Community Presbyterian Church of Omak, formerly First Presbyterian Church, was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the June 22 stated meeting of Central Washington Presbytery.
The 125-member church, founded in 1907 and located in Okanogan County of north-central Washington about an hour from the British Columbia (Canadian) border, is now part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
Pastor Bill Heming, who has been at Omak in August 2011, was approached by the church’s elders not longer after his arrival about seeking dismissal to a new denominational home.
“In looking at the PCUSA, it was determined that the glory had departed, and it was time to take our exit,” he said. “We worked through the process as the presbytery dictated, and it was largely painless. We had some hiccups along the way, but we tried to be gracious and work through things on their timeline. The presbytery was amicable, kind and gracious.”
Heming explained that church leaders took their time in conducting evidence-based research that included documentation of panel studies, Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) decisions and General Assembly (GA) documents to aid them in reaching a recommendation for the congregation’s future. The information compiled was not a matter of conjecture or opinion but rather verifiable evidence.
“By and large, we thought we were out of step with the larger denomination,” Heming said. “(The PCUSA) was drifting toward theological pluralism, sacrificing the unique aspect of Christ as the only way to salvation, no longer acknowledging that He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There seemed to be an eroding of the authority of Scripture and the unique role of Christ as savior.”
Heming added that the removal of ordination standards in terms of sexual morality (Amendment 10A), a lack of Orthodox Christian beliefs, a refusal to define the essential tents of the Reformed faith and an overall breakdown of discipline in the PCUSA (failure to bring to trial those who faced heresy accusations) also factored prominently in Omak’s decision to take its departure.
“Our goal in all this was to remain faithful,” Heming said. “We were disturbed by things going on within the denomination that had nothing to do with the Gospel. Our job is to spread the Gospel to those desperate for it. The PCUSA accommodates itself to culture rather than seeking to transform culture. We determined our best way forward would be outside the PCUSA.”
Additionally, the denomination’s continued pro-choice stance was something the Omak congregation could not abide by, especially with money from the church being used to fund such a view.
“Our congregation is unapologetically pro-life, and it tore at our conscience that we were attached to a denomination that supports a pro-choice posture,” Heming observed.
Omak’s congregation began internal discernment in February 2012, and the session sent a letter to the presbytery in mid-July 2012, formally requesting to enter the dismissal process. A meeting with a presbytery Discernment Team took place in October 2012, followed by additional discernment meetings in December and January. On Jan. 13, 2013, a straw poll of the congregation yielded an 85-3 vote in favor of departing the PCUSA for the EPC.
On June 11, the session accepted terms of dismissal negotiated with an Administrative Commission (AC). Those terms included a name change for the church, which had been known as the Presbyterian Community Church of Omak when it formed 106 years ago, as well as financial compensation to the presbytery in the amount of $11,884.62 (three years worth of per capita) in addition to reimbursement of travel costs for the Discernment Team and Administrative Commission members up to a maximum amount of $3,000.
“As far as dismissals go, we have nothing to complain about,” Heming said. “In mission work, every dollar that goes out (to address another issue) hurts, but we can manage these terms. We were not displeased with our presbytery, just what it was attached to. We just felt the national denomination was errant in its leanings and theology.”
The decision to make the EPC its new denominational home came as a result of its views being closely aligned with those of the Omak congregation.
“We cast a broad net at first and narrowed down our choices,” said Heming, noting that leaders explored the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians before settling on the EPC. “We not only found the EPC to be acceptable, but it was the most closely aligned with our views.
Holding the Bible as authoritative in all matters and the ordination of women as elders were two of the primary factors that led to EPC’s selection as Omak’s new denominational tie.
“Scripture is the Word of God, and we want to hold to that,” Heming said. “In the PCUSA, it seems that has left, but the EPC views it as the infallible Word of God, the final authority over all matters of which it speaks.”
Heming said the 18-month process to achieve exodus from the PCUSA was taxing at times but one that needed to occur.
“There was some exhaustion, and it took a lot of our resources, time and effort to continue to plod through this process. Now there needs to be a moment to celebrate. We’re out of Egypt,” he said. “We realize where we need to be is not where we are, and the journey for this congregation will continue as we move toward God’s Promised Land.”
Heming noted that the Pacific Northwest region of the United States is one of the heaviest unchurched areas in the country, providing a great ministry challenge. He also observed that such a challenge provides tremendous evangelistic opportunities.
“We need to be busy with evangelism. It’s challenging but exciting to be on the front lines of a mission such as this,” Heming said. “We don’t have to go out of our community to find people who need to know Jesus Christ. We trust in God, we’re following Jesus, filled with the Hold Spirit, and serving Christ in this community by providing the Gospel. If we do all those things, I think we’ll be OK.”