PCUSA presbyteries are taking the 2012 decision of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission – which requires a presbytery to “fulfill its fiduciary duty under the trust clause” when it considers dismissing a congregation — to heart when assessing exit fees on churches wishing to leave the denomination.
And that fiduciary duty, according to the ruling “requires that the presbytery exercise due diligence regarding the value of the property of the congregation seeking dismissal. Due diligence, of necessity, includes not only an evaluation of the spiritual needs of the congregation and its circumstances but also financial analysis of the value of the property at stake. Payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for the separate evaluation of the value of the property held in trust.”
Lawyer Lloyd Lunceford was correct when he predicted that the ruling was “big bad news.”
“In the eyes of the GAPJC, it’s all about the money,” he said. “If anybody still had doubts about what is important to the PCUSA, the Tom v. San Francisco Presbytery decision gives an answer. It might well be called the “Show Me the Money” case or Sola Moola.”
Presbytery of the Peaks
In the Presbytery of the Peaks, alone, churches have paid more than $1 million collectively in 2015 so they could leave the PCUSA with their property to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
Five churches with a combined membership of 507 paid the presbytery $1,007,600 as part of their settlement agreements negotiated with the presbytery for their dismissal. That amounts to a $1,987.38 per-member exit fee. One of the five churches was also required to give its manse, and the property it sits on, in addition to the cash payment.
First Presbyterian Church in Roanoke was the most recent congregation dismissed by the Presbytery of the Peaks, and was required to pay the highest price tag to leave the PCUSA. At its Oct. 22 meeting, the presbytery approved the dismissal agreement with the 298-member First-Roanoke for the amount of $800,000 paid over a 10-year period, plus the title to its manse and the .447 acres of property it is located on.
The congregation, which had been under the authority of a presbytery-appointed Administrative Commission since May 8, 2012, approved the agreement at an Oct. 18 congregational meeting by a vote of 145-37, or by 80 percent.
Other churches dismissed by the Presbytery of the Peaks to the EPC in 2015 include:
- The 39-member Bethel Presbyterian Church in Claudville, Va. The congregation was dismissed by the presbytery at its February, 2015 meeting, after the congregation agreed to pay $26,000 over a 10-year period.
- The 40-member Bouldin Memorial Presbyterian Church in Stuart, Va. The church agreed to pay the presbytery $40,500 over a five-year time frame. The presbytery approved the dismissal at its July 25 meeting.
- The 81-member Northminster Presbyterian Church in Madison Heights, Va. The congregation was required to pay the presbytery $89,600 over a 10-year period. The presbytery dismissed it at its July 25 meeting.
- The 49-member Slate Mountain Presbyterian Church in Floyd County, Va. The presbytery approved the dismissal agreement which required the church to pay $51,500 over a 10-year period at its May 7 meeting.
San Francisco Presbytery
San Francisco Presbytery scored a huge pay day when Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church in Moraga, Calif. agreed to pay a total of $2,124,490 to pave its way from the PCUSA to the EPC.
The 1,034 congregation was required to pay the presbytery:
- Past due per capita in the amount of $131,376 (paid August 1, 2015);
- 2015 per capita in the amount of $37,048 (paid August 1, 2015);
- Payment in lieu of property in the amount of $1,800,000 (to be paid at escrow);
- Five years (2016-2020) of projected per capita in the amount of $156,066 (to be paid at escrow).
At a congregational meeting, held June 14, church members voted by 92 percent to be dismissed. The presbytery approved the dismissal with financial package at its Sept. 8 meeting.
Another church in San Francisco Presbytery – the 758-member Walnut Creek Presbyterian in Walnut Creek, Calif – voted by 95.5 percent to be dismissed from the PCUSA and join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians at a Sept. 27 congregational meeting. The financial agreement has not yet been disclosed.
Moraga Valley was not the first church in San Francisco Presbytery to be charged a million dollar-plus exit fee to get out of the denomination.
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif., voted by 93 percent at a March 2, 2014 congregational meeting to be dismissed from the PCUSA. The presbytery dismissed the church at its March 11, 2014 meeting, after it agreed to pay $8,890,000 so it could leave with its property.
Coastal Carolina Presbytery
Coastal Carolina Presbytery recently dismissed two congregations, while eight more are participating in the presbytery’s discernment process.
Oak Island Presbyterian Church in Oak Island N.C. approved a settlement agreement with the presbytery costing the church $202,345.76 by a vote of 117-3.
The presbytery voted to dismiss the 196-member church to the EPC at its June 11 meeting.
The church was required to pay:
- $175,821.00 – 69% of $254,578, the percentage of funding provided by Wilmington Presbytery to purchase property;
- $14,324.28 – the total amount of unpaid per capita;
- $45.00 – the office expense incurred by Presbytery during the discernment process;
- $970.48 – the reimbursed travel expense (mileage) of the Presbytery Stated Clerk, Pastoral Team and Negotiating Team during the discernment process;
- $11,185 – to be paid to the Presbyterian Counseling Center.
The 147-member Flat Branch Presbyterian Church in Bunnlevel, N.C. unanimously approved its settlement agreement – including a payout of $41,775.45 — with the presbytery so it could be dismissed to ECO.
The congregation agreed to pay the presbytery:
- $ 31,282.45 – 9.67 net acres of land valued at $3,235.00 per acre;
- $ 9,693.00 – the total amount of unpaid per capita, not remitted by the congregation, but paid by the Presbytery from 2009 to 2015;
- $ 145.00 – the office expense incurred by presbytery during the discernment process;
- $ 655.00 – the reimbursed travel expense (mileage) of the Presbytery Stated Clerk, Pastoral Team and Negotiating Team during the discernment process.
The eight churches engaged in the discernment process with the presbytery include Bensalem Presbyterian (152 members) in Eagle Springs, N.C., Bethel Presbyterian (40 members) in Beulaville, N.C., Bethel Presbyterian (50 members) in Raeford, N.C., Chadbourn Presbyterian (36 members) in Chadbourn, N.C., Cypress Presbyterian (123 members) in Cameron, N.C., Harmony Presbyterian (59 members) in Harrells, N.C., Pineland Presbyterian (153 members) in Jacksonville, N.C. and Wayside Presbyterian (46 members) in Sanford, N.C.
Other presbytery dismissals
The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta voted to dismiss First Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, Ga., to ECO on Nov. 28, 2014. The effective dismissal date was June 20, 2015. The 721-member church was required to pay $535,000.
The congregation voted by 95.5 percent (423-20) on Aug, 17, 2014 to be dismissed from the PCUSA.
The congregation was required to make:
- A payment of past per capita of $60,000 will be made to the presbytery no later than one month after the congregational vote to agree to the settlement;
- A payment of $475,000 will be made to the presbytery in two installments … one half of this amount shall be paid to the Presbytery by 12/31/14 and the other half by June 30, 2015, any and all of which may be paid at the Church’s discretion at an earlier date;
According to the presbytery’s dismissal policy, 10 percent of the congregation’s payment to the presbytery (second bullet point) could be designated for mission by the congregation, so $47,500 was given to the Calvin Center.
The Presbytery of Lake Michigan dismissed the 156-member First Presbyterian Church of Hillsdale, Mich., at its Sept. 15 meeting. The congregation voted 104-12 to be dismissed from the PCUSA to the EPC at an Aug. 30 congregational meeting. The congregation paid the presbytery $80,000 to be dismissed.
In North Carolina, the 169-member Forest Park Presbyterian Church in Statesville was dismissed from Salem Presbytery at its Sept. 11 meeting. The congregation, which voted by 95 percent to be dismissed from the PCUSA, gave the presbytery a “love gift” of $12,150.
View more PCUSA dismissals and their costs on The Layman’s chart Churches that are seeking to leave or have left the PCUSA for another Reformed body:” Last updated 10/26/15