Three more churches from western Pennsylvania have left the Presbyterian Church (USA) to become members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
Executive Presbyter Craig Kephart confirmed that Venice Presbyterian Church and Bethel Presbyterian Church were dismissed from Washington Presbytery, while Bethany Presbyterian Church was granted its exit from Shenango Presbytery.
With the departures of Venice and Bethel, Washington Presbytery has dismissed seven congregations since September 2013. First Presbyterian Church of Bentleyville and Windy Gap Presbyterian Church left the PCUSA for the EPC, while Third United Presbyterian Church, McDonald Presbyterian Church and Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church were dismissed to ECO.
Bethany is at least the 12th church to be dismissed from Shenango in the last two years, six to the EPC and six more to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, according to information provided by Shenango Executive Secretary Autumn Covert.
The 175-member congregation from McDonald in southwestern Pennsylvania was dismissed to join the EPC during the Jan. 18, 2014, meeting of Washington Presbytery after beginning the separation process in December 2011.
During an Oct. 6, 2013, congregation meeting, members of Venice voted 117-8 in favor of departing the PCUSA to join the EPC.
Negotiated terms between the sides were presented during the November 2013 presbytery meeting leading to the final vote on dismissal in January.
Venice agreed to pay $4,795 to Washington Presbytery, an amount equal to 10 percent of the property’s assessed tax value, to be released from trust clause commitments to the PCUSA. In addition, the church paid its remaining per capita of $1,101.60 for 2013 and the full per-capita amount of $5,346 for 2014.
Church officials did not respond to emails sent by The Layman seeking comment following the dismissal date.
A congregation of 200 members, Bethel is located in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Prosperity. The church was dismissed from Washington Presbytery to join the EPC during a March 11, 2014, meeting.
The Bethel session voted in September 2012 to enter the presbytery’s process of separation and sent notice of that request on Sept. 23, 2012.
At a Nov. 17, 2013, congregational meeting, members of Bethel voted 93-12 that the church be dismissed from the PCUSA to align with the EPC, prompting negotiations between the presbytery’s Pastoral Response Team and the session.
A first reading on the terms was presented during the January presbytery meeting, with the settlement and dismissal approved two months later.
Bethel agreed to pay $1,553, an amount equal to 10 percent of tax assessment value on its properties, to the presbytery in exchange for being released from all obligations under the PCUSA’s trust clause provisions.
The congregation also agreed to pay the remainder of its 2013 per capita as well an amount equal to one-fourth of its 2014 share.
Representatives from Bethel did not respond to a phone call or email from The Layman seeking comment about the dismissal.
Bethany Presbyterian Church was dismissed from the PCUSA to align with the EPC during the Feb. 25, 2014, meeting of Shenango Presbytery.
Located in Mercer County in western Pennsylvania near the Ohio border, Bethany is a congregation of more than 400 members.
Members of Bethany voted by a 99 percent margin on April 7, 2013, to leave the PCUSA and affiliate with the EPC.
According to information listed on the church’s web site, the session of Bethany Presbyterian Church attended the 11th stated meeting of the Presbytery of the Alleghenies on Feb. 22 when the congregation officially was accepted into the EPC.
Session members were at Grove City College on Feb. 25 to attend their last meeting in Shenango Presbytery. Dismissal at that meeting completed a process of departure from the PCUSA that started more than two years ago.
A document outlining Bethany’s issues that led to departure touched on the issue of sexuality – addressing changes in ordination standards brought on by the passage of Amendment 10A – as a reason but pointed more to disobedience to Christ and Scripture as the primary focus.
“While this change does indeed allow for the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian people, and this seems to have garnered the most attention, it does this by eliminating all Biblical sexual standards as requirements for pastors, elders and deacons,” the document read. “So adultery and sex outside of marriage are also now acceptable. Amendment 10-A is primarily about not obeying Christ and the Scriptures, not solely the ordination standards.
“The heart of the issue is the persistent evidence that the PCUSA continues to ignore the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ, or at best, subjugates them to the sensibilities of the current culture. This is the latest symptom in a century-long drift of moving away from the Scriptures as our authority and obedience to Christ as Lord.”
Additional details about settlement terms were not available.
Representatives of Bethany Presbyterian Church declined to comment about the dismissal when contacted by The Layman.