Concord Presbyterian Church has been part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) for seven months now, and the congregation still finds itself working to get back to its core focus on evangelism and missions.
Concord, a 105-member church located in Sumter, S.C., was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during a Feb. 23 meeting of New Harmony Presbytery to affiliate with Mid-Atlantic Presbytery of the EPC.
Pastor James Braswell, who has been at Concord since 2005, said he and his members find themselves striving to re-identify themselves in their new denomination.
“We’re still, learning, growing and seizing opportunities to renew our mission and identity,” Braswell said. “We’re reaching out to avail ourselves of resources and thoroughly enjoyed a recent church vitality training experience. We’re where we need to be and excited about getting involved in the mission work of our church in the community.”
Braswell indicated that the Concord congregation, formed in 1809, has long been praying deliberately for God to lead it to engage in evangelism and discipleship through fellowship, praise and worship.
“We embrace our new friends and relationships (in the EPC). It’s a new beginning for us,” Braswell said.
That new beginning for Concord came as a result of a decision to put a past with the PCUSA behind.
The change in ordination standards, a symptom of a perceived lack of authority for God’s Word, jump-started the process to seek dismissal for the Concord session.
“Without a doubt that was a turning point for us,” Braswell remarked. “That was, you might say, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The PCUSA’s disregard for issues related to salvation and the Scripture had a lot to do with our decision.”
As the passage of Amendment 10A (regarding ordination of homosexuals) was beginning to unfold, the session formed a committee to conduct a denominational study, looking at options to consider for a new denominational home prior to entering a process of discernment in late 2011.
In the spring of 2012, the 12-member session recommended moving ahead to seek dismissal from the PCUSA, an act supported by the congregation with an 85-0 vote.
“We had a real strong showing of unity. There was no dissension or division,” Braswell said. “I’m very proud of our members for that. They felt like they had an opportunity to come to terms with what God called them to do, and they did it.
“Some people wrongly believe that pastors leave and take the church with them. This church voted to leave and took the pastor with them.”
The Presbytery Response Team (PRT) from New Harmony met with the Concord session on Jan. 23, 2013, to finalize negotiation for the terms of dismissal – with property intact – that included:
- Fulfillment of 2012 basic mission support to New Harmony Presbytery as pledged in 2011 in the amount of $6,000;
- Providing a pro-rated basic mission support to the presbytery in the amount of $1,000 for the months of January and February 2013;
- A per-capita payment for 2013 in the amount of $1,399.56;
- Release of all session minutes to the presbytery for transfer to Columbia Theological Seminary;
- If Concord leaves the EPC within a period of five years from the date of dismissal, the property will revert to New Harmony Presbytery.
“There was no squabble over property,” Braswell said. “That strong sense of unity shown was probably a factor. The presbytery realized there was no remnant to represent so asking for additional funds for the sake of those disenfranchised by the church decision was a moot point.”
The 67 members of Concord who cast votes to accept those terms did so unanimously, opening the door for the congregation to enter the EPC once it was dismissed at the February meeting.
Braswell said the EPC was friendly and inviting, and the congregation liked the balance offered through the essentials of unity. He added that the EPC was a “known commodity” with a “sense of identity” that proved helpful in determining which denomination to join.
“Our particular church was attracted to a denomination that had a track record,” he said. “We are very grateful to God and what He has done for our church.”