Orcutt Presbyterian Church (OPC) and First Presbyterian Church of Templeton were granted dismissal April 8 bringing the number of congregations that have left SBP to six this year and eight in the last nine months.
Eastminster Presbyterian Church (now known as Orchard Community Church), Morro Bay Presbyterian Church and Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church were dismissed in February, and Malibu Presbyterian Church was released in March. Trinity Presbyterian Church and Community Presbyterian Church also were dismissed by the presbytery in late 2013.
Located in Santa Barbara County near the Pacific coast, the congregation of approximately 260 members pastored by Bruce Lethbridge notified the presbytery of its intent to leave the national denomination in May 2013 following an 11-1 vote by the session to pursue dismissal.
During an initial congregational vote in November 2013, Orcutt voted 179-18 with seven abstentions to seek dismissal. A second meeting on March 2, 2014, yielded a vote of 168-12 with four abstentions in favor of leaving the PCUSA to affiliate with ECO.
According to a Presbytery Response Team report, Orcutt cited four issues as reasons to seek dismissal from the PCUSA. Those were:
1-authority of Scripture;
2-the unique role of Jesus Christ in salvation;
3-essentials of Presbyterian and Reformed faith; and
4-a traditional view of marriage.
In reference to its decision to depart the national denomination, the Orcutt session wrote, “Because of the PCUSA’s continued erosion of the authority of Scripture, the rejection of the unique saving role of Jesus Christ by a majority of clergy, a softening of the commitment to the historic confessions, an increased inclination toward the secular culture, and failure to enforce the denomination’s written polity through church discipline which honors God, we have elected to seek gracious dismissal to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.”
The dismissal fee for Orcutt was determined to be $87,219 over five years but was reduced to $78,497 at the congregation’s request as a one-time payment at the time of dismissal. The church also has committed to support the Front Porch Campus Ministry (of Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo) with $25,000 over five years and to support IMPACT, a mission arm of the presbytery, with $5,000 over five years.
The settlement also has a 10-year reversion deed that gives the property back to SBP if Orcutt fails to fulfill its financial obligation, ceases to operate as a church in the Reformed tradition or if the property ceases to be used as an asset dedicated to a Reformed church.
Lethbridge indicated he wished to remain a member of the PCUSA, but OPC Associate Pastor Israel Gonzales chose to be dismissed with the congregation to ECO. His dismissal will be processed within 90 days of the congregation’s date of dismissal.
Church officials did not respond to an email from The Layman regarding the dismissal.
The session of the 168-member church, founded in 1888 and located in the coastal county of San Luis Obispo between Los Angeles and San Francisco, voted 11-0 to seek dismissal July 24, 2013, and informed the presbytery of that decision a day later.
The first congregational vote on Nov. 17, 2013, seeking dismissal yielded a 101-15 result (five abstentions) in favor of leaving the PCUSA. The second vote, taken March 16, 2014, resulted in a 90-4 margin in support of leaving the denomination to affiliate with ECO.
Pastor Charlie Little, who has been with the church since 1998, also expressed his desire to be dismissed to ECO. That dismissal will proceed within 90 days of the congregation’s dismissal date.
A Presbytery Response Team report indicated the strong desire to fully follow Jesus as the congregation’s primary reason to seek dismissal.
The reason given in the report read, “His teachings must come first in our hearts. Our comfort and our desires do not always reflect His ways. … For this reason, when our denomination begins to value the way of the world before Christ’s way, when God’s teachings have stood as our rock for millennia are demoted from essential tenets to guidelines, when tolerance and promotion of behaviors which God has clearly condemned are deemed acceptable, the session felt it must act to remain faithful to Christ and His Gospel of love in the struggle against the evil one. Over the past decade our congregation’s endeavor to ‘not grow weary in doing good’ has been increasingly undermined by the necessity of engaging in the ‘good fight of the faith’ in both the world and in our own denomination.”
FPC-Templeton agreed to pay $42,400 to settle the costs of the dismissal, covering ministry share (for 2014 and 2015) and property considerations to the presbytery. Additionally, the church agreed to continue mission support of the Front Porch Campus Ministry and IMPACT with $15,000 over five years ($3,000 annually).
Templeton’s agreement also has a 10-year reversion deed that gives the property back to SBP if the congregation fails to fulfill its financial obligation, ceases to operate as a church in the Reformed tradition or if the property ceases to be used as an asset dedicated to a Reformed church.
In an email to The Layman, Little described the dismissal process as one that proved to be amicable.
“The dismissal process was extraordinarily gracious. The process was relatively clear. We had great support from the presbytery staff to aid us in the steps we had to take, insuring that we followed the process accurately and thoroughly,” Little wrote. “The Presbytery Response Team that worked with us was respectful and supportive, while making sure that our church process had been fair and open, and not something forced upon the congregation. The parting was amicable with the presbytery – sad, but friendly and loving. There was some pain for several members of the congregation, and definite disagreement on their part with the direction being proposed, but no dissension. In the end, many voted to leave who would have preferred to stay, but they voted to leave because they believed that all things considered, it was best for the church.”
Little also indicated that ECO simply “fit” FPC-Templeton.
“It represented the closest and most comprehensive fit in both theology and polity,” Little wrote. “ECO retains the full complement of confessional documents that we have embraced with the PCUSA, and affirms the ordination of women. Additionally, ECO was the denomination of choice by all the other churches in our presbytery, and that insured the continuity of relationships with congregations and colleagues that we have enjoyed over the years.”