The process took two years to complete, but First Presbyterian Church Gloucester, Va., is now a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians after being dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in April.
The Presbytery of Eastern Virginia dismissed the congregation by a vote of 77-8 at its April 25 meeting, but at a cost. Not only was the church required to change its name – it is now known as Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church – it was also required to pay the presbytery $400,000.
The first $200,000 installment has been paid and two more $100,000 payments are required by Dec. 31, 2017, and June 30, 2018.
Weathering the storm
“There is a high level of excitement at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Douglas (Doug) Nagel, pastor of the church. “We weathered the storm through much prayer and support.”
Nagel said that four years earlier, the church had started a monthly Celtic Prayer Gathering. “Participation at that monthly service really picked up in August of 2014 when we were faced with making a decision as to what to do in reference to the actions of the General Assembly. It continued with increasing participation as we moved forward through the process.”
It was during the 2014 General Assembly that commissioners voted to change the definition of marriage and allow same-sex marriages to be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches. Presbyteries ratified that decision in the spring of 2015.
Prayer also saturated other areas of church life. Nagel said the church’s session began every meeting praying that “God’s will might be done and that God might be glorified in whatever outcome we experienced. In addition, we asked for and received the prayers of the ECO staff, the prayers of our fellow churches in our ECO presbytery, and from others throughout the country.”
Discernment with presbytery
In August 2015, the church asked the presbytery to “initiate a period of discernment to help the session of FPC consider whether or not dismissal to another Reformed and Presbyterian denomination is the best solution for the continued future spiritual development of our congregation.
In its Aug. 25th letter (see page 69) to the presbytery, the session said it felt that “the direction of the PCUSA:
- “Lacks broad and consistent theological conviction across the denomination
- “Provides inadequate defense of sound Biblical doctrine
- “Desires to alter the biblical message of the PCUSA to align with culture
- “In a number of instances has subordinated the guidance of Scriptures and the Book of Confessions to the Book of Order.”
- “The actions of the most recent General Assembly have already negatively affected our mission and our budget. PCUSA changes have become a distraction to the pursuit of our community mission. We wish to remain in fellowship with the worldwide Christian church from which the PCUSA is diverging. We have never stopped identifying strongly has a Reformed and Presbyterian congregation.”
On Sept. 11, 2016, the congregation voted by 88 percent to leave the PCUSA and join ECO. At its Oct. 25, 2016 meeting, the presbytery voted by 74 percent to dismiss the church “pending settlement of property issues.”
As representatives from the church and presbytery worked to negotiate a settlement, Nagel said the congregation “continued to pray. Many in our congregation believe the turning point was when we ‘prayer-walked’ our property and claimed it for the glory of God and our continued presence and ministry as a Presbyterian congregation in this location.”
Looking toward a future in ECO, Nagel said:
“Our plans and hopes are a continuation of our direction prior to 2014. We participated in the Healthy, Growing Congregations Initiative of our presbytery and had made commitments to becoming an outwardly-focused, missional congregation that would seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We are continuing in the direction. Preaching, teaching, and Sunday School classes for adults are all more intentionally directed toward building reliance upon the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines, and theological foundations. I have just finished a two-year sermon series on the Westminster Shorted Catechism. I am currently engaged in a preaching series called “Design for Discipleship.”
“Session is currently reading and discussing Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit (Brad Long, Paul Stokes, Cindy Strickler) and beginning in January of 2018, we will begin participating in “Becoming a Flourishing Church.” We will “re-launch” our church as Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in the fall with a celebration service and installation service for pastor and officers.”
First Presbyterian Church, Gloucester, Va., Meditation Submission — Considerations for Gracious Dismissal: A Moral, Ethical, Financial and Missional Argument
Another church, after discernment, is paying through the nose to break with PCUSA. Previously, two churches each are paying $600,000 each and now this church pays $400,000. Is there a pattern here considering the PCUSA shortfall in funds as churches leave PCUSA?
The PCUSA is a disgrace, stealing $$ from the local church!
down and down it goes where it will stop the LORD only knows
Doug, God bless you and the congregation. While your cost seems high, it will fade quickly in the health and clarity that will come through the months ahead. I can say “been there done that”. I am proud to know you and to know your congregation. May God be glorified through all that you do in the years to come.
There is a cost for standing for Biblical truth, and in this instance that cost had a literal price tag! 😉 I’ll bet if every Believer in Hampton Roads chipped in $1- $5 it would knock out that um, ‘dismissal fee’ in no time. I will put my money where my mouth is and send them a few dollars. May God continue to bless this wonderful church body and its leadership in this exciting new season!
If I am reading this right the PCUSA is worrying more about being politically correct than the faith of the church founders . It is good to see this local church stand together to follow the founders of the church.
Prayers for this congregation, and prayers that God’s will be done. Amen
As much as one will find fault and obvious greed of the PCUSA in these dismissal matters, if you run the numbers, simple math will tell you there is just not enough money in the universe available to the PCUSA to save them from their institutional suicide and death spiral.
Apart from the Board of Pensions legacy costs, which are catastrophic from a risk/demographic pool/inverted pyramid, in its health care, and pension to a lesser extent. The great back hole in the PCUSA remains the opaque and rather mysterious way the PMA and the Foundation still conducts its business , as the recent dust-up with the Way Forward commission illustrates.
It is unknown the legacy costs, promised made, obligations assumed by the Foundation and PMA to its various stake holders and folks with their hands in the Till. Could be 100s of millions, could be something that starts with “B”. Given the politicization of the Stated Clerks office and the general absence of the co-Moderators, who knows is who is in charge of who or what. Bottom line the PCUSA can win every property in trust clause case now into the future. There is not enough money to be taxed , assessed, stolen, appropriated, to fill in the gaps of the ever shrinking church and population base of the PCUSA. And sooner or later all those chickens, all, will come home to roost. In the real world of economics and Newtonian physics, not the fantasy world the PCUSA inhabits, 1+1 still equals 2, and all numbers eventually lead to zero.