A Midwest congregation was dismissed to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) after severing its relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Edgington Presbyterian Church in Taylor Ridge, Ill., was dismissed from the PCUSA during a March 5 Presbytery of Great Rivers meeting. The process finalized with a church vote March 10 that affirmed the proceedings and allowed the church with a membership of approximately 170 to become part of the EPC.
The congregation, which celebrated its 175th year of ministry in northwestern Illinois near the Iowa border in 2012, was received by the EPC in January and has since changed its name to Edgington Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EEPC).
Zach Hopkins, the stated supply pastor at Edgington, said the church has had issues with the PCUSA for some time and formed a denominational committee about 10 years ago to research, understand and discuss actions taken by the national denomination.
“We knew we did not agree with certain standards of the PCUSA, but we were uncertain of what we should do,” Hopkins said. “In the last year we were more serious about understanding whether we should stay in the PCUSA. A lot of research and prayer helped us determine what our best fit was, and that was to become part of the EPC.”
Edgington navigated the discernment/dismissal process in a little more than a year from start to finish, seeking the Lord’s call for its future. The congregation did so by dedicating itself to prayer.
“For a time we saw this as more of a business decision, and that distorted our vision for what the Lord had in store for us and a faithful commitment to follow His will,” Hopkins said.
While there were business aspects to the dismissal, it ultimately came down to serving God and honoring a commitment of ministry and witness for Him.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and figures as a business decision, but we realized this is Christ’s church. It belongs to Him, and we are stewards of it,” Hopkins said. “Honoring Him has been our top priority throughout the process.”
A straw vote taken in January 2012 revealed the desire to leave the PCUSA. A Sept. 30, 2012, congregational vote with the required quorum of 60 percent of the membership casting ballots was unanimous to seek dismissal and align with the EPC, and the March 2013 vote to accept terms of dismissal and leave the PCUSA also was unanimous.
“I think the direction was very clear. The presbytery saw the writing on the wall and knew there was no need to fight it,” Hopkins said. “We were blessed to see such unity in the church. I think that was a response to the prayer.”
Bob Stegmiller, a member of the EEPC session and denominational committee, shared that view and said the congregation has embraced the move to the EPC.
“The results of those last two votes really show how unified we were, that everyone was on the same page,” Stegmiller said. “This was not a snap decision. A lot of prayer has to go into something like this. You have to keep asking the Lord where you are supposed to go, and He’ll lead you if you let Him.”
The dismissal process was one that smooth and gracious for Edgington, according to Hopkins, who said the presbytery was very accommodating in working with the church. He said the presbytery asked the church to honor the trust clause in assessing its property and make a settlement proposal for dismissal.
Edgington offered a sum of $24,000 to represent five years of per capita giving and a sum of $13,000 given over five years to missions programs of the church’s choosing over a period of five years for a total amount of $37,000. The presbytery accepted the proposal.
“Our membership acted very graciously, and the presbytery was very willing to work with us,” Hopkins said. “For a rural church our size, we thought those terms were very acceptable. We made the funds available a month before they were due.”
Hopkins said disaffiliating from the national denomination was a matter of choosing to follow a path different from that of the PCUSA, which has drifted from Scriptural authority and the Lordship of Jesus Christ through some of its decisions and stances taken on social issues in recent years.
“Our underlying concern has always been the authority of Scripture in the church,” Hopkins said. “From that come all the other problems – homosexual ordination, forms of government, property issues. It all came down to Scriptural authority. It was not an issue, it was the issue. Everything else stems from that.
“We are very committed to Scripture and applying it to our lives as God’s word of authority. This church has been Presbyterian since it was founded, and we are attempting to rediscover our Reformed heritage. The PCUSA has had a departure from true Reformed heritage, which should mean something, not just historically but theologically.”
Stegmiller said Amendment 10A, which allowed for the ordination of homosexuals, gave the church a major push toward dismissal.
“We’ve been unhappy with a lot of things over the years, but the ordination of gays and lesbians as elders and pastors was the breaking point,” he said.
Hopkins said the commitment to the Reformed tradition of the EPC, its evangelical nature, emphasis on missions and absence of a trust clause were factors that weighed on Edgington’s decision to seek affiliation with the denomination.
“We saw in the EPC a commitment to the faithfulness of the Word of God and fellowship in that commitment,” Hopkins said. “It became clear that was where the Lord was leading us, a place to partner in ministry without reservation. That was such a blessing to our church. We see a commitment to Presbyterianism and a denominational structure we can be confident in.”
Stegmiller added, “They really fit our beliefs and are very Biblical. We have been very pleased with the EPC.”
The Edgington congregation has peered through the haze of the PCUSA that once clouded its vision of service and ministry, setting its sights fully on doing God’s work.
“It’s always been the mission of the church to become a beacon of light and hope for the gospel in our community,” Hopkins said. “By taking this step – a move that was one of fidelity – we have done that. We have a seen a unity and single-mindedness, a commitment to Scripture and a willingness to commit ourselves to His service.
“We have such a clearer vision of our purpose and ministry. We have committed ourselves to future faithfulness, and we’re still looking forward. It’s a very exciting time for us, but we haven’t arrived by any means.”