Center Grove Presbyterian Church, located in Greenwood, Ind., in Johnson County just south of Indianapolis, was dismissed from the PCUSA during the Nov. 6, 2013, meeting of the Presbytery of Whitewater Valley to become part of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC).
The 203-member church, pastored by the Rev. Scott Fouts for about three years, was started in 1983 as a daughter congregation of Southport Presbyterian Church.
Time to make a change
According to an email sent to The Layman on behalf of the Center Grove session by Elder Lyle Helvie, the vote for dismissal brought to an end a process that lasted more than three years after the Center Grove session first informed the presbytery of its intent to seek discernment in June 2011.
The session formed a committee to discern the congregation’s response to the passage of Amendment 10A, which deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the constitutional ordination standard, and allowed the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors.
Helvie explained Center Grove’s rationale for seeking to leave the PCUSA.
“For well over a decade the PCUSA has increasingly moved away from the clear, orthodox teaching of God’s Word. In particular, Center Grove Church concluded that the demotion of Scripture to the role of ‘a guide’ (according to the Book of Order) from its traditional authoritative position signaled the denomination’s departure from authentic Christianity and its Reformed heritage,” he wrote. “Our church has also become weary of the periodic and increasingly time-consuming debates, ‘studies’ and arguments associated with every General Assembly, regarding settled Christian doctrines such as the atonement, the exclusivity of Christ, Scriptural authority and the clear Biblical teaching regarding human sexuality. We concluded that such disputes divide, rather than unite, and distract us from the work of announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors and the world.”
Selection of a new denomination
The committee also researched potential denominational options, including alignment with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, staying in the PCUSA or opting to join another denomination. The process took more than a year to complete and involved gathering feedback and input from the membership as well as others who had gone through a similar process.
In the fall of 2012, session informed the Presbytery of Whitewater Valley of the church’s desire to leave the PCUSA to join the CRC, initiating the process of dismissal.
The session and congregation concluded that the CRC maintained the proper regard for Scriptural authority and had a reputation for strong support of missions – local and worldwide. Those aspects appealed to Center Grove’s members as they determined their new denominational home.
A survey of the membership was taken to determine whether a majority of them favored moving forward with dismissal. Once such a majority was determined, negotiations on an amicable dismissal settlement began in the spring of 2013, and the congregation voted by a 115-20 margin on Nov. 3 to accept terms to leave the PCUSA for the CRC.
Reaching an agreement
According to the dismissal terms reached to allow Center Grove to retain its property, the congregation was required to make a per-capita payment in the amount of $22,000 as well as a payment of $100,000 to the presbytery.
Additionally, the congregation also agreed to a five-year commitment of $25,000 to support presbytery missions and another five-year commitment of $25,000 to fund PCUSA missions.
The total payment made by Center Grove was $172,000.
“The dismissal process overall was amicable, but negotiating a reasonable settlement was a long and sometimes contentious process,” Helvie wrote in the email. “In the end, both bodies were able to affirm the other, and there are no bitter feelings left over on either side.”
Officials from the Presbytery of Whitewater Valley did not respond to an email regarding the dismissal sent by The Layman.
Moving ahead in a new home
Helvie’s email indicated an excitement by members of the Center Grove congregation about their dismissal to become part of the CRC, but he also noted changes that need to be addressed.
“This is a pivotal time in our church’s life in more than one way,” he wrote. “While we are excited about the new relationship with the CRC, we also understand, more now than ever, that our culture has changed significantly in the short time since our church’s founding. We believe we must engage our culture respectfully and thoughtfully with the exciting message and implications of the Gospel, as opposed to the options of acquiescence or retreat to a defensive position. We are more than ready to discover new ways that God is calling us to announce the gospel and work out its implications in our particular time and place.”
In doing so, Helvie pointed out that Center Grove will be answering the call God has for the congregation, honoring the Great Commission in the process.
“We are more than ready to discover the new ways that God is calling us to announce and work out the Gospel and be the Body of Christ in our particular time and place,” the email read.