A process that started nearly a year ago came to an end Feb. 12 when Mebane Presbyterian Church was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
The church will retain the rights to all its property and pay $21,000 to Salem Presbytery to fulfill terms of dismissal agreed to by the parties.
Salem’s dismissal policy required that two-thirds of the church’s active membership be present for each vote taken, which was the case for the church. Ninety percent of Mebane’s active voting membership agreed to the dismissal terms during a Jan. 27 vote, nearly eight weeks after the church’s session and the Salem Presbytery Resolution Team hammered out final conditions for dismissal.
The church of approximately 180 members located in eastern Alamance County of North Carolina started the dismissal process according to the guidelines set forth in the Salem Presbytery Dismissal Policy.
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Smith, pastor of MPC since 1999, indicated that church leaders and members started to become distressed when the issue was not addressed for five months after the session requested pursuit of dismissal in February 2012.
In July 2012, the presbytery contacted the MPC session, two months after the session voted to recommend the congregation affiliate with the EPC acting on counsel from the church’s Denominational Issues Task Force (DITF).
In August, a Conciliation Team from the presbytery met with the MPC session and its DITF to find out what issues brought up the desire to be dismissed from the PCUSA, and the process picked up steam from there.
The Conciliation Team suggested a congregational vote on dismissal from the PCUSA to EPC, and on Oct. 21, 84 percent of Mebane’s active voting membership voted in favor of dismissal.
When it became clear that dismissal was the direction the church was headed, a Resolution Team from the presbytery started work with the session to finalize dismissal terms.
The delayed action by the presbytery may have led to a higher settlement amount to complete the dismissal. In an earlier meeting regarding the cost of seeking dismissal, Salem Presbytery Stated Clerk Mack Dagenhart indicated that it probably would be in line with what other churches had paid. Looking at it from a per-capita basis, that amount would have been in the neighborhood of $8,000.
However, a ruling from the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly pointed out that the Resolution Team also has to consider property values of the church along with per-capita giving and missions funding.
Smith said negotiations throughout the dismissal process between the church and presbytery were amicable.
The church web site indicates that there were several key issues that came into play, but the driving force behind the decision to seek dismissal was that “the PCUSA has moved away from its Biblical, Reformed foundations in a way that we (MPC congregants) believe creates a theological gap that is impossible for us, as a congregation, to bridge.”
More specifically, the increasing and inconsistent positions regarding the historical tenets of faith being affirmed by the PCUSA were cited – “a creeping tolerance of theological pluralism,” if you will. Mebane believes:
1-In the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ;
2-In the unquestionable means of salvation for the whole world through Him; and
3-In the infallible authority of God’s Word in all matters of faith and practice.
The decision to seek affiliation with the EPC was reached because it was viewed as a denomination aligned with Mebane’s theological beliefs, mission outreach vision and calling to fulfill the Great Commission.
Smith indicated that the church has been granted provisional acceptance by the EPC.
“The session looked at a number of options and really felt, looking at our membership, that this was the best fit for the church,” he said. “It was more theologically aligned with the congregation. They felt strongly that women should be ordained, and the EPC has that option. (The EPC) was more aligned with our polity.”
Smith added that the motto of the EPC also fits Mebane Presbyterian Church. That motto is “In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Charity; Truth In Love.”