The largest predominantly African-American church in Ohio has been dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
New Life at Calvary in Cleveland, along with its pastors Rev. Rick Gillespie-Mobley, Rev. Toby Gillespie-Mobley and Rev. Kellie Sullivan, were dismissed by the Presbytery of the Western Reserve to ECO. Parish Associate Rev. Willy Nieves also transferred his membership.
The 299-member church voted by a 90 percent margin to join ECO.
According to information provided by the pastors, the church’s bylaws — predating the PCUSA’s trust clause which claims all church property is held in trust for the denomination –specifically stated “all the property of the church was held in trust for the congregation.”
The church and the presbytery’s Administrative Commission (AC) agreed upon the presbytery’s requests for membership records, financial documentation, session minutes, and other documents to be transferred to the presbytery. The only issue was the amount the church would be asked to pay to leave the denomination.
The presbytery AC presented an offer that was not acceptable to the church because of the amount requested and a 20-year interest in the church’s property in the event of a sale. The church presented a counter offer of two years per-capita payments and $25,000 to the presbytery. The church also agreed to give the presbytery 10 percent of its net proceeds if the building was sold within five years.
The AC rejected the church’s offer stating the property was valued at $1.9 million. Their counter offer was much larger than the church could afford. The session voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the PCUSA, knowing that Ohio law favored the church’s position because of all the church’s legal documents, including a recorded lease with the presbytery which stated the church owned the property. Presbytery had leased space in the church after the trust clause was in effect.
The stated clerk requested that instead of disaffiliating, the church should present its previous offer as a final offer to the AC. The session voted to submit the offer again. The offer was accepted by the AC. At the presbytery meeting, the moderator of the AC made it clear that they were presenting the offer to the presbytery, because their lawyer had indicated it was a good offer considering if they went to court, the presbytery may end up with nothing under Ohio law. He also stated that there was some pressure from Louisville to reach a settlement with the church.
At the presbytery meeting, there was still some opposition to the motion for dismissal under the terms of the agreement, but it passed by a majority voice vote. The opposition fell into one of two categories. The first category was that the PCUSA was big enough to include all theological persuasions and to dismiss a church was tantamount to destroying the unity of the church. The second category was that the church should be required to pay more money in the name of good stewardship of the church’s resources.
It was pointed out, if the presbytery had received the property, all it could do was sell it. Having an alive inner city church on the corner of E. 79thand Euclid Ave. in Cleveland was a much better use of church resources than replacing the church with a shopping center.
Overall the process ended amicably in part because the incoming moderator spoke in favor of the motion and asked that the presbytery give its blessings on the future ministry of New Life At Calvary. The current moderator prayed for the four pastors who were leaving, and one of them in turn prayed for the presbytery.
Pastors Rick and Toby Gillespie-Mobley said that it wasn’t “easy saying goodbye to so many colleagues we had walked with for the past 26 years.”
“The reality was, it was time for us to go in a new direction for the health of New Life At Calvary as well as for its pastors. We will miss the Presbytery of the Western Reserve. We eagerly wait what God has for us in the Presbytery of the Great Lakes in ECO,” said Gillespie-Mobley.