Nearly a year after starting the process, Mountville was dismissed during a November 2012 meeting of western Pennsylvania-based Presbytery of Shenango to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
“For many, many years, the (PCUSA) church has gotten more and more liberal. There are a lot of churches dissatisfied with the PCUSA,” Mountville Pastor Don Hurray said. “The PCUSA kept talking about unity, but that unity was to surrender all our values and go along with what they were pushing. We couldn’t compromise the essentials we believe in.”
As a result, Mountville – located in Portersville, Pa., 40 miles north of Pittsburgh – became one of the first churches to seek dismissal from Shenango after the presbytery developed its dismissal policy.
“We were very frustrated trying to work through the system, and it took a year to get through the process,” said Hurray, who has led the congregation of 127 members for 11 years. “The presbytery would tell us one thing and do something else, and we continually had to stay on top of things to make sure the appropriate steps were being taken. Once we caught on they were not carrying the ball for us, things were much better.”
Hurray said Mountville, established in 1807, started the dismissal process in December 2011, and a congregational vote in January 2012 revealed that 96 percent of the eligible voting congregation was in favor of disaffiliating with the PCUSA.
In August 2012, the vote to align with the EPC was unanimous, and Mountville was dismissed to join the EPC in November after the presbytery put its vote regarding the matter on hold two months earlier. Mountville’s congregation was accepted into the EPC’s Presbytery of the Alleghenies in December.
“When we had our votes, (the presbytery) saw there was no hope of any remaining congregation,” Hurray said. “For us it was not a matter of voting if we wanted to leave but on when we will leave. This congregation is very active and very familiar with what has been going on in the denomination. They were ready to get out.”
The church left the PCUSA without any property issues coming into play. The requirements were that that the congregation be fully educated on dismissal requirements, that the process be completed fully with the presbytery’s dismissal team and a payment of $6,000 to the presbytery to fulfill two years of per-capita giving.
“We weren’t treated as well as we thought we’d be treated, but as we look at it now – compared to a lot of churches that left (the PCUSA) – it was pretty good,” Hurray said of the process to leave the denomination. “Compared to a lot of other presbyteries, Shenango was very gracious, even if there were some bumps along the road.”
Hurray said the issues of the Bible’s role in the church, and the denomination’s stances on homosexuality, ordination standards and abortion were tipping points that sent the congregation down the path to dismissal.
“There was a distance between the church and the denomination long before we asked to leave,” Hurray said. “(PCUSA leaders) basically have said they don’t believe the Bible anymore with the homosexual issue, and when that came out, it let us know we can’t go back.”
Saying his congregation is one that is active with Presbyterians Pro-Life, Hurray added that Mountville’s membership is in staunch opposition to taking the life of an unborn child.
“We can’t see how you can justify killing unborn children,” he said.
In the EPC, Mountville found similar essentials to those its congregants follow, a major drawing card for seeking affiliation with the denomination once they considered the close alignment of their theological thinking.
“The essentials of the EPC were exactly the same as this congregation, and they follow the Westminster Confession of Faith,” Hurray said. “We looked at that and determined this was exactly what we’ve been fighting for all these years. They have standards that are clearly defined and in line with what we believe.”
Hurray said there is a new-found energy prevalent throughout the congregation now that it is out of the PCUSA and part of the EPC.
“We’re very excited and enthusiastic about what is going on,” Hurray said. “The EPC has made it clear that we need to be part of mission work rather than just throwing money at programs, and we have like-minded ministry groups within our presbytery. It’s much more refreshing to know we are doing battle against the devil and flesh instead of doing battle with each other.
“We’re now able to focus on what Christ called us to focus on, and that’s being His witness to the world.”