Guinston Presbyterian Church was dismissed from the Presbytery of Donegal March 16 after its scheduled dismissal vote was delayed twice.
Located in Airville, south of Harrisburg near the Maryland border, Guinston started its discernment process with Donegal in June 2011 with a congregational vote. In October 2012, the voting membership, by an 84-0 margin, opted to seek dismissal from the PCUSA to affiliate with the EPC.
The presbytery vote on the dismissal was slated for the November 2012 meeting, but Donegal officials postponed the matter to the January 2013 stated meeting in order to consider all of Guinston’s financial holdings as required by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Committee (PJC) ruling tied to the trust clause. That ruling directs presbyteries to consider property values and other assets when determining terms of dismissal from the PCUSA.
The vote for dismissal was rescheduled for Donegal’s Jan. 22, 2013, meeting, but the financial review for the church was not completed, leading to another delay.
“They postponed the vote to make sure they were adhering to the ruling by taking our property into consideration,” said the Rev. Daniel Moore, who has been at Guinston since 2003. “That led to a mixed response. There were some people who were suspicious. Those most closely involved with the process felt it would pan out in the end, but those less involved thought the PJC ruling may be used for other purposes. We were cautiously optimistic.”
The presbytery dismissed Guinston at the March 16 meeting with all its property and financial holdings. The church was required to pay $9,390 to the presbytery, which also requested the congregation give another $67,000, an amount equal to 10 percent of its liquid holdings.
At a March 17 congregational meeting, Guinston’s membership agreed to pay the amount of $9,390 to the presbytery but balked at the request of a $67,000 payment.
Instead, the congregation agreed to provide funds to Donegal to support the work of the PCUSA. The church gave a $1,000 gift to Columbia Presbyterian Church’s summer feeding program as well as a $1,000 donation to Camp Donegal in memory of Elder Donald Ruff. In addition, the church pledged support over the next five years to PCUSA missionaries, giving $900 each to two couples in foreign countries for each of the next five years to total $9,000.
“There was a lot of discussion. Some thought it was too little; others thought it was too much,” Moore said. “People were passionate but respectful. Ultimately, it was a compromise that everyone accepted as just and fair.”
Overall, Moore said the process of departing the PCUSA was amicable with the Presbytery of Donegal.
“It was very friendly,” Moore said, adding that 55 members of the Guinston congregation took a 90-minute bus drive to attend the presbytery meeting. “The presbytery was very gracious from the beginning all the way to the end. They were very supportive, encouraging and prayerful. They wanted to honor God and Christ, and didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the witness of the presbytery or the church. We appreciate that. They did all they could do to handle things in a Christ-like fashion.”
A lack of Scriptural authority was the driving force that led Guinston to seek dismissal from the PCUSA, with another set of symptoms springing forth from that issue. Those included sexual integrity (the removal of the fidelity/chastity clause), abortion and the denominational health plan, religious syncretism, feminization of God and universalism – the acceptance of multiple ways to salvation rather than through Jesus alone.
“The refusal to acknowledge the inerrancy of Scripture diminishes its authority,” Moore said. “The PCUSA has left the churches. It has left its historical roots of orthodox Reformed theology. That’s really the big issue. The PCUSA has left good Biblical doctrine behind. It’s sad.”
Guinston has been granted tentative acceptance by the EPC, Moore said, noting that once the session decided to leave the PCUSA the first order of business was finding a new denominational home. He said because it already was firmly established and not in its formative stages like ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians was when Guinston sought dismissal, EPC was a more logical fit when its beliefs were compared to those of the PCUSA on a variety of topics.
“We examined the beliefs of the EPC to those of the PCUSA,” Moore said. “We looked at what we believe and where we are theologically and found we were very closely aligned with the EPC. Its stand on all things was right on target with the majority of our congregation. By and large, we are very compatible, and we felt very comfortable entering an agreement with the EPC.”
Moore added that several churches that serve in ministerial capacities with Guinston also had affiliated with the EPC, giving a little more familiarity to continue partnerships with such friends and colleagues.
Now that the dismissal process is completed, Moore said there is a sense of relief throughout the congregation, though he noted the membership never looked at leaving the PCUSA as a mission.
“Leaving didn’t become our mission,” he said. “Our mission has always been focused on our ministry at hand. Yes, there was something happening with seeking dismissal, but it was not what we wanted our focus to be. It has weighed on the back of our minds, but we’ve tried not to allow it to come to the forefront of our thinking,
“When we were dismissed, a presbyter said, ‘God’s peace be with you.’ There is a sense of peace now that all of this is done and we don’t have to worry about all these requirements. We can move forward and focus on doing Christ’s work.”