St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, First Presbyterian Church of Westminster and Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana were dismissed by the presbytery to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians during a special called meeting of the presbytery on May 31.
Jerry Tankersley, pastor of Laguna Beach Presbyterian Church, explained that the presbytery had encouraged churches to enter a season of discernment to address concerns about the direction of the PCUSA and actions of the General Assembly, but there still was sadness associated with the dismissal of congregations.
“I’m very deeply saddened because we’ve had good fellowship and done mission work together. It’s difficult to understand why these churches have chosen to leave,” he said. “But for theological integrity and missional effectiveness they felt they needed to depart. We tried to resolve differences and reconcile to hold the presbytery together, but the reality is that these congregations felt they needed to be dismissed and requested to be dismissed.”
Tankersley described the May 31 meeting as “civil.”
“Not everyone is of one mind that this should be happening. After much debate, and with great sadness and some conflict the dismissals were granted,” Tankersley said. “We love one another and are committed to stay in fellowship together but in a different form of governance. We all are involved in the work of the kingdom.”
The Los Ranchos Property Policy and Procedures requires that sessions of congregations elect representatives to unite with presbytery representatives to form a Joint Discernment Team (JDT) to develop a “joint solution” to the request for dismissal. First readings of the joint solutions for the three churches took place April 24.
The sessions of the three churches voted to accept the terms in the presbytery’s joint solution process, paving the way for congregational meetings for votes to accept or reject the terms. The Los Ranchos Property Policy and Procedures indicate that if the session and congregation do not accept the terms in the joint solution, the offer is rejected, and the expectation is that the congregation normally will not seek dismissal again for at least three years.
There is a 90-day window for any judicial challenges regarding the dismissals.
Tankersley noted that attempts were made to reach financial settlements in the joint solutions that would not place hardships on the congregations or the presbytery.
“We tried to look out not only for the congregation but the presbytery,” he said. “When the dust settles, we will have to redefine ourselves as a presbytery.”
Second readings and dismissal votes by the presbytery for the 607-member Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church of Los Alamitos and 462-member Christ Presbyterian Church of Huntington Beach are scheduled for Saturday, June 7.
At least six other churches are engaged in the presbytery’s joint solution process at this time.
St. Andrew’s, a church of 3,257 members, will vote Sunday, June 8 on whether to pay $1.7 million plus interest over a maximum of nine years to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) and join ECO.
The vote will take place during a combined worship service and congregational meeting that will be held from 9-11 a.m. More than 2/3 of those present at the meeting must approve the terms of the joint solution
A non-binding straw poll vote of the congregation was taken June 3-9, 2013. The ballot asked “Should the session engage the presbytery in a joint process which could lead to the transfer of St. Andrew’s to another Reformed denomination?”
Of the 1,043 church members who voted, 923 (88.5 percent) voted in favor of initiating the process with the presbytery, and 120 (11.5 percent) voted against it.
The four main reasons given for the decision by St. Andrew’s to change denominations revolved around identity, focus, governance and property.
Identity – Alignment with ECO is more compatible with who St. Andrew’s is. While no denomination or fellowship of churches is perfect, ECO better fits the theological and missional identity than the PCUSA.
Focus – Another denominational affiliation offers greater effectiveness for St. Andrew’s future mission. Far too much time and effort has been spent on theological disputes and political debate – this robs energy from mission and ministry.
Governance – ECO’s structure of governance and administration is better suited to provide St. Andrew’s with a means to grow the next generation of church leaders.
Property – The St. Andrew’s congregation needs the ability to hold its property unencumbered by a trust clause. This will free up stewardship efforts, releasing new energy for ministry and mission.
St. Andrew’s has posted a denomination update web page to keep the congregation informed. The page includes links to letters from the denominational task force, overviews of ECO, and videos of people with varying opinions on the PCUSA and leaving the denomination.
The FPC-Westminster congregation also will vote Sunday, June 8 at 3 p.m. to accept or reject terms of the joint solution approved by the presbytery.
The Westminster congregation of 236 members will be required to pay $98,786 in a lump sum within 30 days of its dismissal date if it agrees to the joint solution, which also includes 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.
FPC-Westminster opted to leave the national denomination because of its failure to settle on established essential tenets and the PCUSA’s inability to speak as one voice in affirmation of the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, Christ’s bodily resurrection and His visible return.
Trinity’s session formally requested dismissal from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos with property to ECO on March 20. Terms from the joint solution include a payment of $928,250 over a period of five years and acceptance of a five-year reverter clause.
A congregational meeting to accept the dismissal will take place Sunday, June 15 at 10:40 a.m.
A straw poll of the 1,529-member congregation taken in June 2013 showed that nearly 80 percent of the 683 members casting votes were in favor of departing the PCUSA.
Three issues have been the main focus of Trinity church leaders considering dismissal:
1 -Theological Fit with church leaders and congregations who affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture along with the other essentials of Reformed Theology.
2- Behavioral Faithfulness to being disciples who are committed to growing in obedience to Jesus Christ and Scripture in belief and lifestyle.
3 – Forward Focus in denominational partnership that will empower Trinity to live out its mission and remain faithful to its rich Presbyterian heritage and Biblical confessions.
Trinity also has a denominational concerns page on its web site that provides information regarding the dismissal process with the presbytery.