Peaks Presbytery voted to release Galatia Presbyterian Church, located in Eagle Rock (Botetourt County) about 35 miles northwest of Roanoke, during its May 8 meeting.
Following the 90-day waiting period as outlined in the presbytery’s gracious separation policy, a dismissal service will be held, formally recognizing Galatia’s departure from the national denomination to align with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
Looking to make a move
Robert McRae, who has been pastor of the 60-member church for 30 years, said the dismissal process began for Galatia – founded in 1886 – with session discussions in January 2012.
“We felt like something needed to be discussed because of the events taking place in the denomination and a growing discontent with what was going on,” McRae said, noting a desire by the session for Galatia to consider becoming a part of a denomination with a different perspective from the PCUSA.
In a letter to the congregation, the session outlined why it made the recommendation to depart the PCUSA.
That letter detailed a need for essential tents of the Reformed faith that were clearly listed to show the basis of what is believed and a lack of regard for the authority of Scripture by the PCUSA, not only in belief but in practice. The letter also questioned the PCUSA’s disregard for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation offered by the heavenly Father.
The congregation also has high regard for the sanctity of life and was not happy with the PCUSA’s stance on abortion, and it still holds to the Biblical view of marriage as the covenant between a man and a woman. Additionally, Galatia holds a Biblical worldview noting that Christians are called to a life of purity, peace and unity rather than holding to the standards of society.
The Galatia congregation agreed in April to accept the terms of dismissal. Eighty-six percent of those voting were in favor of leaving and accepting the agreement negotiated with the Presbytery Response Team (PRT).
In leaving the national denomination, Galatia retains use of its name but has to remove all references of the PCUSA and turn over copies of its historical documents to be copied at Galatia’s expense before being returned to the church.
In addition, the congregation agreed to pay $15,000 to account for the tax assessment and property value of the building (appraised at $150,000) and $3,500 annually over five years ($17,500) to support missions, accounting for a total payment to the presbytery of $32,500 to be dismissed to the EPC.
The congregation has 10 years to pay the costs, with the first payment of $3,500 due by the official date of dismissal.
“The presbytery stood firm on the financial terms,” McRae said, noting the change to allow 10 years for payment rather than five as called for in the separation policy. “There were some who didn’t think we should have to pay but agreed it was better than staying in the PCUSA.”
Working to join the EPC
McRae noted the work of the PRT in working with the Galatia session in reaching an agreement that allowed the church to be dismissed.
“We were not always happy with the time element, feeling things often were delayed, but that was not because of the PRT,” he said. “They were exceptional to work with. They did not agree with our decision to leave but worked with us and wished us well in our new denominational home.
“I don’t think we could have asked for any better relationship than what we had. I commend them all and praise the Lord for them and the work they did.”
McRae said the EPC’s essential tenets and firm stance on the Westminster Confession were a draw as well as the fact that it was a well-established denomination, one that pre-dates the PCUSA. Also, there are a number of other EPC congregations in proximity to Galatia, providing ministry partners close at hand.
“The session felt the EPC was the way we should be headed because we already have friends there (from Peaks Presbytery) and there are more churches closer to us that are part of that denomination. I agree with them and think this will be a good match,” McRae added.
McRae observed that the decision to leave the PCUSA and subsequent dismissal have brought peace to members of the congregation as they move forward.
“There is a sense of relief and total peace about this decision,” he said. “We feel we have been led by the Holy Spirit to where we are now. We are very happy with the decision.”
He noted the excitement about the future of the congregation as part of the EPC’s Mid-Atlantic Presbytery and the opportunity of doing the unencumbered work of the Lord.
“There is a sense of joyful anticipation about the future ahead of us,” McRae said. “We don’t feel we really have been part of the PCUSA for some time. We’re anticipating relationships with this new denomination to be a blessing we didn’t feel we had these last few years, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to do the work that the Lord has put us here to do.”