A pair of churches from Los Ranchos Presbytery will be leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) and another from San Diego Presbytery has indicated its intent to follow suit.
During congregational votes on June 8, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., and First Presbyterian Church of Westminster both agreed to terms presented in a join solution with Los Ranchos Presbytery to leave the denomination.
First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu also voted to seek dismissal from the PCUSA during a congregational vote the same day.
All three churches are seeking affiliation with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
A third church from Los Ranchos Presbytery, Trinity United Presbyterian in Santa Ana, Calif., will have a congregational vote June 15 to accept the terms of the joint solution to depart the PCUSA and align with ECO.
The votes by St. Andrew’s and FPC-Westminster came a week after the presbytery approved joint solutions for the congregations.
Ninety-six percent of the 926 members attending the congregational vote at St. Andrew’s cast ballots to accept the joint solution of Los Ranchos and transfer to ECO from the PCUSA. In doing so, the congregation of more than 3,200 members agreed to pay $1.7 million plus interest over a maximum of nine years.
In an email to the congregation that shared results of the vote, St. Andrew’s Lead Pastor Rich Kannwischer wrote, “This decision came only after decades of engagement with the PCUSA and over a year of dialogue, learning and prayer with our members and the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. The care, focus and sensitivity that our leaders and members devoted to this task make me proud and grateful to be your pastor.
“I hope you will join me in thanking the members of the Joint Discernment Team – both representing the Los Ranchos Presbytery and St. Andrew’s, who tirelessly met to determine the correct course for St. Andrew’s and the presbytery. Though there were differences in thought, these servants of Christ kept God at the center of all their work.
“Lastly – and mostly – I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God, who calls us to be better than we ever imagined we could be. Through this journey we have seen together that our Lord is faithful even when we are not, and He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
The four main reasons given for the decision by St. Andrew’s to change denominations revolved around identity, focus, governance and property.
The First Presbyterian Church of Westminster congregation agreed to the terms of the joint solution by a vote of 133-2.
The Westminster congregation of 235 members will be required to pay $98,786 in a lump sum within 90 days of acceptance of the terms of dismissal and also agreed to 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.
The selection of ECO as the new denominational home for FPC-Westminster was based on a number of churches from Los Ranchos Presbytery joining the denomination, allowing missional relationships to continue. The denomination is still young and formative, giving the Westminster congregation an opportunity to part of shaping the movement.
In addition, there is no trust clause in ECO, meaning that Westminster owns its property, there are clearly identified essential Biblical beliefs, and women can hold positions of leadership within the church.
First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu’s congregational vote showed 97.8 percent in favor of leaving the PCUSA to affiliate with ECO. The church was required to have a 25 percent quorum (of its 1,223 members) with three quarters of the members present voting in favor of dismissal for the measure to pass. Six hundred seventy-six members turned out, with 661 of them casting a vote to join ECO.
The FPC-Honolulu session notified San Diego Presbytery on Nov. 27, 2013, that it wanted to begin discussions under the Covenants and Gracious Dismissal Policy (CGDP), adopted in November 2013.
The session and a presbytery task force working with the church have agreed on a figure of $316,323 that FPC-Honolulu would pay to retain its property, with the possibility that the congregation could pay that sum over a period of five years
Clark Cowden, executive presbyter for San Diego Presbytery, noted that the agreement reached between the parties is an anticipated price at this point and could be changed by the presbytery when it meets to vote on dismissing the congregation.
The request for dismissal to ECO has been sent to San Diego Presbytery, which is expected to vote on the matter at the Sept. 16 meeting.