On April 1, Flat Branch Covenant Presbyterian Church in Bunnlevel, N.C., was formally dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is now a part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
“We are excited about our move to a branch of the Presbyterian family that boldly embraces its historic biblical and theological foundation, and the many exciting mission opportunities that it will bring,” read the announcement on the church’s Facebook page.
To be dismissed, the congregation had to change its name and pay Coastal Carolina Presbytery $41,775.45 so it could be dismissed to ECO. That amount included:
- $31,282.45 – 9.67 net acres of land valued at $3,235.00 per acre;
- $9,693.00 – the total amount of unpaid per capita, not remitted by the congregation, but paid by the Presbytery from 2009 to 2015;
- $145.00 – the office expense incurred by presbytery during the discernment process;
- $655.00 – the reimbursed travel expense (mileage) of the Presbytery Stated Clerk, Pastoral Team and Negotiating Team during the discernment process.
Today, Pastor Mike Armistead shared his thoughts on the process
Leaving the PCUSA is not easy. Many obstacles will be put in your way, and the presbytery will try to make the process as difficult and painful as possible. While we were seeking dismissal, our presbytery went through three different dismissal policies, each becoming more rigid than the previous one. At first we could be dismissed without cost if the vote was 90 percent or higher to leave. Then the presbytery considered land values, and just as we were being dismissed, there was a third policy where the presbytery had to consider all assets. Fortunately this process unified our congregation, which had previously been divided about how to proceed. The end result is we voted 113-0 out of 149 total members to approve the Terms of Dismissal. We have since had 18 new members join our congregation due to our action, and many former members are coming back in gratitude for what God is doing in our midst.
The dismissal process works in three phases. The first is the “Discernment Phase” when the presbytery works with a congregation to determine if they really want to leave. This is actually a time when the presbytery will try to round up any opposition to departure, and fan those flames. In our case, the presbytery sent some folks who were clueless about long-simmering issues in the PCUSA, and were caught off guard by all the issues we could document. Our congregation also did its homework on these issues, and was resolute about our desire to leave the PCUSA. The Discernment Team sent from the presbytery could find no reason to halt our departure.
The second phase is the “Negotiation Phase” where terms of dismissal are negotiated by teams appointed by the church’s session and the presbytery. It is one of the most unpleasant experiences a church leader will ever go though. It is all about extracting as much pain and valuable resources from the departing church, or preventing that departure. The only thing the PCUSA has in its favor is the Trust Clause in the Book of Order. It has no moral or biblical or spiritual grounds to extract funds or assets from their brothers and sisters in Christ, so it resorts to pure legal power. In our case, we were told that we pretty much had to “buy our way out of the PCUSA.” That meant handing over funds and resources given by faithful Presbyterians for other godly purposes. It also meant surrendering historic records, changing the legal name of the congregation, and numerous other obligations, to buy the presbytery’s consent to release us.
In our presbytery, the congregation and presbytery then vote on these negotiated terms, which both bodies passed.
Then comes the final phase of “Fulfilling the Terms of Dismissal.” This took us six months to accomplish, with presbytery leaders following every detail in strict legalistic fashion. It is not easy to find anyone to properly digitize 140-year-old handwritten records, or copy other records, or do all the legal work necessary. A church also doesn’t like being told by others that is has to change its name after 140 years. Worst of all, it is not easy for a little church like ours to write a check for $41,000 that we know is not being utilized for the purposes for which our members gave it. So it is with relief that a couple of elders and I made a pilgrimage to our presbytery’s office with all these materials in hand, and fulfilled our obligations, in an anti-climactic ceremony that lasted about seven minutes. The presbytery that day issued letters of dismissal, and promptly cashed our check. In good bureaucratic fashion, the president of the corporation for the presbytery is resisting signing off on our deed and final release until we get a proper banner announcing our name change installed on our property.
Each step and frustration along the way strengthened our resolve to be out of the PCUSA. A denomination that is concerned more about retaining buildings and assets rather than members or biblical truth has already lost its soul. It is not really acting as the body of Christ, but as an impersonal bureaucracy enforcing rules and regulations.
We are glad to be moving to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. It is such a relief to be in a body that has a common view of Scripture, theology and desire to reach the lost and broken for Christ. These are not items that have to be constantly debated over and over again. We look forward to a long and fruitful association with colleagues who long to live in covenantal faithfulness to God’s Word and Christ’s mission in the world.