From the Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat, this is a new one on me. Two churches–one Episcopal, one PCUSA, are planning on merging, and then joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church:
Church leaders at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church said they have been talking with members about the direction of national church groups they are affiliated with.
“We are talking about where our place is in this denomination,” said the Rev. Keith Fink from St. Paul’s.
“Since we find ourselves in like settings (as St. Francis members), we have been in discussions since July: What would it look like for two communities of the faith to join together to form one new congregation?”
If both congregations agree, members would split from their denominations and erect a new building in Somerset Township where worshipers would come together as members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
“There is a general dissatisfaction with our denomination,” Fink said. “We are not able to say what they believe.”
The Rev. Mark Zimmerman, priest at St. Francis, announced recently that he plans to resign.
“I don’t view it so much as a split,” he said.
More of a divorce and remarriage, perhaps. Whatever you call it, the folks from both congregations will likely be welcomed in the EPC. One Presbyterian spoke to the time frame they have in mind:
Lincoln Van Sickel, an elected leader at St. Paul’s, said the local church’s differences from the Presbyterian Church USA have grown increasingly distinct.
“The Presbyterian Church USA has tended to go astray from what we consider the Word of God,” he said. “We have been studying (leaving) prayerfully for at least a year.”
Members could vote on a move within six months, he said.
And then there’s, as always, the property issue:
A building project for the 315-member congregation brought the issue to the forefront. Members had considered a $2 million expansion at the building, built in 1872.
But the property would have to be turned over the Presbyterian Church USA if members voted to leave.
I don’t know what presbytery St. Paul’s is in–hopefully it’s one of those in western Pennsylvania where an amicable departure could be arranged.
Zimmerman said he is studying the details of Presbyterian policy so he could accept a role as a co-pastor at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a national denomination founded in 1981 that has 70,000 members.
No question, this is different, but certainly there are other EPC pastors, including yours truly, who have made the jump from non-Reformed denominations. I look forward to meeting Rev. Zimmerman (this new church would be in the Presbytery of the East, where I am) and wish him and his flock, as well as Rev. Fink and his, God’s blessings on their journey.
UPDATE: A bit of information on the two congregations:
St. Paul’s: membership of 332, average Sunday attendance of 255, steady growth from 1997 (242 members, 136 ASA) through 2006.
St. Francis-in-the-Fields: membership of 199, ASA of 163.