserves that goal. More details will soon be forthcoming.

For more information on today’s action, please refer to the FAQ for expanded details and a question and answer section.

MDPC will continue our normal programs, worship, and outreach without interruption, and we will seek ongoing conversations, friendship, and bridge-building with The Presbytery of New Covenant moving forward.

Keep our church, its leadership, and the Presbytery in your prayers, and do not let these details distract you from your personal relationship with Christ and your positive participation in the life and ministry of this great church. May we make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

In Christ’s Service Together,

Rev. Dr. Alf Halvorson
Senior Pastor

Jere Overdyke
Clerk of Session | Chairman, MDPC Board of Trustees

Important Documents Related to the March 7, 2016 MDPC Petition

Frequently Asked Questions
Original Petition and TRO, filed March 7, 2016, by MDPC
Temporary Restraining Order, filed March 7, 2016, by MDPC
Powerpoint Presentation

The MDPC Discernment Team

With the approval of Session, Senior Pastor Alf Halvorson put together a group of respected and committed members who are shaping the content and tone of our conversation together. Those serving are Chris Arend, Mary Lee Going, John Hartman, Melinda Jackson, Buz Jochetz, Lydia Junek, Andrew Miller, Robin Sturgis, John Van Osdall, Brett Wagner, Alf Halvorson, and Paul Nazarian, a representative from the Presbytery of New Covenant.

Two Denomination Comparison Charts

The purpose of the charts below is to educate the membership through a comparison of the PCUSA and other prominent Presbyterian denominations. In no way is the chart intended to either advocate for a particular denomination, or to indicate a position on affiliation. We hope you find them to be helpful and informative.

Denomination Comparison Chart

This information was compiled by MDPC Trustee Martha Moore, by cutting and pasting directly from the websites of PC(USA), ECO, and EPC, with no editing of content.

PC(USA) Website Comparison Chart

This information was compiled by the PC(USA).

To view historical documentation through 2015, including the February 22, 2015 vote to enter discernment, click here.