Most of the “gracious dismissal policies” I have read from around the country go to great lengths to describe the chief concern of the church, that of the integrity and continuity of the mission of Jesus Christ. Putting aside the false notion that there is no “church presence” in a community if there is no PCUSA congregation there, it is laudable and achievable in some parts of the country that a departing congregation and its dismissing presbytery can see the larger work of the Kingdom of God and share it in the end. This is the way it should be. However, I believe that in some cases, the concern for mission and ministry is darkly overshadowed by a far greater concern for money. A case in point:
The quest for a workable “gracious dismissal policy” in San Francisco Presbytery began in 2009 and its first document on the subject was adopted unanimously in September of that year. It was, by today’s standards, primitive and generous, and one church (Community Presbyterian Church of Danville, CA) was dismissed under its terms.
A remedial case was filed against the presbytery for letting the church go too easily, and the original policy was rescinded. The GAPJC eventually rendered a decision in Tom et al v. Presbytery of San Francisco, informing the church that when determining the terms of dismissal, a presbytery is obligated to consider the value of the church’s property held in trust for the denomination.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Presbytery went back to the drawing board to establish a new, more comprehensive policy. A team of twelve presbyters representing the full theological and political spectrum of the presbytery worked for five months with a Christian mediator to develop a document that was thorough, challenging, and as balanced as such a thing can be. It, too, was adopted unanimously by the presbytery in June 2012. It should be noted that everybody, and I mean everybody, understood that Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC), the largest congregation in our presbytery, was in the pipeline when the new policy was enacted. The unspoken but very real question before the body was whether this policy would yield a workable outcome should MPPC renew its notice of intent to seek dismissal.