Centerville Presbyterian Church in California is no longer part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) after agreeing to pay nearly a half million dollars to San Francisco Presbytery to secure its dismissal.
The 375-member church located in Fremont on the southeast side of the San Francisco Bay, north of San Jose, was dismissed to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) after agreeing to dismissal terms that included a payment of $489,250 to the presbytery.
The church was dismissed during the June 25 stated meeting of San Francisco Presbytery, ending a lengthy discernment and dismissal process that saw the church work through a revised version of the gracious dismissal procedure while another was being drafted by the presbytery.
“There was a great euphoric response after the (presbytery) vote, not just about being out (of the PCUSA), but over everyone being united and understanding our beliefs,” said the Rev. Dr. Greg Roth, who provides pastoral leadership at Centerville along with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Marsha Roth. “We now can move ahead and grow without being encumbered.”
Roth said once Centerville was dismissed by San Francisco Presbytery, it could apply for provisional status from the EPC, and dismissal to that Reformed body should be finalized Sept. 25, the 90-day deadline for payment of funds due to the presbytery.
“We wish our (former) presbytery well as we move in different directions. They still are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Roth said. “We’re hoping to be freed up to be good neighbors in our new presbytery, the Presbytery of the Pacific in the EPC.”
Centerville Presbyterian Church (CPC) was started in 1853 and originally was known as Alameda Presbyterian Church before the name was changed in 1873. It can trace issues of conflict and concern regarding the direction of the national denomination throughout its 160-year existence.
Reasons for leaving
Changes to the Book of Order and overlooking Biblical authority were two of the prevailing issues the session pointed to in reaching the decision to leave the PCUSA, though documents from the church revealed other, more specific reasons. Among them were:
- Distress by the denomination’s lack of Christ-centered preaching and teaching;
- Dismay at the denomination’s interpretations of certain Biblical texts that dilute, neglect or intentionally obscure essential doctrines of the faith;
- Discouragement over the denomination’s lack of growth;
- Disheartening over the denomination’s reduced support for global missions;
- The paralyzing impact of the protracted conflicts and the tone of discussions within the local Presbytery of San Francisco;
- Disappointment in the presbytery’s difficulty in attracting leaders and in the disconnect between CPC and the presbytery;
- Disturbing and embarrassing policies and positions of the denomination.
The session of Centerville began a season of study and prayer about issues related to it differences with theology and views of missions currently held by the denomination in early 2012. The session notified San Francisco Presbytery in February 2012 that it had entered a period of discernment regarding the church’s future, and found that the presbytery had suspended its gracious dismissal policy and was preparing a committee to draft a new policy for reconciliation and dismissal.
Within two weeks of the policy’s approval in June 2012, CPC’s session (by a 12-0 vote) requested a Presbytery Engagement Team (PET) to enter the dismissal process. A three-member PET was appointed in October 2012 and had five meetings with the Centerville session through February 2013.
As it was working through the process, the presbytery proposed amendments based on the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) ruling involving community Presbyterian Church of Danville in October 2012. That decision required presbyteries to consider the value of property held in trust for the PCUSA, noting that payments for per capita or mission obligations are not satisfactory substitutes for the separate evaluation of the value of the property held in trust.
Already following the procedures in place for the old policy, Centerville’s leadership decided to continue working through the process, even with the forthcoming amendments to the policy.
“We realized we were under a magnifying glass as the first church to go through the new policy,” Roth said. “We decided to go the extra mile and fulfill all of it. There were a number of additional steps and questions added, but we wanted to be faithful, transparent and open about the process. We wanted to say with integrity that we did all things in an orderly manner.”
Roth admitted there was some frustration from not having clear communication or a definite timeline for the process, but there soon came a determination from the PET that there was no chance of reconciliation, thus moving the dismissal and negotiation aspects of the process ahead.
And while the final amount negotiated for dismissal between the PET and Centerville’s Special Committee of the Congregation (SCC) was upsetting to some, the congregation passed it with 96 percent of those voting in favor of accepting the terms on June 23, two days before presbytery agreed to dismiss CPC to the EPC.
The church will make a one-time gift of $400,000 along with five years of per-capita payments totaling $89,250 to support San Francisco Presbytery’s continuing ministry.
The settlement took into account the congregation’s size and assets, as outlined in the new dismissal policy.
“There were a number of people who were upset and felt it was unfair, and we would have liked to see a smaller settlement,” Roth said. “There was a minimal investment the presbytery had in the church through the years, but we did not want to see a long, drawn-out contest. There was a satisfactory recommendation that allowed us and the presbytery to move on. It will cause a financial hardship and will be very tight for some, but we’ll make it.”
Roth said the process and people involved from the presbytery were gracious, though the financial terms were steep.
“They were highly in favor of the presbytery,” he said of the negotiated terms. “The PET was extremely thorough but very fair. We just determined we have a different DNA from the rest of the presbytery and that we need to be in a different place to grow and thrive without damaging the presbytery or our church.”
That place of growth comes in the EPC, referred to by one of Roth’s colleagues in that denomination as “the best dollar they ever spent.”
“(The EPC) has a very vibrant evangelism focus and a theological alignment with us,” Roth said. “We wanted to hold to our convictions and stay involved in our missions work, remaining true to who we are and faithful to our calling.”
The decline of missions support in the PCUSA and the presbytery bothered Centerville, which is passionate about its missions work, especially its free dining ministry for the poor and homeless that has served 200 meals a day and more than 750,000 during the last 25 years.
“We are eager to look for more suitable missions partners, to fulfill the Great Commission,” Roth explained. “The Centerville church was built through mission funding, and we are passionate about our work in missions, church planting and evangelism. We felt no real support for missions from the PCUSA or San Francisco Presbytery.”