The church was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) by Prospect Hill Presbytery on Feb. 23, ending a lengthy process that included a special called meeting for dismissal. The congregation will become part of ECO’s Presbytery of the West.
The dismissal of Sibley from the PCUSA was on the Feb. 2 docket for Prospect Hill Presbytery after the voting membership had voted 147-5 for dismissal during a congregational vote called by an Administrative Commission (AC) working with FPC-Sibley.
However, during the presbytery meeting, officials requested additional figures from the AC regarding property values and assets of the church that had not been sought previously with the dismissal procedure, and the vote on dismissal was tabled. Frustrated members of the Sibley congregation left that meeting wondering if their journey would be prolonged another three months until the May presbytery meeting
“We felt it was a way of slowing our release (from the PCUSA), and we really didn’t want to wait any longer,” FPC-Sibley Pastor Terry Simm said.
But presbytery officials decided to hold a special meeting to vote on the matter three weeks later instead of pushing it to the May gathering.
“It was a very loving and gracious way to handle it, and we are very appreciative they had a change of heart,” Simm said.
Under the terms of dismissal, the church will donate $20,000 to the Presbyterian Camp Okoboji, which also includes a partial property assessment, and it will pay 2013 per capita in the amount of $6,822.99.
“We wanted to make sure our property was taken into consideration so the terms would not be considered null and void,” Simm said. “We’re not leaving the presbytery with nothing. They get something, and this works out best for all of us.”
Simm said there was an expectation that the church may have to pay $20,000-30,000 to finalize its dismissal, noting that some people did not want to pay anything at all.
“If we could come up with a figure that was acceptable and leave on gracious terms, then it was something we could live with,” he said. “It was about as gracious and loving a dismissal as anyone could ask for. We even had members of the presbytery telling us they were sad to see us leave and that they wanted to continue having a relationship with us.”
Located in northwest Iowa near the borders of Minnesota and South Dakota, FPC-Sibley has a membership of approximately 420. The church had been studying the idea of seeking dismissal for about four years before it actually was granted the opportunity to join ECO.
“It was a long process and a decision that didn’t come overnight,” said Simm, who has been at FPC-Sibley nearly 11 years. “We had some early straw polls to seek input and a number of cluster meetings to determine what we needed to do.”
Simm said the church session and congregation began to take a more aggressive look at their situation with the passage of Amendment 10A, which deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the constitutional ordination standard, and now allows the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors.
“I think it was at that point the church wanted to make a change and wanted the session to act in some way,” Simm said.
He added that issues of ordination, marriage and the Lordship of Jesus Christ all came into play as the membership made its decision to seek a new denominational home.
“We felt that there was a watering down of what the Bible says. Either the Bible is God’s word or it isn’t,” Simm said. “The idea of the Lordship of Jesus Christ also was muddied by the General Assembly. They were pushing worship of the same God, whether Muslim, Jew or Christian. That was unsettling.”
Simm said it became apparent that God was being cast aside.
“Be tolerant and inclusive; we don’t want to offend anyone,” he said. “But when it comes to God, we cast Him aside. It seemed they were more satisfied in appealing to human interests, and God is set off to the side. Only through Christ are we saved to be obedient to God and His Word.”
A preliminary straw poll to research options or stay in the PCUSA was taken by Sibley’s membership, and the overwhelming majority showed the desire to explore other denominations.
ECO and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) were considered, with ECO emerging as the best fit for the congregation. Simm noted that church leaders were impressed with the EPC as well, but the session and majority of the congregation liked what ECO had to offer.
“The thing that impressed us with ECO is that we could move in and nothing really had to change in regard to our theology,” Simm explained. “We could hold on to our confessions and go by them as a whole. Everyone felt ECO would be OK for us.”