Upper Path Valley Presbyterian Church (UPVPC), located in Spring Run, Pa., about an hour southwest of Harrisburg, was dismissed from the PCUSA during the Sept. 24 meeting of Carlisle Presbytery.
The dismissal of the 126-member church, founded in 1766, wrapped up a process of more than two years that started in August of 2011 with a solemn assembly of prayer in response to congregational unrest regarding membership in the PCUSA.
“We were incredibly blessed,” said the Rev. Dr. Meagan Boozer, pastor of UPVPC for the last 11 years. “We were careful, intentional and prayerful about this process. God gave us all the right people along the way to guide us through the process. The presbytery was very gracious.”
Boozer observed that Upper Path Valley was the church that asked Carlisle Presbytery to create a gracious dismissal policy (which was approved by presbytery in September 2012), and she added that her congregation knew it would be OK engaging in the process to leave because the policy crafted was indeed gracious, though there was sadness associated with leaving the presbytery.
“We knew if we followed it and continued to do what God asked us to do, we’d get out, and that’s what happened,” Boozer said. “It was very sad. Even though the end result was what we had prayed for, there still was sadness and tears on both sides. It’s an end to a long affiliation and some relationships that had been forged for me over the last 14 years. There are a lot of wonderful colleagues I have worked with.”
The decision to leave the PCUSA was one predicated on the denomination’s stance on the sanctity of life, the expression of sexuality, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, all ultimately boiling down to authority of Scripture. The vote in May 2011 to change ordination standards within the denomination was the tipping point for the UPVPC congregation.
Boozer pointed out that her congregation’s discontent was not with the presbytery but the PCUSA.
“We knew we stood in a different place than where the denomination stood. We never tried to hide that,” she said. “We determined we could not be aligned with (the PCUSA) any more. We knew we still needed to work well and peacefully within the presbytery. It was not going to help to fight if we were choosing dismissal. The track record needed to show that we honored God and there was no animosity. That’s so important.”
A unified body
A straw poll of active members taken in February 2013 revealed 93 percent in favor of leaving the PCUSA. Upper Path Valley’s nine-member session was unified in its decision to recommend that the congregation seek dismissal and did so March 11, 2013.
Maintaining unity in the ranks was critical in moving forward, Boozer said, noting that UPVPC did not lose any of its members while following the path to dismissal.
“We were so prayerful and careful,” she said. “We wanted to be sure that as much as we wanted this to happen that we also kept the unity of our congregation. We were so blessed. I’m just very grateful to God and proud of our members.”
That unity remained strong as the church entered the negotiation process and voted by a 91-2 margin to accept the terms of dismissal on July 7, 2013, to leave the PCUSA and join ECO, which had granted acceptance to the congregation in May.
Under the dismissal terms, Upper Path Valley was required to turn over all its original records to the Presbyterian Historical Society, pay for the commercial property appraisal ($3,000) to satisfy the denomination’s call for presbytery to consider property value for dismissal, and pay three years of per capita totaling approximately $9,500. That was paid Sept. 24 when dismissal was finalized.
“We were graciously dismissed because we were gracious and followed God’s call. It was a God-honoring choice we made,” Boozer said. “We followed the process, and it worked. We’re grateful to God and the presbytery for coming alongside us and allowing us to do what we believed God was calling us to do.”
Dealing with distraction
Boozer noted that there was a feeling of distraction while the process was running its course, but it was not enough to deter the congregation from following God’s lead.
“There is feeling that you are on the edge waiting for decisions to be made, and that’s very distracting from the day to day care of the congregation,” she said. “Even when dismissal was complete, there still was a lot of paperwork to be done. But that’s part of the mission and has to be done. It’s just a relief to have it behind us.
“We truly are excited and relieved to be able to finish what was started and see what God has in store for us.”
The Upper Path Valley congregation already has seen that in terms of attendance at worship services, which has grown from around 40 people in 2002 to an average of 145 this year.
Prayer for the PCUSA
Even though the ties with the PCUSA have been severed, Boozer said she and her congregation will continue to pray for their brothers and sisters who remain part of the denomination.
“The PCUSA could not stop us from doing the work we were called to do. We just didn’t feel called to remain aligned with a denomination headed in the direction (the PCUSA) was choosing to go,” Boozer explained. “We’re praying for the PCUSA. It’s personal for us. There are folks we loved and worked with for a number of years still part of the denomination, and we can’t just walk away from them. We pray for the Church worldwide, and the PCUSA is part of that. We’re not going to turn our backs and pretend that part of our history did not exist. It’s a reminder that the Church is bigger than just our congregation.”