Two churches – on opposite sides of the country – have been dismissed for more than a million dollars each from the Presbyterian Church (USA) by their respective presbyteries to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
The 580-member Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church in California was required to pay $2.7 million – approximately $4,700 per member – to San Francisco Presbytery before it was dismissed to ECO on Feb. 26.
The 800-member Crestwood Presbyterian Church with two campuses in Virginia – Richmond and Midlothian – was required to pay the Presbytery of the James $1.5 million to be dismissed to ECO. The average amount per member of that settlement is $1,875.
According to a source familiar with the settlement, the $2.7-million – “take-it-or-leave-it” – price tag the presbytery insisted on was far above what the presbytery’s dismissal policy required.
The presbytery’s “Policy for Reconciliation and Dismissal of Congregations” states that
Payment based on assumed property value. Presbytery may permit a congregation seeking dismissal to leave with its property provided that the congregation makes a payment to Presbytery of ten percent (10%) of the fair market value of all of the real and personal property in question (with the value as to the real property held and utilized as a place of worship being based on the value of the real property as an ongoing place of ministry and worship, less any outstanding debt on the property), provided that this property-related payment shall not exceed the applicable amounts set forth below, which amounts are determined based on the size of the congregation seeking dismissal and a maximum assumed value of real and personal property:
With a property value of approximately $9 million, Walnut Creek’s dismissal price — if the presbytery had followed its own policy — should have been $900,000. When asked how the presbytery came up with the $2.7 million amount, the Rev. Victoria Wells, a member of the Presbytery Engagement Team (PET) said it was “based on the amount we felt it was worth to you to be dismissed.”
While “payment” section of the presbytery’s policy was ignored by the PET – another section of it – requiring the church to continue to pay its per-capita for five more years after it is dismissed was factored into the $2.7 million payment.
When asked about the discrepancy of one section of the policy being ignored while another part was enforced, a member of the PET said that the per-capita requirement was “the part of the policy that is still in effect.”
Paid in full
Thankfully, according to the source, actions taken by church members in the 1990s made the multi-million dollar payment possible.
In the ’90s, the church bought an apartment building located on property adjacent to the church. The church had “no idea what to do with it,” the source said. The building is now in the process of being sold and will net approximately $2.4 million.
Also in the 1990s, a member included the church in his estate planning. This past summer, the church was notified of the bequest, which included a note from the lawyer apologized for how long the notification took. One of the heirs of the estate had passed away. Another charity that had been named had ceased operations. Therefore, the amount the church received from the bequest increased from $150,000 to $340,000.
That amount – added to the proceeds from selling the apartment building – gave the church what it needed to pay the presbytery.
Crestwood’s dismissal was approved at the Feb. 20 meeting of the Presbytery of the James (POJ). In an announcement posted on the church web site, Pastor John Daniel wrote:
With joy I report to you that today at the meeting of the Presbytery of the James all terms for our dismissal to the ECO were approved. This means that all approvals needed have now been received and the only matters remaining are the legal documents regarding ownership of land and our payment to the presbytery of the agreed upon amount. These matters should all be completed in the next two weeks.
There was no discussion by the presbytery of the recommendation of the Trustees that the matter be approved and there were only 6 “no” votes. It was great to have so many elders and members present. Thanks to all who were there.
In effect, this entire matter is now resolved as far as the process is concerned. Thank you again for your prayers and support. What a great day this is.
The congregation voted by 98 percent on Jan. 10 to approve the $1.5 million property settlement. The church’s dismissal – except for the property settlement – had been approved by the presbytery in March 2015. A property settlement was finally agreed upon by the POJ trustees on Nov. 3, 2015 and then approved by both the congregation and presbytery.
In an article published on The Layman web site, Daniel and Jerry M. Roper wrote that the dismissal process “stretched over three years, and involved 19 months of contentious negotiation with two presbytery bodies; first an Administrative Commission (AC) and when those negotiations failed, the Board of Trustees.”
“Crestwood detailed for these 18 POJ representatives the crushing impact a million dollar plus settlement would have on evangelism, missions, and ministry. Yet throughout the lengthy dismissal process not one of these POJ representatives stood up for Crestwood or advocated for the people served by our outreach and mission programs,” the two men wrote. “How is it that teaching and ruling elders, who in some cases have known and worked with Crestwood elders for decades, can remain silent and participate in foisting such a crippling financial burden on those they call ‘brothers and sisters in Christ?’ The answer is that the POJ representatives have a vision of God and humanity that is fundamentally different from the vision embraced by Crestwood’s session. The struggle between these two visions drove Crestwood’s dismissal process, and likewise is driving the ultimate demise of the PCUSA.
Recommendation and report of the POJ trustees on Crestwood Presbyterian Church, Feb. 20, 2016 (starting on line 36 of page 1)