The Presbytery of Twin Cities Area (PTCA) will appeal the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals in favor of Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities (formerly known as Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church), fearing it “turns [the Presbyterian Church (USA)] into a congregational church, where each congregation has the freedom to pick and choose what it will and will not accept regarding church organization, government, and doctrine.”
The Court of Appeals’ April 24 decision upheld the March 24, 2016 ruling by the Fourth Judicial District Court, which concluded that the Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities “owns the disputed property and that the disputed property is not held in trust for the PCUSA, and the PTCA and PCUSA have no legal interest in the disputed property.”
In its report to the presbytery, the PTCA’s Administrative Commission (AC) called the court’s decision “deeply disappointing, and we’re concerned about the impact it may have on our Minnesota congregations, our presbytery as a whole, our neighboring presbyteries in Minnesota, and the wider church. … We believe the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals potentially jeopardizes our presbytery’s authority to make decisions in the future regarding congregations who seek to leave. Additionally, we believe the decision may also place in jeopardy our foundational understanding that the Book of Order, in its entirety, applies to all members of the PCUSA.”
Therefore, the AC reported that it had “decided unanimously to direct our attorney to prepare and file a Petition for Review of this decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.”
Saying it had weighed both the financial and human costs of appealing the decision, the AC argued that if the ruling wasn’t challenged and reversed by the Minnesota Supreme Court:
“any Minnesota congregation in our presbytery, as well as Minnesota congregations in neighboring presbyteries, may believe they have tacit permission to follow EPPC’s lead, modify their corporate documents, and unilaterally depart the denomination without obtaining dismissal from the presbytery under the Book of Order.
“Further, we’re concerned that other provisions of the Book of Order may be ignored or violated, and that the courts will not respect or enforce a subsequent decision by the presbytery to impose order or assume original jurisdiction of a congregation.”
The AC also reported that its legal team had agreed to represent the presbytery at a significant discount, along with a cap on the total cost – the same arrangement it had for its appeal of the District Court ruling to the Court of Appeals.
This, they said, “will provide substantial savings. Even so, the costs could still be significant if the Minnesota Supreme Court grants the Petition for Review.”
A Brief History of Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church (EPPC)
Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church (EPPC), began in 1854, when it began to worship in building owned by a church member. Throughout the years, it has been affiliated with at least five Presbyterian denominations, and has paid for its property through member gifts, tithes and offerings.
EPPC was a member of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, and became a member of the PCUSA in 1983, when the UPCUSA merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
The congregation changed its name to Prairie Community Church in October 2010, and two years later, it entered into the gracious dismissal process with the presbytery. When settlement negotiations failed, the session voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the PCUSA on June 2, 2014. The church voted that same month to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The Presbytery of Twin Cities Area voted to assume original jurisdiction of the church session on Sept. 9, 2014, and when the church refused to recognize the authority of the presbytery, the PCTA filed a civil lawsuit.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the District Court was correct when it applied neutral principles of law to the case. Under neutral principles, the court bases its decision in neutral, secular principles, looking at official documents such as property deeds and state statutes.
The court’s decision stated that while the church had created an express trust when it modified its articles of incorporation in 1999, it had also retained the right to modify the documents by a majority vote of the active church members at a properly called congregational meeting.
So, in 2010, when the church voted to remove all references to the trust and the PCUSA from its Articles of Incorporation, “it was within its rights.”
“Thus, EPPC retained the power to revoke the trust and properly revoked the trust by removing all trust language in 2010,” it read.