by Erin Cox-Holmes, Presbyterians Today
There’s a certified letter on your desk.” These words set the stomachs of presbytery executives churning and keep us up at night. The letter, from a clerk of session, gives notice that the church session has voted to enter a discernment process on whether to request dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Here in the Presbytery of Donegal that letter has arrived 13 times over the past decade. The outcome: 11 congregations have been dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) or the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). One had a deferred financial settlement approved in order to continue ministry in the presbytery with an innovative young pastor. And one split after a vote to dismiss failed, resulting in two thriving congregations.
“It’s been quite stressful,” says William J. Netting, stated clerk of the presbytery. “The hard part is watching the departure of so many friends who have been such a part of the fabric of the presbytery.”
“But it is amazing how God has been at work in our presbytery,” adds commissioned ruling elder Nan Best, the presbytery’s equipper for vital congregations. “The first dismissals happened when three congregations filed a lawsuit against the presbytery. Things were very heated. Since then, we have worked hard to have our process more discerning and less adversarial.”
The Presbytery of Donegal is not the only presbytery in which congregations have left. In 2012 and 2013, presbyteries dismissed 258 congregations to other denominations.