Determination outweighed pain in helping an Alabama congregation gain dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Stockton Presbyterian Church was granted dismissal to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) during a Feb. 23 meeting of the Presbytery of South Alabama. The church subsequently was admitted to the EPC Feb. 26, bringing its dismissal process to a close.
“There has been a lot of pain in this, but there also has been a lot of determination in that these people would not rest with the status quo,” said the Rev. Jerry Headrick, the stated supply pastor of Stockton, who will make the transition to the EPC with the congregation.
Under terms of dismissal, Stockton has to continue to be a viable congregation in the Reformed tradition and was required to pay off the remaining debt on a loan from the presbytery that was used to remodel a manse. That payment came to approximately $24,000.
“We wanted to pay that off so there would no future obligations,” said Sam Smith, Stockton’s clerk of session.
Headrick described the dismissal process as one that seemed to be cordial in its handling.
“I was amazed at how cordial the process was. I was sort of surprised by that,” he said. “There were some times of tension, but they were overshadowed by a Christ-like attitude. I think it was a very Christ-like process.”
Smith said there is a feeling of relief among church members now that the process of leaving the PCUSA is behind them.
“We’re relieved and determined to make things go in a positive direction,” he said. “We’ve been losing members because of our affiliation with the PCUSA, and we hope to get them back as we move forward.”
Headrick became involved with the dismissal process some time after the session and congregation decided it wanted to leave the PCUSA. Tabbing himself as an “outsider looking in,” Headrick marveled at the way Stockton’s membership remained firm in its decision to leave the national denomination even when some of their fellow members opted to leave.
“I’ve seen their struggles and watched them try to navigate this process,” Headrick said. “They’ve done that. Now, this congregation has to pull together and move ahead. They have really had their attention wrapped around this.”
The process for Stockton has been ongoing for some two years. The church of 75 members had a near unanimous vote to leave the PCUSA based on the Presbytery of South Alabama’s dismissal guidelines.
Founded in 1847, the church has been a pillar of the community in Baldwin County – 30 miles northeast of Mobile – throughout its history. Headrick said the small-town church is located in a conservative community that doesn’t even have a traffic light. That conservative stance is what led the congregation to seek dismissal from a denomination that has become more liberal in its theology.
“There was a creeping feeling that there was a part of the (PCUSA) that the church could not agree with philosophically or theologically,” Headrick explained. “Enough people felt that way that they began to start talking about it.”
The tipping point was the May 2011 passage of Amendment 10A, which deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the constitutional ordination standard, and now allows the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors.
“The 10A vote two years ago began the thought process to seek dismissal,” Smith said. “The direction of the General Assembly and thinking of the body was just not in sync with what we had been reared to believe, both morally and Biblically.”
The church looked at several prospective denominational affiliations before settling on the EPC.
“Geographically, there are some churches close enough that we could feel a kinship with those congregations,” Headrick said. “The members found nothing objectionable from a theological basis. I think it will be a good fit for them.”
And a new start awaits the church members as well.
“It’s not completely over,” Headrick said. “There will be adjustments that have to be made, but they won’t be that much different from what (Stockton’s members) have been doing. It will be a time of transition but one that is being welcomed.”
There are three or four stories on the front page of The Layman about congregations that have left the PCUSA. Other such stories are posted from time to time. What I’ve been unable to find (maybe it’s here and I just don’t see it) is a simple, cumulative list of all the churches that are leaving. Just the church, number of members, date dismissed. Without such a list, the stories are not worth much. They give a picture of a fragmenting denomination — but aren’t there something like 10,000 congregations in the PCUSA? So stories of a handful leaving every month are sort of misleading, unless they can be shown to be part of a larger trend.
Don, A list of the churches that are leaving or have left the PCUSA can be found here: http://layman.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/churches-seeking-discernment-updated-3-8-13.xls
And in a very useful spreadsheet format! Thanks very much for your response, Ms. Kincaid.
When one begins to analyze the practices of USPCA against the Word of God, I am not surprised some are leaving….what does surprise me is that those who stay must live with an altered doctrine and practice. To be ‘old line’ will not suffice in this day and age.
The number of congregations successfully separating from the PCUSA may be relatively small. A much larger number of us have separated individually. First, we did it spiritually, trying to remember the basics of the faith while preachers talked of “social justice” and services reveled in silliness like “Women’s Sunday” and we sang songs modified to be politically correct with gender-neutral references. Then, we withdrew into small groups–remnants if you will–that focused on studying the Bible rather than enduring denomination-sanctioned Sunday School lessons. Through it all, I found myself becoming more and more angry with pastors who abrogated the faith to pacify as many constituencies as possible in the name of maintaining “peace and unity” within a Church under attack from a relatively small if growing and also very determined minority. Finally, on the last Sunday in December, I reviewed with my small Sunday School class the journey of Israelites wandering in the wilderness and, telling them that the results of forsaking the Truth of God for man’s “social justice” is clearly indicated in the first chapter of the Book of Romans, I said “goodbye.” In February, I became a member of a start up congregation of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, a conservative, Bible-believing denomination. I joined several former members of my former PCUSA congregation, including a retired minister, a classmate of my father’s at Columbia Theological Seminary. We voted by walking out and, if I might add, shaking the dust from our feet.
It’s sad. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church. But even from my youth, back as early as 1961, I saw the United Presbyterian Church slouching toward liberalism. I recall my father coming back from a Presbytery meeting and wondering why they voted to accept a candidate for ordination who didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ. I watched my father struggle for another 20 years in the ministry before finally leaving for the Presbyterian Church in America in 1982. Meanwhile, I looked for conservative congregations with which to affiliate. First, there was Memorial Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, which has since split itself almost out of existence. Then there was East Main Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pennsylvania, which has recently voted to disaffiliate…praise the Lord. I am angry with those who have brought Presbyterian Church to this point. I am angry with ministers who went along to get along. I’m angry with those who advocated tolerance to the point we became the theological equivalent of a bowl of overcooked noodles. But, I’m also hopeful. On Easter Sunday we sang hymns the way they are supposed to be sung; yes sinful man has eyes, sinfulness doesn’t. Yes, our Fairest Lord Jesus is the Son of God and man the Son. In our confessions we confessed to being the sinful creatures we are, abjuring our “reluctance to embrace cultural unity.” Before coming to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ, we were told that taking His body and blood into our own without being truly repentant of our sins was blasphemy. “All” were indeed welcomed to the table provided they repented all their sins.
Many Christians will never leave the PCUSA. There are those who cannot bear the thought of leaving a building in which momma and daddy were married and then from which they were buried. Others love the programs: sports, mission trips, Wednesday night dinners, travel for senior members, etc. Some, do, indeed embrace a new religion of social justice, many doing so sincerely because they believe man’s justice is attainable without understanding the God’s justice flows from his righteousness. In the end, what’s left is a luke warm denomination slouching evermore toward irrelevance.
Saint Paul’s Anglican Church
Great summary in your final paragraph Earl. I hope you enjoy and are blessed being in a new congregation.
What I would also like to see in the spreadsheet (above) are the financial terms for dismissal. Is that included in a listing somewhere?