Eastminster Presbyterian Church (now known as Orchard Community Church), Morro Bay Presbyterian Church and Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church were dismissed during the Feb. 8 presbytery meeting.
All three churches will be joining ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
They join Trinity Presbyterian Church from Camarillo and Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura as congregations dismissed to ECO from Santa Barbara Presbytery since September. Trinity was dismissed Sept. 28, 2013, and Community’s dismissal was approved Nov. 12, 2013.
Eastminster Presbyterian Church (Orchard Community)
Located in Ventura along the Pacific coast northwest of Los Angeles, the 220-member Orchard congregation entered the dismissal process in January 2013. Following a 10-0 session vote, a letter seeking dismissal was sent to the presbytery on Jan. 15, 2013.
An initial vote on dismissal by the Orchard congregation in September 2013 yielded a 130-25 margin (two abstentions) in favor of departing the PCUSA. A second vote on the desire to leave the PCUSA for ECO in accordance with financial terms resulted in a 118-24 margin (one abstention) on Jan. 12, paving the way for the congregation to be dismissed at the Feb. 8 meeting.
Orchard agreed to pay $113,000 to Santa Barbara Presbytery to settle costs of the dismissal and made that one-time payment at the time of dismissal. The settlement also has a 10-year reversion deed that gives the property back to SBP if Orchard fails to fulfill its financial obligation, ceases to operate as a church in the Reformed tradition or if the property ceases to be used as an asset dedicated to a Reformed church.
A letter from the Orchard session to members of the Presbytery Response Team (PRT) indicated concerns with Scripture and theology as the primary reasons for seeking dismissal. The letter read, “It is our contention that the theological divide that has been developing in the PCUSA over the last several decades between conservative and progressive views of Scripture and theology cannot be bridged, and that both groups would be better served by separating.”
The letter also noted that Orchard holds the traditional understanding that all of Scripture is authoritative and no piece of it can be set aside or ignored, noting that the Scriptures and confessional standards of the church uphold such a view.
Another concern focused on Lordship of Jesus Christ, seen by Orchard’s leadership and members as diminished within the PCUSA and a view that that salvation can be achieved apart from Christ, in contradiction to Scripture.
“We sought dismissal because of our concern over issues of Scriptural authority and the Lordship of Christ primarily,” Orchard Pastor Matt Hoyt wrote in an email to The Layman. “Our concerns have been with the larger church not the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, which we hold in high regard and intend to continue to work with on a number of shared mission projects.”
Hoyt described the dismissal process as fair and amicable, though long and difficult at points, adding that his congregation is “excited about beginning a new season of ministry as an ECO church.”
The 122-member church, located along the Pacific coast in San Luis Obispo County west of Bakersfield, notified the presbytery of its intent to seek dismissal by letter in March 2013 following a unanimous vote by the session to head in that direction.
The church, pastored by Dale Paulsen, voted 80-7 to be dismissed from the PCUSA on Oct. 13, 2013, and followed that with a 75-2 vote (two abstentions) to accept financial terms and be dismissed to ECO during a Jan. 26 congregational vote.
Morro Bay (MBPC) agreed to a payment of $50,000 to settle costs of the dismissal. The church made a one-time payment of $30,000 to SBP and will pay $20,000 to the presbytery’s Front Porch Campus Ministry over a five-year period.
The settlement also has a 10-year reversion deed that gives the property back to SBP if Morro Bay fails to fulfill its financial obligation, ceases to operate as a church in the Reformed tradition or if the property ceases to be used as an asset dedicated to a Reformed church.
A response from the MBPC session to the Presbytery Response Team noted a pleasant fellowship with SBP through the years and a desire to remain part of it while exiting the PCUSA, if possible. Without that option, Morro Bay moved forward to leave.
“We believe that our request for dismissal from the PCUSA, if granted, will simply make official a separation that has already occurred: the PCUSA has left US,” the response read. “The church we joined is gone, faded away into history. God’s Word is no longer the mutually recognized and accepted authority for our communal life of faith.”
The response continued, “Conflict has become the focus of our denomination, rendering our communal faith miserable, contentious and embarrassing. We desire, in contrast, to covenant with other believers who uphold the authority of His incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus, and desire to maintain the clear preaching of His Gospel to a lost and dying world.”
A June 26, 2013, unanimous vote of the session led to a notification of the presbytery that the 278-member congregation in Solvang, located north of Ventura, intended to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.
The initial vote regarding dismissal, taken Oct. 6, 2013, yielded a 162-16 margin (seven abstentions) in favor of leaving the national denomination. A second vote to leave the denomination and join ECO under terms agreed to by both sides was 185-4 in favor of dismissal.
Santa Ynez Valley (SYVPC) opted to make a one-time payment of $75,066 to settle costs associated with the dismissal rather than pay $83,407 over five years.
The settlement has a 10-year reversion deed that gives the property back to SBP if SYVPC fails to fulfill its financial obligation, ceases to operate as a church in the Reformed tradition or if the property ceases to be used as an asset dedicated to a Reformed church. If the property reverts to the presbytery, SYVPC has the right to redeem on the property on a sliding payment scale.
The church also had to refinance a loan held by the Presbytery Investment and Loan Program (PILP) in the amount of approximately $2.3 million (down to $1.7 million now) to release the presbytery of any liability for the loan.
In response to reasons for wanting to leave the PCUSA, the Santa Ynez Valley session indicated that church leaders had been concerned and saddened that the PCUSA has continued to drift from clear teachings of Scripture as well as the Reformed theological heritage. The primary reasons cited were the nature of God, the role and authority of Scripture, the person and works of Jesus Christ, and the means of salvation.
Also, the passage of Amendment 10A to direct bodies to be “guided by Scripture” rather than “obedient to Scripture” was an issue for a congregation that holds true to the belief that all Scripture is inspired by God. The congregation maintains Scripture is above all creeds and polity rather than placing the Book of Order on a higher level of importance than the Bible.
Rick Murray, interim pastor at SYVPC, said the congregation has worked within the presbytery for a number of years to seek renewal in the denomination, but it has not happened.
“We opted to stay aligned with the presbytery but distanced ourselves from the PCUSA,” he said. “It’s a good presbytery and has been great to work with, which makes this a bittersweet departure. We just had to move in the direction God was calling us. This whole process has been a unifying force for our congregation, and we continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who remain in the PCUSA.”
Murray added that ECO is a far better fit for the Santa Ynez Valley congregation.
“This church is really excited about ECO. It fits with what the church wants in renewing itself and being an influence in the community to share the Word of Christ and build the kingdom,” Murray said. “There is a sense of celebration to be free of the PCUSA.”