Impatient with process,
votes to leave PCUSA
The Layman, November 18, 2008
First Presbyterian Church of Kokomo, Ind., was accepted into the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church on Monday, Nov. 17. The previous day, active members voted 270 to 38 to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and seek membership in the EPC.
Two gone and four
more are in the wings
First Presbyterian Church in Kokomo is the second congregation in Wabash Presbytery to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), but four others are waiting in the wings.
First Presbyterian Church in Warsaw, Ind., affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church after its congregation voted 325-0 to leave the PCUSA and paid the presbytery $95,743 to keep its property.
Four Presbyterian congregations in Indiana have been trying to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for more than a year, but the Presbytery of Wabash Valley has stymied their efforts to let them go with their property.
The largest of the congregations is Covenant Presbyterian Church – 1,165 members – in West Lafayette, Ind. David Henderson, the founding co-moderator of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, is the senior minister at Covenant.
The other congregations are First Presbyterian in Frankfort, First Presbyterian in Nappanee and Attica Presbyterian in Attica.
All four seek to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church through its Presbytery of the Midwest. The Wabash Valley Presbytery has turned up the pressure to prevent them from leaving with their property. It has placed administrative commissions in all of the congregations.
It has filed a civil suit against Attica, staking a claim to the congregation’s property.
The 556-member church, which just a week earlier had celebrated its 140th anniversary, retained senior pastor Jerry Van Auken, associate pastor Joyce Harris and all current members of the session and Board of Deacons.
Session members had been studying the question of denominational affiliation since the release of the final draft of the Peace, Unity and Purity task force report in 2006. The session had worked with an Administrative Commission of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley since March 2008 to arrange for a congregational vote to seek dismissal. In the ensuing seven months, the AC never entertained any discussion of a date when a vote might be taken and refused to discuss target dates for steps along the way. In October, session members concluded that it was contrary to the well-being of their congregation to continue the process with no end in sight.
After a renewed effort to persuade the AC to discuss dates, the session declared an impasse. Despite the AC’s threats and letters to members declaring that no meetings had been approved, the session unanimously agreed to call (with due notice) a congregational meeting for Nov. 6.
The purpose of the meeting was to present both sides of the question and to explain that the vote would now be for disaffiliation. Representatives of the presbytery were invited to attend the meeting and present their case but did not respond. Session elders presented the case for joining the EPC while elders not currently on session presented reasons for staying in the PCUSA. A lively question-and-answer period followed the presentations.
Armed with the Sundquist decision, the AC then demanded that the session cancel the congregational vote that had been scheduled (with due notice) for Nov. 16 and again sent letters advising members that the meeting was not permitted. A unanimous session proceeded with its plans and the meeting took place following the Sunday morning worship service.
The session’s motion was presented and the floor was opened for discussion. Perhaps reflecting members’ exhaustion with the process, no one addressed the question and the vote by secret ballot proceeded. Members waited in the sanctuary and sang praise songs and hymns while the ballots were counted. At Rev. Van Auken’s request, the outcome was heard without any kind of demonstration and the meeting was adjourned.
First Presbyterian Church, Kokomo was one of five churches in the Presbytery of Wabash Valley seeking to leave the PCUSA.