“Conservatives continued to hold out hope, though, that any talk about the delay of the plan of union was simply talk. Jack Williamson wrote an article in the Journal in August 1972 in which he laid out a possible timeline for withdrawal if the plan of union is presented to the 1973 General Assembly as planned with the proposed escape clause. He continued to urge conservatives to wait for the plan of union, if possible, because it would give the continuing church “a broader base with a maximum number of churches,” it provided ministers with “full protection” in coming to the Continuing Church, and “it is the guaranteed constitutional method for a local church to elect not to enter the union and still keep its local church property.” With this approach, it was possible that a new continuing church could be formed by the 1974 General Assembly. However, some churches simply could not wait that long. On September 7, 1972, sixteen ministers and elders representing ten churches formed a new independent presbytery. Called Vanguard Presbytery, it was the brainchild of Todd Allen, the pastor of Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia, which had successfully fought for its church property. Vanguard would become a provisional option for some churches and ministers who felt conscience-bound to withdraw and a model for others in the days ahead.”—Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. (P&R, 2015).
A significant event in the Presbyterian family occurred in Savannah, Georgia on September 7, 1972. A group of ministers and independent Presbyterian churches met and formed Vanguard Presbytery.
Early in August the Reverend Todd Allen, pastor of the Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church of Savannah, contacted the Administrator of the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church and requested advice and counsel with reference to his plan for calling a meeting of the representatives of independent Presbyterian churches and their pastors for the purpose of forming a presbytery that would be faithful to the Word of God and the Reformed Faith. The Steering Committee is ever ready to assist Presbyterian churches in uniting for this worthy purpose. The Administrator was glad to be of what service he could, but the credit for the accomplishment of the Vanguard Presbytery must go to the Reverend Todd Allen and others closely associated with him.
The meeting on September 7 was on a high spiritual plane, beginning with a devotional lesson from Philippians 1:1-6. The Communion service which followed was according to the Word of God and the presiding minister reminded the worshipers that the Sacrament commemorated the substitutionary atonement of our Lord for our sins.
In a most orderly fashion a temporary moderator and clerk were elected and four standing committees were “The Constitution and Service for Constituting the Presbytery”, “Naming and Chartering”, “Presbytery Organization and Schedules” and “Committee of Thanks.” The entire group united in intercession to God for His blessing upon these committees.
The feature of the afternoon meeting was an address by Attorney Owen H. Page. Mr. Page was the attorney for the Eastern Heights and Hull Memorial Churches when these churches went independent in 1966. The case went to the United States Supreme Court and was decided in favor of the local churches’ ownership of their respective properties. The case was decided on neutral principles, that is, without reference to church doctrine or government. Mr. Page stated that the vast majority of church property decisions recently rendered in various states had used the Savannah churches as the precedent effecting their decisions. (Incidentally, state laws vary greatly on the matter of church property and any local congregation wishing to assure the ownership of their church property should consult local attorneys to work out the proper legal instruments.)
The standing committees worked during the afternoon and completed their reports.
The people of the Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church graciously entertained the entire group at supper.
The concluding session of the presbytery was held at 7:00 p.m. All committee reports were unanimously adopted. Rev. Todd Allen was elected Moderator and Ruling Elder Chester Hall of the First Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Kentucky was elected temporary clerk and treasurer. The Presbytery was named “VANGUARD PRESBYTERY, a provisional presbytery for Southern Presbyterian and Reformed churches uniting.” The presbytery accepted an invitation for their November 14 meeting from the Tabb Street Independent Presbyterian Church, Petersburg, Virginia.
The meeting in Savannah was joyously Christian and was without criticism or derogatory remarks concerning any other religious group. The presbytery voted to accept the invitation of the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church for its moderator to become a member of that Steering Committee.
Words to live by:
The organizing meeting of the Vanguard Presbytery began with a message on the text of Philippians 1:1-6. The central truth of that message is that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
In everything that He does, God unerringly accomplishes His purpose. And here, in this text, the apostle Paul drives home the point that as the Lord has raised you up from death to a living faith in the risen Savior, so He will continue to work in you, bringing you at last to Himself in glory. God’s work is sure, and there is no condemnation for those who in Christ Jesus.