A pair of churches from the Presbytery of East Tennessee (PET) has been released from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
Wilson Station Presbyterian Church was dismissed during the May 6 PET meeting, following the Feb. 22 dismissal of Farner Presbyterian Church.
The dismissals of the two churches came after First Presbyterian Church of Greenback was dismissed by PET in November 2013, becoming the first church in Tennessee to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Epperson Presbyterian and Brown Hill Presbyterian also were dismissed as community churches by the Presbytery of East Tennessee prior to FPC-Greenback’s departure.
Located in Englewood (McMinn County in southeast Tennessee), Wilson Station was organized in 1926 by the Revs. Sam and Davis Wolfe, who also established the Epperson, Brown Hill and Farner churches.
According to a PET report, the Wilson Station session and a majority of the 29-member congregation acknowledged that the decision to leave the PCUSA was a result of the denomination’s decision to allow the ordination of homosexuals. There was a sense that the church no longer could be connected to a denomination it believed compromised the authority of God’s Word.
“Our session and members prayed over this matter for years, long before (ordination of homosexuals) was approved,” Wilson Station Clerk of Session Carolyn Rider said. “The longer we went through the process the more we saw this was not a denomination we wanted to be associated with any longer. We gave it plenty of consideration and prayer. We wanted to be sure God was leading in the right direction, and we feel He is.”
A small remnant of 5-6 members initially indicated a desire to remain as a PCUSA congregation, and the Administrative Commission (AC) working with the church informed the group that the property and monies of Wilson Station would be entrusted to them to continue ministry. However, that group informed the AC a few days later that it did not have the numbers to continue the ministry. One member joined another church, and the rest opted to remain with the majority in the EPC.
The Wilson Station congregation was dismissed with property after agreeing to pay 25 percent or $16,750 of the appraised property value ($67,000) and half ($50,000) of a financial gift of $100,000 received from the family of Sam Wolfe. The session agreed to the terms on April 6 but not without reservations regarding them.
“We felt we were being threatened: either pay or they would take everything,” Rider said. “We hate to lose that, but it’s just money. God will take care of us. We’ve come to peace with it.”
The church will be a transitional member of the EPC until appropriate training has been provided.
“It’s been a very trying ordeal, but there’s a great sense of relief now,” Rider said. “We’re happy God has led us to a denomination we feel good about.”
Farner was organized and established in 1912 in Polk County near the southeast Tennessee border with North Carolina.
Minutes from the Feb. 22 PET meeting showed that the presbytery approved the motion for dismissal of the 65-member Farner congregation, which indicated in 2012 a desire to leave the PCUSA.
The AC determined there was a small number of members who showed a willingness to remain in the PCUSA but not enough to be a viable faction that would survive and satisfy provisions of the Book of Order.
In order to leave with property (church building and manse), Farner agreed to pay $47,000 to the presbytery as well as $1,000 to reimburse PET for appraisal costs. The terms of dismissal also include a five-year reversionary clause that gives the property back to the presbytery if the congregation dissolves or fails to exist as a viable church; fails to remain under the ecclesiastical authority of the EPC; or becomes independent of any denomination for any reason.
After consultation with the session, Farner’s congregation gave its OK for the terms on Jan. 19.