Glenkirk Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Covina were dismissed to become congregations of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians during the Oct. 20, 2012, special meeting of San Gabriel Presbytery. However, those moves were not made official until a remedial complaint against the presbytery was dismissed.
That action by the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii took place July 11, paving the way for Glenkirk and FPC-Covina to part ways with the Presbyterian Church (USA) as new members of ECO.
The order from the PJC indicated that the stay of enforcement was removed in Anderson et al v. Presbytery of San Gabriel and the case dismissed, ending more than six months of uncertainty for the leadership and congregants of both churches in Southern California.
Action sends Glenkirk congregation to ECO
Glenkirk Pastor Jim Miller said there was a sense of relief regarding the PJC’s decision to remove the stay of enforcement and dismiss the case after the complaint was filed in November.
“There’s been a lot of prayer and waiting,” said Miller, who has been at the 1,200-member church started in 1955 in Glendora, Calif., for five years. “There was very little we could do, except stay engaged in communication with the presbytery and our congregation. We’re relieved and overjoyed to have this behind us. It has been a long and hard road.”
The complaint against the presbytery was made after Glenkirk was dismissed to become part of ECO, effective Dec. 31, 2012, and sought to make the dismissal null and void. Twelve complainants were named, and they alleged various “irregularities” that occurred during the special meeting of San Gabriel Presbytery on Oct. 20, primarily that the presbytery dismissed both Glenkirk and FPC-Covina to ECO’s West Presbytery with property in violation of the PCUSA Constitution and the October 2012 GAPJC ruling from Tom, Hawbecker, and Conrad v. the Presbytery of San Francisco.
Four of the nine counts cited were related to Glenkirk. They were:
- Mischaracterizing the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) as a denomination operating in the Reformed tradition and acceptable to receive Glenkirk Presbyterian Church of Glendora.
- Mischaracterizing the action of the 218th General Assembly (2008) in urging presbyteries to pass gracious dismissal policies which would allow those churches wanting to leave the denomination the right to do so with their property subject to various terms and conditions including that the departing church left to another Reformed denomination approved by the presbytery.
- Mischaracterizing the Presbytery of the West as a presbytery to which Glenkirk Presbyterian Church could be dismissed.
- Failing to adequately consider the value of the property of Glenkirk Presbyterian Church of Glendora as required by the constitution in the Authoritative Interpretation adopted by the General Assembly of 1988 and as reaffirmed by the GAPJC in Remedial Case 221-03 (Tom, Hawbecker, and Conrad v. the Presbytery of San Francisco).
Two additional counts were brought against the presbytery.
Those additional counts were: 1 – Violation of the explicit authoritative interpretation of the constitution by the 218 (2008) that requires a presbytery “thoroughly to explore and adequately to document its satisfaction in these matters (whether a body is doctrinally consistent with the essentials of Reformed theology as understood by the presbytery, whether the body is governed by a polity that is consistent in form and structure with that of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and whether the body is of sufficient permanence to offer reasonable assurance that the congregation is not being dismissed to de facto independence.); and 2 – Violation of the explicit authoritative interpretation of the constitution by the 218th General Assembly (2008) included in the Presbytery of San Gabriel’s own adopted “Gracious Dismissal Policy” (on page 8, lines 1-6) that states that churches can only be dismissed with their property to another Reformed body recognized by the PCUSA … ”
Miller said there was quite an element of surprise to learn of the complaint filed against San Gabriel Presbytery following dismissal of his congregation by more than 90 percent of presbyters who voted.
“There was very little debate on the floor, so we were surprised by (the complaint),” he said. “There were concerns over ECO being a Reformed body and whether we had been dismissed properly according to the Tom case. The presbytery had demonstrated, without question, that it had considered the value of the property and confirmed that ECO was a Reformed body. It was the presbytery’s prerogative to make those decisions.
“The presbytery was thoughtful and sensitive in the way it communicated with us. They were very helpful through the whole process , and they really felt they had done everything correctly. They were as disappointed as we were that a complaint had been filed because they tried to do things decently and in order.”
The initial terms negotiated for dismissal required Glenkirk to make a payment of $188,100 to the presbytery and agree to a five-year reverter clause, stating that the property would go back to the presbytery if the church left ECO within five years. If Glenkirk leaves the denomination within five years it can only terminate the presbytery’s reversionary interest through payments (varying by year) between $150,000-600,000.
Once the complaint came into play, a secondary reverter clause was added, increasing the number of years to 10, and the church was required to pick up the legal expense tab of an additional $25,000.
“We have no intentions of leaving ECO,” said Miller, adding that one lump sum payment was made in November before the complaint was filed, and the legal expenses were paid the week of July 8. “We’re not leaving our new home.”
Miller noted that Glenkirk’s leadership had been discontent with actions of the General Assembly (GA) for a number of years and in 2008 began determining which direction it should go, even sending a motion to the presbytery asking that it draft a dismissal process.
By August 2011 the session began to lead meetings regarding the church’s future, and when ECO became a viable option in January 2012, the process became more serious.
“They began looking at what was going on in the life of the denomination, in ECO and what impact it would have on Glenkirk,” Miller said. “The focus was on building a healthy church here. Denominational issues year in and year out tend to hurt and fracture the congregation, and we were always trying to explain that we were an evangelical church, a faithful, Biblical congregation.”
Miller said there was a common theological orthodoxy seen in ECO that drew Glenkirk to the denomination, as well as the freedom to be innovative without undue bureaucracy.
“We were ready to go (into a new denomination), and there has been a lot of excitement and momentum already,” he said. “We continue to launch new ministries, and there’s even talk of restructuring our campus in years to come.
“We just had to pray and be faithful to God, remaining gracious even when people were not gracious to us. God led us through to the place we need to be.”
FPC-Covina joins ECO after case dismissal
First Presbyterian Church of Covina was supposed to become a member of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians Dec. 31, 2012, but that move was put on hold for more than six months while a complaint against San Gabriel Presbytery was investigated.
“Our process in leaving the PCUSA was one of many prayers and seeking the Lord in discernment,” FPC-Covina Pastor Andrea Messinger wrote in a response to an email from The Layman. “While there were twists and turns along the way, God’s sovereign hand was incredibly evident. We did have several months of delay, but the outcome has been a smooth transition. The Presbytery team that worked on our behalf (Ruth Santana-Grace, Cyndie Crowell, Steve Salyards and Dave Tomlinson) served in a God-honoring way throughout.”
Three of the nine counts cited in the complaint were related to Covina. They were:
- Mischaracterizing the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) as a denomination operating in the reformed tradition and acceptable to receive First Presbyterian Church of Covina.
- Mischaracterizing the Presbytery of the West as a presbytery to which First Presbyterian Church of Covina could be dismissed.
- Failing to adequately consider the value of the property of First Presbyterian Church of Covina as required by the constitution in the Authoritative interpretation adopted by the General Assembly of 1998 and as reaffirmed by the GAPJC in Remedial Case 221-03 (Tom, Hawkecker, and Conrad v. the Presbytery of San Francisco).
Two additional counts were brought against the presbytery (see above).
Covina, which has been ministering in southern California for 106 years, was put in a state of limbo while the complaint was investigated by the Synod PJC, even after the presbytery approved the dismissal with a 93 percent vote.
“The presbytery worked hard to resolve this in our favor,” Messinger said. “They did not want to see us go, but they still were supportive of us.”
Messinger said FPC-Covina never wanted there to be an “us vs. them” mentality to the dismissal process and noted that the dismissal aspect was one that revealed God’s sovereignty and grace.
“How we do what we do is important, and this all has been Christ-centered,” she said.
Terms negotiated for dismissal required FPC-Covina to make a single payment of $41,640 to the presbytery and agree to a five-year reverter clause, stating that the property would go back to the presbytery if the church left ECO within five years, or five annual payments through 2016 totaling $42,500.
If Covina leaves the denomination within five years it can only terminate the presbytery’s reversionary interest through payments (varying by year) between $150,000-600,000.
“It was reasonable,” Messinger said of the agreement reached by the two parties. “Our people wanted to leave but did not want to see the presbytery hurt. We wanted to be gracious and be a good witness, showing the world that we are living out what we say we believe. That has been the case on both sides, with plenty of mutual support even though there has been some sadness.”
Messinger said Covina did not seek dismissal from the PCUSA because of what it was against as much as what the church and its members stood for. Noting a drift from authority of Scripture, a turning away from the Lordship of Jesus Christ and an observation that multiple ways to salvation were being touted, Covina decided it needed to hold true to God’s word.
“We’re still called to follow the Word of God,” Messinger said. “The lack of emphasis placed on the authority of Scripture was a big issue to us. “
Messinger said a message delivered by Pastor John Crosby at a national gathering of Fellowship of Presbyterians/ECO resonated with her and the Covina congregation when she shared it with them.
“He talked about depopulating hell,” she recalled. “When I heard that I thought, ‘That is why I went into the ministry.’ The call of the church is to depopulate hell. When he said that I knew that was what church is supposed to be about, not fighting battles within the denomination. That takes too much of our energy that could be used in more meaningful ways.”
That was the draw to ECO, and 98 percent of the voting members of Covina supported the recommendation to leave the PCUSA and align with the newest Presbyterian denomination.
“Sometimes you reach that place where you have to start over and go forward,” Messinger said. “We had reached that point. ECO was the perfect fit for us because we can help people fall in love with Jesus and not get involved with all the periphery issues.”