Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Colorado church withdraws request for dismissal

Fort Collins logoSix months after deciding to seek dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA), the session of a Colorado church has withdrawn the request.

The session of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Collins – the second largest congregation in the Plains and Peaks Presbytery behind First Presbyterian Church of Boulder – withdrew its request for dismissal on Jan. 13, ending a 13-month journey that started out as a means of discerning where God might be leading them.

In its report to the Plains and Peaks Presbytery, the Administrative Commission (AC) indicated the vote of the Fort Collins session to withdraw its request for dismissal to be an important step in light of survey results that revealed more than 60 percent of those responding were not in favor of the decision to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.

“We said from the beginning we were looking for a high bar, about 70-95 percent of the congregation wanting to be dismissed,” Fort Collins Pastor Rich McDermott said. “At 60-40 (percent) against departure, we weren’t close to the high bar we were looking for,”

According to an August 2012 story by The Christian Post, leadership at the church with approximately 1,000 members pointed to “irreconcilable spiritual differences” as the major reason for seeking dismissal.

According to documents from the church web site, the session indicated it found itself in “deep disagreement with the direction of the PCUSA away from its traditional standards on who Jesus is, the authority of Scripture, the guidance of our confessions, and the nature of the life to which Jesus and the Scriptures call us.”

Fort Collins 2Like many churches in the denomination, Fort Collins’ leadership called into question the decision of the 219th General Assembly to allow presbyteries to decide to ordain non-celibate homosexuals to church positions. Amendment 10A deleted the explicit “fidelity/chastity” requirement from the constitutional ordination standard, and now allows the PCUSA to ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as deacons, elders and pastors.  Also of concern was the PCUSA’s stance on the definition of marriage as well as whether or not the church should own its property rather than having it held in trust by the PCUSA.

In response to concerns regarding actions of the PCUSA, Fort Collins formed a Denominational Discernment Task Force (DDTF) in December 2011. After much fact finding, prayerful consideration and numerous meetings, the DDTF presented its recommendation for dismissal to the session in the summer of 2012.

The Fort Collins session voted – by a 14-2 majority – on July 23, 2012, to seek dismissal from the PCUSA.

The session also voted to join in a covenant relationship with the Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP), which it has done, and begin the process of seeking dismissal to another Reformed Presbyterian denomination.

Fort Collins’ session met with a Presbytery Response Team from Plains and Peaks Presbytery on Aug. 6, 2012. Two days later, an Administrative Commission was appointed by the presbytery to oversee the dismissal process.

In November and December, surveys from the AC and the session were distributed to members of the congregation, and those results were released Dec. 28.

Results of the survey distributed by the session (about 40 percent were returned) indicated the majority of those responding were in agreement with session about the theological issues before the church.

More than 86 percent of those responding believe the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture, and nearly 85 percent think Jesus Christ is revealed through the Scriptures, which are to be received and obeyed as the written Word of God. Better than 82 percent of those responding believe the Holy Scriptures to be the authoritative witness to Jesus as well as the final authority in all decisions, choices and actions.

Nearly 75 percent of respondents indicated marriage should be between “a man and a woman” rather than two persons, and about the same number believe that church leadership requires high standards and ordination vows. Seventy-three percent prefer that church leaders live by the previous Book of Order requirement to live either in chastity in singleness or in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman.

Another 67 percent of those surveyed agreed that the church should own its building rather than have it held in trust for the PCUSA.

But the Administrative Commission survey showed the majority of those responding were not in favor of dismissal. Nearly 500 (about 50 percent of those distributed by the AC) were returned.

The AC survey asked for reasons people attend Fort Collins and their participation in various activities. It also asked members to respond to eight questions.

In reference to believing the session was right to seek dismissal, 49.7 percent of the respondents disagreed compared to 32.1 percent who were in agreement.

Nearly half (49.9 percent) of those responding disagreed that the presbytery should heed the session’s request to dismiss the congregation  to another denomination with property, name and assets as negotiated  in a dismissal agreement. Just 33.2 percent of those responding agreed.

More than 45 percent of those returning surveys indicated the presbytery should not dismiss the congregation at all, while less than 34 percent agreed with such action.

Almost 62 percent of respondents agreed that the congregation is diverse and that honest differences of theological opinion can exist among faithful and connected believers. Only 12.7 percent of those responding had a dissenting point of view.

The “state of disaffection,” as it is referred to in the AC report to the presbytery, already has caused some division in the ranks, as members have left the church over the matter.

“We’re losing people from all parts of the spectrum,” McDermott said. “We’re still in a delicate situation in the sense that we have a congregation that still is divided over the issue.”

Additional details in the AC’s report to Plains and Peaks Presbytery indicated the “stated goal of the session and pastoral leadership is to work toward healing and reconciliation within the congregation.”

“It is the belief of the AC that they should be given an opportunity and actively encouraged to move in this direction,” the report reads.

McDermott said that is what church leadership is working to achieve.

“It’s going to take some time to go through the healing and reconciliation process,” he said. “We have agreed not to discuss dismissal for the foreseeable future. We’re looking at some processes to bring people together.”

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About the author: Nathan Key

12 comments

  1. Discouraged says:

    I am disheartened to see that the presbyterian church is letting culture change what they believe. By changing our beliefs about this issue, what kind of message are we sending our culture? One of my favorite things about God is that we have something solid to stand on. No matter what the world is thinking or doing, God (and His Scripture) is a “solid rock”. When we shift with culture, we are no different than anything else in the world. Part of the attraction to the church is that its different.

    This doesn’t mean that we should love anyone any less, it just means that we should stand up for what God said is not right. After all, He made us, He knows how we are to operate. We are actually doing a disservice to people by letting them live in a way contrary to what God called them to. Jesus, like He did with the Mary- the prostitute in John 8, met her where she was, but did not leave her there. He said “Woman where are your accusers… Go and SIN NO MORE.”

    We should love homosexuals just like we love out pastors, but letting them continue living in a way contrary to God’s best for their life is of no help to them. They are no better or worse than anyone else (from the pope to pastors- we ALL fall short of the glory of God), but if we don’t stick to the truth of how God wired humans to live, we are in fact harming their potential to enjoy life.

    Now if you don’t agree with that, I don’t blame you for voting against this proposition, but you are doing everyone a disservice by painting the Gospel as something it is not. No matter how hard you try to paint is as culturally acceptable, Jesus said it would He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (meaning division)- Matthew 10:34. He is not interested in what we think is right, He knows what is right. He made us.

    I hate seeing the church so beat up and easily manipulated on this issue.

  2. Chas Jay says:

    Jodie, how do you know what is in the hearts of the Evangelicals? Are you God? Did you know that many of those LGBT activists in the PCUSA did leave their wives or husbands for their new same-sex lover. Are you calling them out for breaking their vows and divorcing?

  3. Jodie says:

    The fact that the “Evangelicals” are not as adamant about divorce as they are about gay marriage and ordination shows that in spite of their claims to the contrary, their problem with LGBT inclusion in the Church is not really about doctrine, or Scripture, or what they say it is about. But they are not willing to take the log out of their own eyes to see better the speck in their neighbor’s eye. And as usual, it is the young who can see the king is naked.

  4. Lisa Griffith says:

    As I read the article about the Fort Collins church and the comments following, I was struck by how closely this church mirrors our journey at Lake Forest in Knoxville, TN. The proportional survey results were staggering in their similarity. We made the same decision as Fort Collins and about 40 percent of our members voted with their feet. Having said that, we are finally able to move enthusiastically forward in spreading the good news to the “unchurched”. The Bible, that stands as the underpinning of why congregations want to end ties with the PCUSA, is filled with accounts of how God used a great number of people for great works who were incredibly unworthy by our many standards. Ultimately, if God is calling people into His service, then are we just being contrarian by precluding them? We are faced with the same challenges as the people who lived thousands of years before us. The ultimate question becomes, with 20/20 hindsight, how did they do? We all are just doing the best we can – grace and peace to everyone!

  5. Rich Blinne says:

    Like John I am member of FPFC. I voted to stay in the PCUSA and also affirmed the theology of our leadership. The reason why is I’m a moderate evangelical. In my opinion a moderate evangelical church like ours is more effective in reaching the next generation for Jesus in the PCUSA rather than the ECO. The obsession with gays and abortion pushes people away who might otherwise be attracted to our theological views. See here the opinion of young members of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church when they discovered his affiliation with the ECO despite John Ortberg’s moderate views. Source; M-A Bear News.

    Many allege that MPPC’s decision to leave is rooted in this division over the issue of homosexual clergy; rumors about MPPC’s homophobia have spread.

    “The very first time I heard [about the breakaway] it was from a staff member at the church,” said one M-A sophomore and current church member who wished to remain anonymous. “She told us the main reason was because of the new allowance of gays to become pastors, which MPPC did not agree with.”

    “I felt worse about attending church there,” she said, “because of the discrimination they were imposing.”

    Junior Ryan Wentz, who attended MPPC’s programs in middle school, echoes her story. He, too, “heard from one MPPC staff member…that it had something to do with their views on having gay ministers, because something passed in the Presbyterian Church that allowed that, and MPPC did not agree, so now they are breaking away.”

    Contrary to claims that the church does not “teach their kids that homosexuality is wrong,” Wentz found the staff member’s reasoning plausible because, “from personal experience, that is the view that [MPPC leaders] teach in small groups.”

    • Ashley says:

      The Bible says acting on homosexual urges are wrong, just as drunkeness, premarital sex, owning slaves, and lying are sins. One is not worse than the other. Sex is made for a man and a woman joined together in marriage according to the Bible. All this is in the new and old testaments. We all sin, but you shouldn’t change the word of God to fit what is popular in the culture. Make it legal in America, but choose our wisdom for God’s wisdom, no thanks. Next thing you know PCUSA will allow that there is more than one way to salvation. Oh wait, they have already done that.

    • Seattle Observer says:

      Rich, I think you nailed it. There is no use in trying to reach the younger generation with something their culture is opposed to. We need to have our finger on their pulse and adapt the Biblical message to their modern opinions if we want to keep then in the church. Glad to see the majority of FCP-FC understands that.

  6. Deanna says:

    Such righteous judgmental attitudes expressed in some of these comments discourages anyone to be called “Christian”. As a therapist, I am trained in “unconditional positive regard” through my college education. Being raised in an evangelical Christian church and later finding my home in PC(USA), I am continually struck by the LACK of unconditional positive regard as demonstrated by other Christians and wonder where and why the messages that Jesus taught us, “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself” and “Just as you do to the least of these, so you do to Me”, have been lost. Isn’t the “greatest of these, Love”? @Carl and Eric, I hope you will pray about your words and judgments that may come in future conversations about this and other churches, and that you may become aware of the hurt your words inflict on others and aware of the place of “hurt” that only these types of words can come from. I am sorry for the lack of love that was shown you, but “giving up” on a church or other Christians seems antithetical to being a Christian. @ John, I will continue to pray for FPCC that each and every member will see that there is a spirit moving that wishes to divide and conquer at all times; rather than listen to words of hate, judgmental-ism, and self-righteousness, I pray members will continually seek understanding and the Holy Spirit will bring the Peace to which we are all called.

  7. John Nick says:

    I am greatly disheartened by the previous comment. As a member of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Collins, Colorado, I attended various educational presentations about theological and other issues being debated within and about the PC(USA) over the past year. A bias toward theological purity OR social justice can become an all-consuming obsession for some, but I believe Jesus Christ upheld both scripture AND social justice.
    Perhaps a quote from a recent article in Presbyterian Outlook by Thomas W. Currie, professor of theology and dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary at Charlotte, N.C., is worth reading: “There is no shortage these days of high talk about churches splitting or leaving or worse, “winning” or “losing.” I hate that talk more than I hate having to deal with this whole matter. There is no purer church out there. That is the great Protestant if not Presbyterian heresy, i.e., to think that we could, by separating ourselves from each other, create a more faithful church.”
    Our session has the hope that by participating in and building a relationship with the Fellowship of Presbyterians, which can be a great middle ground for our church, that we can avoid raising barriers to the Gospel and seek to become “a house of prayer for all peoples.”

  8. Eric Wells says:

    Well, those of truly Reformed thinking in this Colorado church will simply vote with their feet. Just over a year ago, the Merciful Father led me to refuge in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. For the first time in many years, I look forward to the Lord’s Day!!! The PCUSA is terminally apostate and all who stay in tacitly endorse the heresy that oozes from Louisville…period!

  9. Carl Smith says:

    We were members and deacons at the largest PC(USA) here (1200 members) and decided to leave 7 years ago and have had no regrets. I was ministering in a weekly men’s Bible study group and we were long-time greeters on Sundays. We received not a single call/letter from either the men’s group or the pastoral staff which came as no surprise-we suspected we were labeled as too ‘evangelical’ for the congregation. I venture to say the ‘evangelicals’ in the Colorado church will eventually be Holy Spirit led to follow a similiar path with the same results. To our brothers and sisters there we say; “Be strong in the Lord and the power of his might”!

  10. Whitey says:

    Well at least the congregation had their chance to vote. Some won’t ever get that opportunity. The majority isn’t a reliable way to determine truth but it is the way most congregations have decided to determine things. My thoughts are that the 40% that are in that church that still believe and follow the essentials of the Christian faith should now move on as it is pretty clear what direction the church will be headed in the future.

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