Five of 10 California churches seeking departure from Los Ranchos Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians are under a stay of enforcement following remedial complaints filed by members of the presbytery despite meeting the requirements of the presbytery’s joint solution process.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Newport Beach), Trinity United Presbyterian Church (Santa Ana), Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (Los Alamitos), First Presbyterian Church of Westminster and Christ Presbyterian Church (Huntington Beach) all are under a stay of enforcement and will remain part of Los Ranchos Presbytery even though the congregations already have voted to accept terms of the joint solution agreements approved by the presbytery in late May and early June.
The complaints, which have been combined into one case by the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) from the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, allege that the presbytery, although it followed its own Property Policy and Procedures when determining the joint solutions for dismissal, nonetheless failed “to protect the interests of the presbytery.”
Leadership of Los Ranchos Presbytery released the following statement in regard to the complaints: “While we support the right of our brothers and sisters in Christ to file a judicial complaint we earnestly hope and trust that that matter can be quickly resolved for the greater interest of the church.”
One presbyter said, “We tried to discuss mediation, but it is clear that the complainants do not want that. They want their day in PJC.”
The complaints were brought by a group known as the Kindred Spirits. While making up a small percentage of the presbytery, the group is being vocal about its opposition to the joint solutions that have been approved to grant dismissal to the churches.
“We all felt we were following the guidelines set up by the presbytery,” another presbyter said. “We don’t think this group is representative of everyone in our presbytery or the churches. We have no idea if there will be remedial cases brought against other churches (seeking dismissal).”
During a June 28 presbytery meeting, three more joint solution agreements were approved by the presbytery for Christ Presbyterian Church (Lakewood), Community Presbyterian Church (Long Beach) and Wintersburg Presbyterian Church (Santa Ana).
That means eight churches have had joint solutions approved by the presbytery in a month’s time. It is yet to be seen if additional charges will be filed against the presbytery for the latest dismissals, which were done in full accordance with the presbytery’s dismissal process.
Journey Evangelical Church in Westminster and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Anaheim also are engaged in the joint solution agreement process. Readings for their dismissals are scheduled later this month.
Three more agreements
Even before the meeting on the second reading of joint solutions for Christ (Lakewood), Community and Wintersburg there was an attempt to quell their dismissals. The Council of Los Ranchos Presbytery voted June 25 to recommend that the presbytery suspend the property policy until it has been brought into compliance with the Synod PJC and not form any new joint discernment teams. It also recommended that presbytery postpone any further action on dismissing Christ, Community and Wintersburg until the complaint with the synod has been resolved.
After more than two hours of debate at the June 28 meeting, the recommendations were defeated, and the presbytery moved forward in agreement on three more joint solutions.
The joint solution for Christ (Lakewood)’s 136-member congregation requires a payment of $101,070, taking into consideration property value ($77,000), continued tiered mission giving over two and a half years ($13,500) and continued tiered per-capita giving ($10,570). If, within five years of dismissal, Christ fails to make the required payments, closes or ceases its affiliation with ECO, the presbytery may execute a power of termination, returning the property to Los Ranchos.
Community’s joint solution agreement allows it to leave with property but requires a lump sum payment of approximately $1,113,000 upon close of sale of that property. If the congregation desires to leave ECO within five years of dismissal, it can only transfer to another member of the World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and shall do so as its own entity or as a party to a merger with Christ Presbyterian (Lakewood). The congregation has 84 members.
Wintersburg, a Japanese-American congregation of approximately 500 members, was asked to make a lump sum payment of $100,000 and agree to a similar five-year reverter clause. However, the presbytery waived that amount based on the Presbyterian Church’s silence during World War II when 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned. The denomination adopted a resolution in 1981 saying that it should have done more to help in that situation and drafted a letter of apology.
The five under a stay
Joint solutions for St. Andrew’s, FPC-Westminster and Trinity were approved on May 31, and the presbytery gave its OK to dismissal terms for Good Shepherd and Christ-Huntington Beach on June 7. All five churches have had congregational votes that resulted in acceptance of the agreements.
Ninety-six percent of the 926 members attending the congregational vote on June 8 at St. Andrew’s cast ballots to accept the joint solution of Los Ranchos and transfer to ECO from the PCUSA. In doing so, the congregation of more than 3,200 members agreed to pay $1.7 million plus interest over a maximum of nine years.
The First Presbyterian Church of Westminster congregation agreed to the terms of the joint solution by a vote of 133-2 on June 8. The Westminster congregation of 235 members will be required to pay $98,786 in a lump sum within 90 days of acceptance of the terms of dismissal and also agreed to a five-year reverter clause that allows Los Ranchos Presbytery to take the property if the church leaves ECO or becomes an independent congregation within five years of dismissal.
The congregation of Trinity United Presbyterian Church accepted terms of the joint solution on June 15, two weeks after the presbytery gave its approval. Seven hundred thirty-five of Trinity’s 1,458 members turned out for the vote, and 81 percent (597 for, 134 against) cast ballots in favor of accepting terms to leave the PCUSA. Trinity will pay the presbytery $982,250 over five years with an interest rate of 5 percent annually on the unpaid balance. The congregation also agreed to a reversion clause that allows its property to revert back to Los Ranchos Presbytery if Trinity leaves ECO to join a denomination outside the Reformed tradition within five years of the dismissal date.
The Good Shepherd congregation agreed to accept the joint solution on June 15, eight days after the presbytery gave its approval. Approximately 250 active members turned out for the vote, with 97.7 percent of them casting ballots in favor of accepting the joint solution. The terms of the joint solution for dismissal to ECO for Good Shepherd, a congregation of 607 members, include payment of a lump sum of $240,000 and acceptance of a five-year reverter clause that allows the presbytery to reclaim the property if the congregation leaves ECO or fails to be part of a Reformed body.
Christ-Huntington Beach, which has 462 members, voted by a 190-2 margin on Sunday, June 29 to accept the agreement, and the session followed with a 12-0 vote to do so. Terms of Christ’s joint solution to leave the PCUSA were not available.