15 August 2023 |
Recently Adventist Today published a news story about the problems caused by Stephen Bohr’s invitation to the Gaithersburg, Maryland Hispanic Church, resulting in a deeply wounded congregation.
Adventist Today has since pursued more information about this unfortunate conflict.
On Thursday, August 3, Adventist Today received in its inbox a note from someone identifying themselves as representing the Gaithersburg Seventh-day Adventist Church:
I am the administrator of the Facebook page of Gaithersburg Spanish SDA. The news is out and we want brothers, pastors, conferences and everyone to know what they are doing to us as a church! Thank you in advance!
When Adventist Today asked the correspondent if the church board had followed the process according to the Church Manual, they replied:
All of that was already discussed with the church board and the full church, and they all gave their approval! … The manual says that the board should seek guest pastors in consultation with the local pastor, but it does not say under the authorization of the local pastor or of the Potomac Conference.
Adventist Today asked the correspondent for meeting minutes or some other evidence of a formal request to Pastor Jonás Baca or the Potomac Conference. The response seemed to show that no such formal process was entered into. The respondent replied,
I repeat, the pastor knew, the administration knew. You do not know the corruption that exists in this conference, which uses its high positions to pass sentence without due process! I repeat, they were aware of it, and if you don’t want to clarify the mistake you made in your article, we will!
The story behind the story
In fact, the members of the church board and the elders had in June, before the current crisis, held a number of meetings without the presence of the pastor or informing the Potomac Conference.
Matilde Herrera, who at that time was serving as first elder, led out in these independent actions. Herrera is a strong follower of Bohr’s, and like Bohr has been very upset that the Potomac Conference has women pastors. Reportedly, Herrera and other leaders wanted to convince church members to move their congregation and its membership out of the Potomac Conference to the Allegheny East Regional (African American) Conference, which overlaps with Potomac in territory.
On Saturday, July 29, the church board called an administrative meeting after the church service, again without the knowledge and presence of the pastor. First elder Matilde Herrera brought the question of the transfer of membership to the Allegheny East Conference before the members of the church.
Because of the urgency of needing to follow through on the invitation to Bohr, Herrera said that they had to vote and make the transfer of all the members that same day, because if they did not the Potomac Conference could discipline them and “then no transfer requests could be made… because after [Potomac’s alleged discipline] they could not be members in any conference.”
In addition, the Gaithersburg members were told that with the move to Allegheny East Conference they already had “a 350-seat church,” and “that everything was already set up for the change in membership.” The leaders handed out transfer requests. Having been told that the Potomac Conference had already made the decision to discipline the entire church, many members signed the transfer.
Potomac Conference had made no such threat, nor had, apparently, Allegheny leaders made any promises.
An unthreatening meeting
Learning of the July 29th meeting, Pastor Jonás Baca called the meeting described in our earlier report for later that evening, after the young people’s program. According to some who were present, Pastor Baca remained calm and sought information.
The first elder told the pastor that if the Potomac Conference had sent him to “scare us or run us off, we are not going to give you that privilege because we already transferred our membership.” Pastor Baca responded that the decision they had made was a sad one and he was disappointed in the church board for taking such actions on the sly. Pastor Baca also explained the organization of the church, and the procedure regarding finances, real estate, record books, and other elements, as established in the Church Manual.
The elders also asked the pastor for explanations as to why they could not invite Bohr, to which some thought the pastor responded with insufficient clarity.
The videos of the meeting were not made public, however, and rumors were spread, especially through the website Fulcrum7, that Pastor Baca had been threatening and unChristian.
Those who have talked to Adventist Today say it isn’t true that Pastor Baca expelled the dissident members from the church. Baca said that the doors of the church were open for those who decided to stay. Nonetheless, the first elder and the members of the church board left, along with many of the rest present there, saying that they had already changed their membership.
On August 2, the dissident group sent a report to conservative website Fulcrum7, claiming that Pastor Baca had threatened to dissolve the board and that the whole church was being intimidated for inviting Bohr. They renewed the claim that they were threatened with being disfellowshipped by the Potomac Conference as an example to intimidate the others who disagreed with the conference’s decisions.
Neither a pastor nor a conference can disfellowship members, however; this can only be done by a congregational vote.
On Thursday, August 3, the dissident leaders posted on the Gaithersburg Church Facebook page an invitation for an “Open Air Sabbath Worship” for Saturday, August 5—demonstrating their divorce from their former congregation.
The church is in a rented facility and Pastor Baca, as directed by the Potomac Conference and the Church Manual, removed the sound equipment, audiovisual equipment, and other items that are the property of the Gaithersburg Church. Because so many asked for membership transfers, leaders felt the Gaithersburg Church may have entered into a period of disorganization. The Church Manual says:
“The property, funds, and books of disorganized or expelled churches. When a church is disorganized or expelled because of loss of membership or for reasons of discipline, all offerings, financial accounts, and all real and personal property held in the name of the local church or in the name of the conference/mission/field or other denominational legal association shall be held in trust by the conference/mission/field. Therefore, the conference/mission/field has the right, authority, and duty to manage, protect, or dispose of such property and funds. All books and records of such church are in the custody of the conference/mission/field secretary and/or treasurer (Church Manual, pp. 221 [NAD]; pp. 46 [DSA], pp. 32 [IAD]).
On Monday, August 7, an unsigned statement claiming to be from the Gaithersburg Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church was published on a Facebook page. The writer, who said they represented members of the church’s board of directors, said that Pastor Baca had “looted” the church’s audiovisual equipment on Saturday, August 5, while members of the church were at their open air worship service. In the comments the page administrator, who still identifies himself as a board member, accuses Pastor Baca of stealing.
No man’s land
Transfers of members under Adventist Church policies are not done overnight—they are overseen by the conferences involved. If Allegheny East Conference accepts the applications, they will do so in consultation with the Potomac Conference.
Because of their membership transfer requests and their expressed desire not to be members of Potomac Conference, the status of their church membership is not clear. If the Allegheny Conference does not accept their applications, their church memberships will be in limbo. Many of those who signed the transfer of membership because they weren’t told the whole truth may not know the reality of the situation.
The Potomac Conference is working, according to policy, to hold on to congregational property, which would include the Facebook page that is being used under the name of “Seventh-day Adventist Church (Gaithersburg)” by people who say they are no longer members of that congregation.