A regional Presbyterian body has adopted a new way of avoiding separation conflicts and “doing church together” with congregations that vote to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Washington Presbytery approved a plan earlier this week that could allow churches that split from the PC(USA) and join another Presbyterian denomination to keep their church property.
The plan, approved Tuesday, requires at least four months of formal discussion between a “pastoral team” appointed by the presbytery and a congregation that proposes disassociating, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The congregation must propose a mission plan for how it will continue serving its community and make pastoral provision for any members who choose to stay with the PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian body in the nation.
If at least half of the church’s active members attend a meeting at the end of the four-month period and 75 percent of them vote to split, the pastoral team will recommend to the presbytery that the congregation can leave and keep their property.
The newly adopted plan comes as the PC(USA) has suffered continual losses in membership and now claims a little less than 2.3 million. More conservative congregations have voted to seek dismissal from the denomination, which dissidents say is not consistent with written theology in such areas as the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ and homosexual ordination.
While some questioned whether the presbytery had a right to devise its own separation plan instead of appointing an administrative commission – denomination’s constitutional provision for dealing with such congregations, the Rev. Linda Jaberg, chairman of the presbytery’s council, said the plan was an effort to “flesh out a new way of doing church together, to be more pastoral and to listen to each other,” according to the Post-Gazette.
Ultimately, it is the presbytery that makes the final decision.
Last month, Kishwaukee Community Presbyterian Church in Stillman Valley, Ill., voted almost unanimously to request dismissal from the PC(USA) and join the smaller, more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Pittsburgh Presbytery’s largest congregation, Memorial Park Church, also voted to leave and join the EPC, which recently created a New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery to address the growing number of churches seeking membership.
Christian Post Reporter
UPDATE: I sent this article to the HOBD Listserv asking the question, “Hey, why can’t we do this?” A friend and reader of this blog wrote and indicated that it might be because the Presbyterians don’t have trust language like TEC does. However, their trust language is virtually, and, more importantly, legally, identical. I wrote him back:
Here is how the Presbyterian Book of Order reads reads, which was passed in 1981:
2. All Property Held in Trust
A l l property held by or for a particular church, a presbytery,
a synod, the General A s s e m b l y, or the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or
trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the
property is used in programs of a particular church or of a more
inclusive governing body or retained for the production of income,
is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Dennis Canon reads as follows:
All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission, or Congregation is held in trust for this Church [i.e., the Episcopal Church in the United States] and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise eixsting over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.”
So, it isn’t the language. Even if property is held in trust, I still think a Christian approach can be used, rather than a litigious one. However, I am sure our beloved church is, at this point, incapable of doing anything like this, as it has become emotionally and spiritually crippled.