Two more PCUSA presbyteries have drawn up plans to deal with congregations that want to leave, and appear open to working things out with an amicable, Christian approach. First, Washington Presbytery in Pennsylvania, from the Observer-Reporter of Washington County:
A plan that would allow a Presbyterian church to leave the denomination with its property was approved by Washington Presbytery last week.
However, the adopted plan won’t pertain to Peters Creek Presbyterian Church, which sought a temporary court injunction in Washington County Court of Common Pleas, for fear the presbytery would act to seize its property.
That injunction has been modified, said Ray Peterson, spokesman for the Peters Creek church, allowing the church to meet and work with the presbytery’s administrative commission.
The separation plan adopted by members of the presbytery by a 56-18 vote at their July 10 meeting is being called “just and fair” by both sides.
“We are working with the administrative commission in a very open and sincere manner, and although the process does not appear to apply to us, we feel the process is an excellent one and are going to look to the process for guidance,” Peterson said this week.
The 600-member Peters Creek Presbyterian Church in Venetia wants to leave the Presbyterian Church USA denomination to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Under the separation process, there must be at least four months of discussion between the congregation and a pastoral team. Members of that team would be appointed by the presbytery.
The congregation also would be required to submit a mission plan to the presbytery, describing its ministry once it leaves the presbytery. It also must show how all members of the congregation will be ministered to, including those who may not want to leave the denomination.
The pastoral team would be invited to speak at a congregational meeting to vote on whether to leave the denomination. At last 75 percent of the active members voting must be in favor of dismissal for it to occur.
The presbytery also will vote on the separation. The presbytery was to vote on the separation process in September, but it was moved up to July to accommodate Peters Creek church after it requested an injunction.
The Rev. Linda Jaberg, who heads the presbytery council, said the vote is evidence that the presbytery chose conversation over civil action in the courts.
“I think it was definitely the presbytery’s voice that we move ahead and offer this process for churches who feel they have to leave the denomination,” she said. “We’re not vindictive. We don’t want to be punitive. We want to be fair and reasonable.”
And this sounds like a fair and reasonable start to the process. Kudos to Washington Presbytery for taking this approach.
The second is the Presbytery of the Cascades (CA, OR, WA), where Hope Presbyterian Church of Rogue River, Oregon has taken up the presbytery’s offer of negotiation, according to the Layman Online:
A small church in southwestern Oregon and a regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are in talks over the church’s request to leave the denomination.
The congregation of Hope Presbyterian Church in Rogue River voted July 8 to “realign its membership” from the PCUSA to the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Sixty-five of the church’s 88 members took part in the vote, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Brian Boisen. Of those, 62 voted for realignment and three voted against it, he said.
Hope Presbyterian Church’s request will be the first test of the Presbytery of the Cascades’ new process to address withdrawing churches. The process was approved at the presbytery’s stated meeting June 22-23 in Portland, Ore., said the Rev. Dr. Hugh D. Anderson, co-executive presbyter.
Boisen said his church is completing its application to join the EPC, but will consider itself part of the PCUSA until it is graciously dismissed or has to take further action. Prior to the vote, the church had legal consultations that brought up questions about the validity of the presbytery’s trust claim on the church’s property, he said.
Hope Presbyterian Church is open to discussing a settlement that would allow the congregation to be dismissed with its property, Boisen said.
“As we approach presbytery and work with them, that is going to be our stance,” he said. “‘We really would like to work this ecclesiastically with you, but we don’t recognize the validity of the trust claim.’ Of course, they’re going to disagree.”
Anderson said he is open to a settlement, but “the whole goal of the process is reconciliation” to keep the church in the PCUSA.
Though that is the goal, I’m sure Rev. Anderson recognizes that separation is probable. But I like his attitude as expressed to the Layman:
Anderson said Hope Presbyterian is the first church in Cascades Presbytery that has sought to leave the PCUSA in his 12½ years with the presbytery, which has 122 congregations and more than 26,000 members in California, Oregon and Washington. But he said the process to address withdrawing churches came about in order to be proactive in light of other congregations around the country that are seeking to leave the denomination.
The policy is “purposely general” since the situation will vary from church to church, Anderson said. “That gives our teams flexibility,” he said.
Anderson said he disagrees with those who liken a church’s leaving the PCUSA to a corporate takeover or a divorce. He sees it more in the Biblical image of someone moving away from a community because of a calling that God has placed before him or her.
I think that’s an excellent way of looking at things, and I hope and pray that more and more PCUSA leaders will take his approach.