Seeing God’s hand at work in a mighty way allowed members of First Presbyterian Church of Redding to know that their exodus out of one denomination into another was the appropriate and faithful journey to make.
The church of approximately 140 members located north of San Francisco on the way to Oregon was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to become a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in October 2012.
The dismissal took place at the Presbytery of Sacramento meeting that month after Redding’s members saw God work in their midst to raise a sizable amount of money in a short period of time to fulfill their financial obligation to leave the denomination.
“We’ve come through so much in a long but fairly smooth process,” said Jeanie Holt, a member of the FPC-Redding session. “God had His hand upon us, and we did not suffer through so many of the issues other churches have.”
Redding’s major obstacle was funding its settlement to leave the PCUSA, a decision that came about early in 2011 when talk of serious changes within the denomination began to surface.
“There were concerns among leaders and the congregation about the PCUSA’s direction, and they realized they would have to make some decisions,” Redding interim Pastor Gary Brom said. “The congregation was not pleased, particularly with the denomination’s position on ordaining homosexuals into the ministry (Amendment 10A). That issue was the catalyst that caused the leadership to grapple with leaving.”
The PCUSA’s trust clause and a lack of emphasis on Scriptural authority were other issues that came to the forefront, Brom said, adding that all the topics seemed to be interconnected and were debated quite extensively by church members.
Once those issues came to light and were approved with the passage of Amendment 10A and the new Form of Government (nFOG) that gave presbyteries more control over individual churches in May 2011, talks among Redding’s session members gathered steam.
Jacky Gregore, also a member of the Redding session, said there was a sense that the PCUSA was leaning more toward compromising for society’s sake than upholding the Word of God.
“We don’t stand for rewriting the Bible to fit whatever the hot-button issue of society is,” she said. “The PCUSA is heavily embroiled in social issues, and I don’t see a whole lot of mission work going on. When you are teaching others choices that are wrong, you’re condemning them to eternal consequences.
“As Christians, we are asked to stand for our faith. We can either stand where the saints of the Bible stood or perish. We choose to stand with the saints.”
Holt said the approval of amendments set the wheels of dismissal in motion.
“The approval of some amendments the church was opposed to led the session to talk about the need to determine our future,” Holt said. “It was a wearing down of the faithful. Those issues were not new; they have been visited and revisited. Those things have become acceptable, but it was our belief they should not have been.
“We took time to discern if (the PCUSA) was where we needed to be. We decided we needed to recommend the church leave the PCUSA and go elsewhere. We finally determined the EPC was where God was calling us to go after researching options to remain a Presbyterian denomination.”
The session voted unanimously in August 2011 to seek dismissal from the PCUSA, and a month later, 70 percent of the congregation voted to uphold the recommendation and depart from the denomination.
That decision was not popular with all members of the church, and a number of them chose to leave rather than stay through the dismissal process.
“We had some folks leave before we had the vote, and others who felt strongly that we should stay with the PCUSA left following the vote,” Holt said.
The session began working with a negotiating team from Presbytery of Sacramento to formulate terms of dismissal. Once those terms were reached, the church voted to approve them Feb. 19, 2012, and they were approved later that month by the presbytery, with the stipulation that the payments be made by the end of May.
Under the terms reached by the parties, FPC-Redding paid $20,000 to retain its property. Because the Rev. C.K. Moore, then the pastor at Redding, opted to stay in the PCUSA for personal reasons, the congregation also was required to pay an additional $60,000 to cover a year’s worth of salary and benefits for him.
“I’d like to say I always walk in faith, but the truth is I was asking, ‘OK, what if this really isn’t God’s plan? Do we have a Plan B’?” Gregore recalled. “Coming up with $20,000 was fairly easy. Getting the rest of it, well ….”
Gregore said Moore delivered a message telling the congregation that he was not in a position to move forward with them at that time but told them to move forward with his blessing.
There were concerns that the funds to finalize the dismissal process could not be raised in such a short amount of time, leading to a bit of trepidation among session leaders and members.
“It became a journey of faith,” Holt said. “Were we called to remain faithful and adhere to His Word and make the transition or maybe close the church? It gave us an opportunity to see God at work because we came up with the money. He moved in people’s hearts and put the amount of money together.
“I felt like God was saying, ‘Go ahead, I’ll provide the way,’ and He did.”
Gregore added, “God was doing what He’s good at doing: making things happen.”
Brom said the decision to align with the EPC has been good for the Redding congregation.
“The church has been very happy with that denomination,” he said. “The EPC has a more hands-off approach and allows the church to have possession of its property. We feel like there is a lot more autonomy, which is something the church wanted. There’s a feeling of support from the EPC, something that was lacking with the PCUSA.”
While the decision to depart the PCUSA for a new denominational home was not an easy one, Brom said signs are clear that the path taken was the appropriate one for Redding’s congregation.
“There was some uncertainty and division at first, but our members have found a common purpose,” Brom said. “The vast majority of members have come to the conclusion they made the right decision. It was not (a decision) some wanted to make but one that needed to be made. There is a sense of unity, a feeling that God called them to bond. There’s a lot of energy and talk of doing new things. It’s an exciting time to be part of this congregation.”
Holt and Gregore agreed.
“It was a long process, but it was a good journey that allowed us to see how God works in moving within a congregation,” Holt said. “It’s been a great opportunity for our church to have some revitalization and find new life through these changes as we move forward in our ministry.”
Gregore added, “It was not a fun thing to do, but none of it hurt. It was like we had a wall around us. We feel very strongly that we did what God expected us to do.”