Brookdale Presbyterian Church, a 320-member congregation founded in 1917 in St. Joseph, Mo., 50 miles north of Kansas City, took steps to disaffiliate from the PCUSA and Heartland Presbytery when members unanimously voted to approve separating to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) during an Aug. 25, 2013, meeting.
The Rev. Joseph Pallikkathayil, interim pastor for Brookdale since Feb. 10, 2013, said the session tried to follow Heartland Presbytery’s gracious separation process to seek dismissal, but the Administrative Commission (AC) made the process difficult and posed financial terms the congregation could not meet.
“The relationship between the session and the AC was intense,” he said. “The session sought an amicable separation, but the AC from the presbytery made it so difficult.”
The Brookdale session sought dismissal from the presbytery with property and blessing two years ago, but was not allowed to leave without paying a hefty sum of money, Pallikkathayil explained. Had the national denomination remained faithful to the Bible and its teachings, such action might not have been necessary.
Pallikkathayil said the Administrative Commission from Heartland made a financial proposal of more than $300,000 on May 22, 2013, that Brookdale’s session refused.
Even after the church voted to disaffiliate, the Heartland AC made another financial proposal Aug. 29, Pallikkathayil said, this time asking for more than $500,000 for a gracious separation. That offer also was refused by the congregation, which was received into the EPC on Oct. 22.
There was a willingness on the part of the session to give a gift to the presbytery, but there was reluctance by the presbytery to negotiate a settlement that would have resulted in an amicable separation.
“There seemed to be more of an interest in big money,” Pallikkathayil said. “The presbytery makes it tough to leave. As I see it, the goal is to get the most money rather than an interest in kingdom building.”
Pallikkathayil said there was quite a sense of relief when the congregation voted to walk away from the PCUSA.
“When results of the vote (Aug. 25) were announced, there was crying, cheering, clapping and dancing,” he said. “That meeting was such a heartfelt and moving experience for me, just to see those people on fire for what God was calling them to do. They were ready to leave. I’ve never experienced such a congregational meeting in my 38 years of ministry in the Presbyterian Church.”
Even with a disaffiliation vote and acceptance by the EPC confirmed, the Brookdale congregation remains in somewhat of a state of uncertainty. There has been no indication if Heartland Presbytery will seek any legal recourse against the church, such as claiming that the PCUSA’s trust clause means that the property belongs to the presbytery and/or national denomination.
“We don’t know if we will lose the property right now or if there will be any legal action taken,” Pallikkathayil said. “Our people are very happy with the decision we have made and are strongly committed to it. But the property situation is in limbo right now. The congregation doesn’t know if (the presbytery) will act.”
Pallikkathayil indicated there is a sense that Heartland will not pursue legal action, especially since the presbytery lost cases in Missouri and Kansas courts when two other larger churches from Kansas City left in similar fashion.
Colonial Presbyterian Church left in August 2010 after Gashland Presbyterian Church walked away to join the EPC in 2008. Heartland sought legal relief in both instances, but each time the courts ruled that the property belonged to the churches, not the presbytery or national denomination.
There was no response to an email sent by The Layman to Heartland Presbytery Executive Presbyter Charles Spencer seeking comment on the matter.
Reasons to leave the denomination
The issues that brought about Brookdale’s decision to leave the denomination revolved around the PCUSA’s reluctance to proclaim the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“This is an orthodox, conservative congregation that believes Jesus died for the sins of the world and was resurrected on the third day, and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Brookdale believes in that and stands on that,” Pallikkathayil said.
He added that the denomination’s stance on abortion and acceptance of homosexuality in ordination standards, along with Heartland’s recently-adopted overture to make marriage between two people instead of between a man and woman were too much for Brookdale’s leadership and congregation to take.
“That kind of liberalism is why Brookdale cannot be affiliated with such an organization” he said. “It is a liberal presbytery, and the number of conservatives is shrinking.”
Looking to the future
Brookdale had a celebration of its acceptance into the EPC and a new future on Nov. 10, inviting members of the Administrative Commission and presbytery to attend.
“(Brookdale’s congregation and Heartland Presbytery) are not enemies but brothers and sisters in Christ,” Pallikkathayil said. “The two sides disagree and cannot exist in the same denomination, so this congregation had to go its separate way.”
None of those invited from the presbytery attended Brookdale’s gathering.
Pallikkathayil said he has been impressed with the resolve and commitment to God’s calling shown by the Brookdale congregation.
“They are an amazing group of people dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ and wanting to grow in Him,” he said. “They have a phenomenal ministry and have been blessed to start over in the EPC where they feel more comfortable than with the PCUSA.”
Even though Brookdale has left to become part of the EPC, Pallikkathayil plans to remain with the PCUSA. However, he has petitioned Heartland Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry (COM) to labor outside the bounds of the PCUSA and continue serving Brookdale until a new pastor is called to serve.
“My calling is in the PCUSA to see how the Lord will use me to bring about change in the denomination,” Pallikkathayil said. “It’s my calling to promote the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus Christ as the one and only savior, to promote conservative theology. I am called to see God work wonders and miracles in the PCUSA to change and transform the denomination.”