Congregation dismissed to ARP Church with property in exchange for $30,000 gift
By Patrick Jean, May 4, 2007
A small congregation in Mississippi has been granted its request to be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) with its property.
But the dismissal comes with a price: a $30,000 gift to be “placed in an appropriate fund,” according to St. Andrew Presbytery.
By voice vote, presbytery commissioners agreed at their stated meeting May 1 to dismiss the 94-member French Camp Presbyterian Church in French Camp, Miss.
The vote comes nearly nine months after the session made a written request to the presbytery to be “graciously” released with its property.
The French Camp church will be received into the smaller, more conservative Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church next month, said Fred Davenport, a French Camp elder.
Months in the works
The French Camp church’s efforts to leave the PCUSA began Aug. 10, 2006. That’s when the 12-member church session sent a letter to St. Andrew Presbytery saying they were “disillusioned and dismayed while watching the denominational direction become more and more liberal and further from our understanding of the Scriptures which call us to a holy lifestyle.”
The letter stated the “actions and affirmations” of the denomination’s 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., meant that the congregation “can no longer in good faith continue our membership in the PCUSA. We value our friends in St. Andrew Presbytery and regret that we must dissolve our relationship with them.”
“Nonetheless,” the letter concluded, “we request that you graciously release the French Camp church with its property so that the mission ministry of this community and campus church can continue unabated.”
In response, the presbytery, at its stated meeting Oct. 3, appointed a six-member task force “to relate to the French Camp congregation and to lead the presbytery in its consideration of the French Camp Presbyterian Church session’s request.”
On Dec. 6, the French Camp congregation voted to request dismissal to the ARP Church. The session sent an updated request letter to the presbytery, according to the task force. On March 26, 2007, the presbytery voted to request a recommendation and report from the task force at the May 1 stated meeting.
Task force recommendations
“The task force recognizes that opinions of what to do about this request are numerous and varied,” the report at the meeting stated. “We have been asked to recommend the whole range of options, from not dismissing the congregation to dismissing them with their property without consideration and everything in between.”
The task force said it is “aware of the many congregations that are discontented with the denomination and are considering leaving our fellowship, as well as the concerns of many that what we do here today will set some precedent in our presbytery’s dealings with similar situations. However,” the report stated, “we feel that each church and ministry is unique and that our recommendation is just and fair.”
The task force recommended that St. Andrew Presbytery dismiss the French Camp congregation to the ARP Church. “The property,” the recommendation stated, “will be given to the church in recognition of a $75,000 gift from the church, which is to be placed in an appropriate fund (we suggest it be used to help build a new pool at Camp Hopewell and/or to support Living Waters for the World).”
Camp Hopewell is the presbytery’s Christian education, camp and retreat center in Oxford, Miss. Living Waters is the Franklin, Tenn.-based synod comprised of 12 presbyteries in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, including St. Andrew.
The $75,000 gift would have constituted more money than the congregation gives to the PCUSA annually. The French Camp church gave $71,039 to the denomination in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the PCUSA.
During the debate on the recommendation, an amendment was offered to reduce the $75,000 gift amount to $30,000. The amendment was approved by voice vote.
It was not clear at press time whether the $30,000 already had been paid. Calls to the church office went unanswered.
The dismissal request also was approved by voice vote.
The presbytery also approved the temporary appointment of its executive presbyter and stated clerk, the Rev. Dr. Gregory A. Goodwiller, as moderator of the French Camp church session. The resignation of the previous moderator – the Rev. Rusty Douglas, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greenwood, Miss. – was accepted.
Goodwiller declined to comment for this article.
The French Camp church will be received into the ARP Church at that denomination’s 203rd General Synod on June 5-7 at the Bonclarken Conference Center in Flat Rock, N.C., Davenport said.
The dismissal does not affect French Camp Academy, a Christian home and school for young people from families in crisis. “The academy and the church are separate entities,” the task force recommendation stated, “but they are also linked by a long-standing history and relationship.”
The academy’s proximity is a likely factor in the French Camp church’s large Sunday school enrollment. While it has only 94 members, the church has 225 children enrolled in Sunday school.
Full text of report, recommendation
Here is the full text of the French Camp task force’s report and recommendation, a copy of which was obtained by The Layman Online:
“On Dec. 6, 2006, the congregation of the French Camp Presbyterian Church voted to request that they be dismissed to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). The vote of the congregation was almost unanimous (92 percent) in support of this course of action. The session of French Camp communicated this decision to the presbytery by letter, and this task force was eventually appointed by the presbytery to lead the presbytery in its consideration of the request. At the called meeting of the presbytery on March 26, 2007, the presbytery voted that this task force should have a recommendation for the presbytery for the May 1, 2007 meeting. This is our recommendation and report.
“For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ARP, suffice it to say that it is an old (1782) Presbyterian branch closely associated with Scots who settled in the South. It is most heavily concentrated in the Carolinas and Georgia, with a total membership of approximately 200 churches with 30,000 members. The ARP has indicated their willingness to receive the French Camp church into their communion.
“The task force has been in conversation and prayer with the session and membership of the French Camp church during this difficult time. In addition, the members of this task force have also been in frequent contact with many of the pastors, sessions and members of our various congregations throughout the presbytery. We are well aware of the history of the French Camp church, the French Camp Academy and this presbytery and its predecessors, much of which was discussed in our prior draft sent out to all of our churches in February 2007. Members of our presbytery have and continue to support the academy faithfully; this presbytery’s leadership was crucial in the renovations and expansion of the church property in the 1980s and that the academy and the church are separate entities, but they are also linked by a long-standing history and relationship.
“As a result of these conversations, the task force recognizes that opinions of what to do about this request are numerous and varied. We have been asked to recommend the whole range of options, from not dismissing the congregation to dismissing them with their property without consideration and everything in between.
“On Feb. 6, 2007, this presbytery voted that we would not implement a single rule in dealing with requests of this sort. In fact, the presbytery voted that ‘the presbytery will deal with property issues on a case-by-case basis, being mindful of our ultimate unity in Christ.’ We take very seriously this statement and have been guided by its wisdom throughout our discussions and deliberations. We are aware of the many congregations that are discontent with the denomination and are considering leaving our fellowship, as well as the concerns of many that what we do here today will set some precedent in our presbytery’s dealings with similar situations. However, we feel that each church and ministry is unique and that our recommendation is just and fair.
“Recommendation: The presbytery dismiss the congregation of the French Camp Presbyterian Church to the ARP. The property of the French Camp Presbyterian Church will be given to the church in recognition of a $75,000 gift from the church, which is to be placed in an appropriate fund (we suggest it be used to help build a new pool at Camp Hopewell and/or to support Living Waters for the World).”
Patrick Jean is a staff writer for The Layman and The Layman Online. He can be reached at email@example.com.