A congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was dismissed to become part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) during the April 30 meeting of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina (PWNC), giving up its manse in exchange for the remainder of its real property.
Riceville Presbyterian Church, located in Swannanoa just east of Asheville, was granted dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA) after being engaged in the gracious separation process for about 18 months. Bert Sigmon, stated clerk for WNC Presbytery confirmed the dismissal in a phone conversation with The Layman.
Calls to Riceville Presbyterian Church were not returned.
Long a conservative congregation that had participated in activities of the presbytery and contributed to it, Riceville’s session notified presbytery officials in October 2011 of its desire to be dismissed because of General Assembly positions it felt were unacceptable.
In a letter to members, the session cited the removal of the fidelity/chastity clause and the ordination of pastors and elders in same-sex relationships as the primary reasons for seeking dismissal, along with the denomination’s stance on abortion and the passage of the new Form of Government (nFOG).
According to presbytery documents an appointed Task Force, which later became the Administrative Commission (AC), was formed to work with the Riceville session and congregation.
The first congregational meeting took place in February 2012, and a number of other meetings ensued after the session decided it would help to hammer out a “legal agreement binding on all parties and addressing all forms of property.” Such an agreement required a professional appraisal of the property value for settlement purposes.
An agreement finally was reached in January 2013, and a congregational meeting in April approved the property settlement and gave authorization for the session to sign it.
The settlement resulted in the Riceville church deeding its manse and the parcel of land where it is located to the WNC Presbytery in exchange for the rest of its real property being declared free of the PCUSA’s trust clause.
A vote for dismissal on April 14 yielded a 53-0 outcome in favor of departing the PCUSA from the 66-member church.
The manse is described in the AC report as “an attractive house with four bedrooms and two full bathrooms that has a driveway separate from the church and seems very marketable.”
The AC report also indicates that the atmosphere regarding the gracious separation was one that was cooperative and amicable.
“It is hoped that this experience is viewed as a confirmation of the value of Presbyterian polity, which allows all parties to negotiate in trust and harmony as brothers and sisters in Christ,” the reported read. “There were never any strong words or stinging accusations, nor any thought of resorting to the secular courts. It was truly, in every sense, a gracious separation.”