With a price tag of more than $8.8 million, the congregation of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California will decide on March 2 whether it wants to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
During a short presentation at Sunday’s (Jan. 26) service, Senior Pastor John Ortberg informed his congregation of “some good news and some daunting news,” concerning their desire to leave the PCUSA. The good news: “We now have a firm date for a congregational vote that will be March 2.” The daunting news, he said, “is the price tag … $8,890,000 – that is considerably steeper than what we expected to have to pay.”
A team from Menlo Park and from the Presbytery of San Francisco had been negotiating together to “determine the amount our dismissal will be,” Ortberg told the congregation, and came to the “price tag” last week.
The session of Menlo Park voted unanimously on June 11, 2013, to recommend that the church seek dismissal from the PCUSA. The vote followed years of questioning, praying, fasting and studying the issue, according to Menlo Park’s “MPPC & denominational affiliation” web site.
“With a spirit of love in Christ for the PCUSA and the Presbytery of San Francisco, MPPC’s leadership is wholeheartedly recommending this course so that we can pursue God’s calling on the church as best we can,” the web site stated.
Ortberg began his presentation to the congregation by saying that “On the denominational front, a lot of you know that our elders have had a strong sense that to achieve the mission that God has given us, we need to seek dismissal from our current denomination and join a new Presbyterian denomination called ECO.”
He used his time Sunday to respond to what he called a “few significant questions.”
“No, there’s not,” Ortberg said. A negotiated settlement with the presbytery is the only means to seek dismissal from the denomination with the church’s property intact.
Ortberg said that some wondered if the church could get a lower amount if it filed a lawsuit in civil court.
“That would probably be financially unproductive … it would definitely be spiritually unproductive,” he said. “It would be a bad witness in the community to have that kind of litigation in the Church of Jesus.”
“We could say that it’s too high a price and stay in the denomination, but,” Ortberg said that the session feels that the “process itself, what we have gone through this past week, has simply underscored how important it is for us to be able to enter into the freedom of a value-adding affiliation.”
Is it worth the price?
On Friday, Jan. 24, “knowing the full dollar amount, our elders and ordained staff voted unanimously to move ahead with a vote and recommend to you — our congregation– that we seek dismissal.”
The reason is important, he said. “All of this is about a much greater vision. This is not about what we are trying to get away from. This is about what God is calling us to.”
Last fall, Ortberg had spoken to the church about wanting to reach the Bay area for Christ. “We want to play our part as God enables us … We believe we’ve got to be in a denominational setting that will help us attract great, young, Christ-following leaders.”
Ortberg said that the church’s negotiating team wanted the church to know that “they are even more convinced at the end of this process than they were at the beginning that we need to seek dismissal.”
Will this be easy?
“No,” he said. But, he added that the elders and staff “have been working overtime” since finding out about the price tag. “We are praying and planning how we begin to pay for this.”
The elders and staff believe, said Ortberg, that they will have a plan to share with the congregation at the town hall meetings scheduled for Feb. 9 and 16.
“We are committed to doing this in a way that we do not cut back on ministry, that we do not de-accelerate our mission,” he said.
Is God anxious about this?
“No!” said Ortberg. “When in the Bible does God ever give anybody an easy assignment? … I am more convinced than ever that God is at work in this. I am more convicted than ever that God is calling us to this process to be our best selves, to have a vision for the future that is more challenging and brighter than ever before, to not be bitter, to not get gossipy, to not impugn motives, to not be anxious or afraid … to be wide open and loving and arms out embracing and just confident in God.”
What does God want me to do?
“Our large request now is every member — everyone who loves our church — is to pray,” said Ortberg. “We’re asking that every single person that’s a member of our church would make this a personal spiritual journey, make this a priority.”
“This church’s best days are in front of it, not behind it,” added Ortberg. “This church’s greatest assignment is in front of it. The spiritual need of the Bay area is greatest in the days before us and if we pray, and if we listen, and if we hold together, and if we surrender, God will lead. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Tell Me This Isn’t About the Money, October 22, 2013
Toddler Property Laws and the PC(USA) Trust Clause, October 23, 2013
Introducing ECO: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, January 19, 2012