Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC), located in Springfield (Hampden County in southwest Massachusetts), was granted its exit from the PCUSA during the May 3 meeting of the Presbytery of Southern New England (PSNE).
Founded in 1958, Christ is the second church from the presbytery to be dismissed, joining Covenant Presbyterian Church (The Barn), which also was allowed to exit the PCUSA for the EPC by the presbytery six years ago.
“We’ve been discerning, like many other churches, for some time, keeping an ear to the ground and watching what’s going on in the denomination,” said Tracy Johnson, pastor at CPC since 2005. “There’s a series of events that we have seen play out in our presbytery that led us to this decision.”
The tipping point
Johnson described the major tipping point as the presbytery’s declaration that Scripture contains the Word of God but is not the Word of God. Rationale in an overture from the PSNE to the General Assembly some years back revealed that the PCUSA was not a denomination the 71-member congregation wanted to be part of any longer.
“That (declaration) left the authority of the Word of God in shambles,” Johnson explained. “If we don’t trust the authority of Scripture, how can we be a community of believers. That showed us what we were up against.”
The church entered the presbytery’s Discern the Way (DTW) process, and there were three different presbytery teams that worked with Christ’s leadership.
The Listening Team explored issues the church cited for wanting to leave the denomination, and a Review Team examined what the congregation and its leadership wanted to do. The Implementation Team then developed terms of dismissal in November 2013.
The congregation voted 54-1 on Dec. 22, 2013, to accept the terms. The agreement went before the PSNE for a first reading in February and was approved by a 70-10 margin (three abstentions) three months later, allowing Christ to continue on its path to affiliation with the EPC.
Christ agreed to a financial settlement of $16,624, payable over a period of 10 years, as well as a 10-year reverter clause that gives the property back to the presbytery if the congregation ceases to exist or leaves a Reformed denomination.
Additionally, the Presbytery of Southern New England will receive 10 percent of the proceeds of any real estate sale by the church within that same 10-year timeframe.
No ill will
Johnson said there were no major hiccups encountered during the dismissal process, noting that the Christ membership made a commitment to not enter legal or ecclesiastical battles with the presbytery and avoid any kind of adversarial relationship.
“Once we decided we needed to disaffiliate, I think they were very gracious, and I hope we were as well,” he said. “We knew we could no longer be aligned with the PCUSA. We were very appreciative of the process with our presbytery. We have no bitterness toward them, and we wish them well. We harbor no ill will and appreciate them allowing us to leave with our property.”
CPC chooses the EPC
Johnson indicated that a vote for acceptance into the EPC’s Presbytery of the East should take place in September. He noted that Christ’s leadership looked at several possible denominational homes before settling on the EPC.
“We are Presbyterian, Reformed and know who and what we want to be,” he said. “We were asked if we were running away from the PCUSA or running to the EPC. Our answer is that we’re standing pat. The EPC is more like Christ Presbyterian Church than the PCUSA. It fits who we are in theology, practice and ministry for outreach and mission.”
While the process has taken some time to navigate and will stretch on a while longer until the EPC accepts Christ, Johnson observed that it has strengthened the congregation’s resolve and clarified its beliefs.
“We haven’t been really concerned about the process because we are secure in what God has asked us to do be. We haven’t let this change us,” he said. “We will be thankful when the full process is over, but it has been good for us to nail down who we are, what we believe and why we believe. We thank God for that.”
Two others churches are engaged in the Discern the Way process with the Presbytery of Southern New England. Those congregations are Presbyterian Church of Old Greenwich in Connecticut and First Presbyterian Church in Newport, R.I.