A pair of congregations in northern California find themselves affiliated with a different branch of the Presbyterian tree after being dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA).
McCloud Community Presbyterian Church and Grace Community Church, each found in Siskiyou County, are now part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) following their dismissal by Sacramento Presbytery. The churches – 22 miles apart and both more than 100 years old – are pastored by the Rev. Jim Howe.
Grace Community Church (GCC), formerly known as Grace Presbyterian Church and located on the northern side of Mt. Shasta in Weed not far from the Oregon state line, was dismissed Dec. 4, 2012. McCloud (MCPC), located south of Mt. Shasta, was dismissed during the Nov. 22, 2013, meeting of Sacramento Presbytery.
Making decisions about departure
Howe, who has served both congregations in the linked parish for more than five years, indicated that the decision for the 30-member GCC congregation to leave the PCUSA was unanimous. However, there was more resistance from the 42-member McCloud congregation and session. The session voted 4-3 to recommend dismissal and 5-2 to join the EPC. The congregation voted 25-13 in November 2012 to leave and 27-11 in February 2013 to align with the EPC.
“The Weed (Grace) congregation was ready to move on and united in its decision,” Howe explained. “McCloud wanted to take it more slowly because there was not complete unanimity in the decision”
Howe also was ready to make the move away from the PCUSA and informed both congregations that he would continue as their pastor if they chose to leave the denomination but would step down if they decided against departure. A steering committee that coordinates the relationship of both churches in the linked parish recommended dismissal from the PCUSA and alignment with EPC in the fall of 2010.
Determining the need to leave
Like many others, the Grace and McCloud congregations cited changes to the Book of Order, specifically ordination standards and the new Form of Government (nFOG), as reasons to seek a new denominational home.
“For both churches there were issues with nFOG and the change of ordination standards,” Howe said. “The broadening of inclusivity to allow all theological convictions became a real concern.”
Grace went through its process and was dismissed to the EPC after making a payment of $6,500 to Sacramento Presbytery.
“It was very clear to the Weed congregation that EPC was the place to go. They did not feel that ECO was a good fit because it was still in its formative stages and appeared to remain too closely tied to the PCUSA. They wanted a clean break to join a safe and new denominational home,” Howe said, noting that there also was concern at the time that ECO was not yet a fully functioning Reformed body. “We also wanted relational connectionalism. We are in an area with other EPC churches nearby, and that’s important for small congregations.”
Howe said the primary concern the McCloud congregation had about leaving the PCUSA hinged on some funds that had been derived from the sale of a manse. There was a fear that perhaps those funds may be taken by the presbytery and/or national denomination.
However, the negotiating team from Sacramento Presbytery worked out an agreement that allowed McCloud to keep those funds to be used for the sole purpose of maintenance, restoration and refurbishment of the church building over the next 10 to 12 years.
McCloud’s payment to the presbytery totaled $9,000 along with 2013 per capita in the amount of $987.
“Overall, we have been very fortunate to have people in the presbytery who wanted to help the congregations through this process,” Howe said. “There were some minor bumps along the way, but overall, the presbytery was very supportive.”
Looking to the future
Now that the dismissal of McCloud has taken place, Howe can resume his role as moderator, something he had not been able to do since December 2012 (following Grace’s dismissal and affiliation with the EPC) as the congregation moved through the dismissal process. He was allowed to continue as stated supply, pastoring seemingly on a contract basis until the dismissal was finalized.
“It was frustrating,” he said, explaining that various pastors from the presbytery served as moderator of the McCloud session. “I’m really glad McCloud is out, and the Weed church has been glad to be out for some time now.”
Moving forward, Howe indicated that both congregations want to become viable parts of the communities they serve, something he already has seen from Grace.
“The Weed congregation has done a fantastic job re-engaging the community,” he said. “More than 70 people attended an open house to find out what is taking place. We are using our new name to re-introduce ourselves to the community. It’s a very exciting time with a 20 percent increase in attendance at worship services. I think many people are seeing a new future for the church.”
Howe expects something similar to occur at McCloud, which he indicated has been central to the community for many years.
“This congregation is at the heart of the community,” he said. “It’s very much an attractional congregation that remains healthy and strives to play a vital role in this community. We’re done dealing with the denominational issues. It’s time to be more about becoming more engaged in the community.
“Both these churches seek to be about sharing God’s Word in both these communities. That’s what we need to be about.”