Disaffiliation is the route chosen by Missouri congregation

EPC logoA Missouri congregation that walked away from the Presbyterian Church (USA) four months ago is awaiting full membership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).

St. Luke JOY Presbyterian Church in northern Kansas City has been a transitional member of the EPC since Jan. 24 following its disaffiliation from the PCUSA in November 2013. The congregation is expected to become a full member of the EPC during the April meeting of the Presbytery of Mid-America.

The 160-member congregation at St. Luke, founded in 1957, chose to disaffiliate rather than seek dismissal, voting by a 96-percent margin on Nov. 24, 2013, to walk away from the PCUSA. A 97 percent vote to align with the EPC finalized the decision, which was made to avoid any potential conflicts in dealing with Heartland Presbytery.

St. Luke Pastor Mark Hughes noted that the presbytery does not have a gracious dismissal policy but has a standing Administrative Commission (AC) that works with churches seeking to leave. That AC has the power to remove sessions and pastors, taking control of the operation of a church if it sees fit to do so.

“That was not a situation our session wanted to get involved with,” said Hughes, noting the disaffiliations of Gashland Presbyterian Church and Colonial Presbyterian Church that ended up in litigation. “When a presbytery has a standing Administrative Commission with the powers of original jurisdiction, that is not a welcoming conversation to go into. We witnessed what happened with Gashland and Colonial, and the defense of their property. Those cases opened the door for us, but we were not interested in getting involved in anything like that. We did not have the resources to fight a court battle. It was also very important for us to honor Christ by avoiding a legal battle if at all possible.”


StLuke1Favorable rulings

The cases of Gashland and Colonial, with rulings in favor of the churches at all levels, led to clear interpretations by the courts in Missouri that the state applies neutral principles of law in property disputes, ruling on the contents of deeds rather than by hierarchical deference, as the PCUSA’s trust clause indicates.

Brookdale Presbyterian Church, located in St. Joseph, Mo., also took the path to disaffiliation in August 2013, without any legal repercussions.

“The church has a solid claim to its property,” Hughes said. “If a dismissal policy had been in place, I’m sure the church would have abided by it. If the presbytery had wanted a gift of mission giving we probably would have provided it. But we felt the presbytery would want hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was no way to know for sure, but the past actions of Heartland Presbytery had not made it easy to leave. Look at the track record.

“We did not want to take a chance that the AC would attempt to take over operation of our church. This was an opportunity available to us, and we feel that Christ was honored by keeping the matter out of court.”


Tackling the issues

Hughes, who has been at St. Luke for nearly five years, said the congregation elected a Denominational Task Force in January 2012 charged with determining what was happening in the PCUSA, especially with the loss of a large number of members because of issues within the denomination. The group examined why there is fighting and malice within the denomination and why so many churches have been departing at such a rapid clip.

“We asked this task force to determine if the PCUSA was still a good fit for St. Luke JOY, if we should stay and be part of a prophetic witness or consider going to another Reformed body that would be a better theological fit,” he said. “When they started, the members were not of one mind, but they came to the point where they unanimously recommended St. Luke disaffiliate from the PCUSA.”

A series of town hall meetings took place, allowing the task force members to explain in detail how they reached their decision for recommending disaffiliation, leading to the vote that led St. Luke out of the PCUSA.

While some may point to the 2011 passage of Amendment 10A (which changed ordination standards for pastors, elders and deacons) and its reference to sexuality as a primary concern, Hughes indicated that was not the greatest issue before the congregation.

“In our meetings, sexuality rarely came up. It was a more a matter of who Jesus is and what Scripture is and means,” Hughes said. “The part that really bothered people was that Scripture and the confessions were to be used as a guide rather than as authoritative, and our people found that to be troubling.”

Also troubling was the trust clause the PCUSA considers binding in allowing church property to be used for the benefit of the national denomination.

“That’s not what binds us together in theological unity,” Hughes said. “The confessions and Scripture bind us together.”


Dealings with Heartland

Hughes pointed out that Heartland did not have any representatives at the town hall meetings, but members of the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry (COM) showed up the day of the vote to disaffiliate. The pastor indicated the representatives were welcomed but given no voice or vote on the matter at hand.

Once the results of the vote were tabulated and disaffiliation was the route chosen, the session drafted a letter and sent it to Heartland Executive Presbyter Charles Spencer and Stated Clerk Sally Henchman.

In response, the presbytery sent two letters to the St. Luke congregation inviting members to attend meetings at a nearby PCUSA church, but Hughes said there was no interest in that idea. He said the church has not lost any members in the transition from the PCUSA to the EPC.

Hughes had his own issue with the presbytery, though. He was contacted about a meeting he needed to attend with the AC but responded that he could not attend on the date given.

Two weeks later he was notified by certified letter from the AC that by his actions he had renounced jurisdiction of the PCUSA, therefore nullifying his ordination.

“I was expecting the COM to bring ecclesial charges against me because I allowed the vote (to disaffiliate) to take place, but instead I got a letter that I had renounced jurisdiction. It was just a spiteful thing. They really made it easier for me, I guess, in a matter of speaking.”

Hughes said the EPC did not recognize the alleged renunciation of jurisdiction and allowed him to transfer his ordination credentials.


Moving forward in the EPC

The St. Luke JOY congregation settled on the EPC because of clearly defined essentials of faith, something it felt was lacking in the PCUSA.

“It was important for us to have churches of similar beliefs near us,” Hughes said. “That provides mutual accountability mission opportunities and worship together. The EPC provides that for us.”

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians also was considered as a possible denominational home, but there are no ECO churches in Missouri. There also are no ECO churches in Kansas or Arkansas and just one each in Iowa and Illinois, neighboring states to Missouri.

By contrast, there are 16 other EPC churches in Missouri alone.

Hughes pointed out that elders and deacons from St. Luke are finishing up their officer training with the EPC in anticipation of full acceptance into the denomination soon.

“We are very anxious and excited about this new chapter in the life of our church,” Hughes said. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”


Comments 17

  • “not even welcome in a P.C.U.S.A. pew”
    I had the same experience in1957at a Billy Graham Crusade meeting at Madison Square Garden, New York city. There I was enjoying the sermon – the speaker was very energetic and convinceing. I followed along in my Bible and enjoyed the music – George Beverley Shea, barritone. Then all of a sudden the speaker looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want you to get out of your seat and come forward.” I thought – I was only 10 – “What did I do now?” I looked at my father next to me, dozing, slipped out of the seat and went forward. I’ve been on my knees asking forgiveness until this day.

  • I suspect, Jim, the reason you’re “not even welcome in a P.C.U.S.A. pew” is that the pastors spot your ruddy complexion and demand your presence behind them in the choir loft. Thus 1 Sam. 16:12: “And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” and verse 23: “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” The pastors see you sitting there in the pew and long for relief from their insane hatred of the reformed tradition. See also 1 Sam. 18:15: “Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him.” The last clause in Hebrew is literally “he shrunk from his face” (he was afraid to face him). The pastors see in your wise demeanor in the pew a threat to their campaign against the Westminster Confession.

  • My first taste of Presbyterian Church fellowship was at an ice cream social at the Colonial Presbyterian Church, when Ted Nissan was pastor. My parents attended Village Presbyterian, but black walnut ice cream convinced Dad we ought to migrate south, nearer our home. I loved Pastor’s Bob and Ted, as opposite as battery poles, they enriched my growth in Christ immensely.

    My family moved north of the river and joined the Gashland Church. I was a college student volunteering to organize the Church library when the Angela Davis uproar occurred. The pastor was away and I handled several phone calls to the office. I came under care of the Kansas City Missouri Union Presbytery, attended and even learned a few things at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, then was ordained by my home Presbytery for service in S.W. Pennsylvania.

    41 years have passed during which I served congregations in PA., KS., IA., MI., ID., LA., and IN. Over those decades I steadily moved, or was subtly pushed to the back pew in Presbytery meetings because of the Biblical and Confessional statements I made and positions I took. I founded the International Order of the Otter because I’d been ruled “otter order” so often when moderators didn’t want to hear from me. I found like minded pastors and elders, or they found me. I inducted them in as “Ottarians” and we attempted to use humor to get through the fog of intimidation politics.

    Now, I’m “honorably” retired, though I consider the honor not to have escaped the P.C.U.S.A. with ordination and pension in tact, but to have been politically removed from four of seven pastorates, “because some people don’t like (me)”. These four pressured departures, with significant gaps between, were because less than a dozen members, and the local C.O.M. despised the historic Reformation, Biblical and Confessional positions I took regarding political, social and cultural issues. I’m glad those days are over…for me.

    But, I continue to pray for those who still struggle, either to turn the P.C.U.S.A. around (I believe impossible), or to depart it gracefully. Having been black-balled by Heartland Presbytery, West Virginia Presbytery, and several others, I know I’m not even welcome in a P.C.U.S.A. pew. I also learned during my final call search that I’d be unwelcome in the E.P.C., P.C.A., or other Presbyterian denominations unless I could bring a financially viable congregation and property with me.

    With those who remember the pastors of Gashland, Joy, Colonial and even Village Churches back in the days before apostate schism, I cherish them in memory and the time just before satan took over the P.C.U.S.A. and tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity became the new holy trinity. Social Justice be damned! It will never replace True Gospel of Jesus Christ! From the Kingdom of the Most High God, The Son and Holy Spirit will come Justice like flowing water on His Day. Amen.

  • You write:
    ““The part that really bothered people was that Scripture and the confessions were to be used as a guide rather than as authoritative, and our people found that to be troubling.”
    They found Scripture to be troubling in their attempt to follow the confessions?
    Keep in mind David’s example (2 Sam. 19:9):
    And all the people were at strife throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom.
    Mark saved you, St. Lukians, from the Philistines in Presbytery. Don’t let him ruin everything by putting his son on the throne! Think of the Schullers and the BGEA!.

    • After responding to your comments on another thread, I thought that you were commenting in good faith, now I see that you really are not reading what is written, but seeing it with your own bias.

      I do not see anything in the post where you would need to bring in the Schullers?

  • What an awesome gift for Pastor Hughes to be booted from the PCUSA! It was a great day when I renounced jurisdiction of my former presbytery and PCUSA, thus leaving me in ordination limbo…plus a joy to go through the process of examination and reception into the EPC. Their example of grace and mercy, as well as commitment to Biblical principles and reformed theology was a wonderful thing.

  • Heartland Presbytery has a long and ominous history. I pity those whom fall under its jurisdiction. May God bless St. Luke JOY in the EPC. May the name of Jesus be BOLDLY proclaimed!

  • I used to live near this church when i was stuck in Prairie Purgatory (metro kansas City). i visited there a few times, the pastor at the time is now up at that church in St. Joseph that you did an earlier article on. I’m glad to see that they’ve withdrawn.

    Heartland Presbytery (PC(USA)) has been in an UGLY, hostile mood ever since the Paola (KS) episode of some years ago. i would not expect a “gracious dismissal” policy voluntarily coming from them, the best any seceeder could hope for is hearing “we’re not homicidically-minded towards you.” And supposedly, 1/3 of Heartland’s congregations are teetering on closing their doors, so in time the presbytery will be better known as a commercial real estate broker. Hey they FINALLY disposed of the property of the former 1st Kansas CIty (KS)! How many years did that take?

    • Of course, Heartland Presbytery would prefer to be a broker of expensive properties, such as the properties of departed congregations. Consider the following quotes from the Reports from Administrative Commissions included in the February 11, 2012, Meeting Minutes of Heartland Presbytery:

      “Considering the value of the properties involved (i.e., Colonial Presbyterian and Gashland Presbyterian, both of Kansas City), the Presbytery has spent less than 2% of what it would recover if the property were to remain in the denomination as a result of a successful defense of the denomination’s ‘property clause.’

      “The concept of ‘walking away’ from litigation in mid-stream is neither legally responsible nor economically viable, without knowing what the costs of that line of action would be. …

      “If these churches are allowed to depart with their property, it will bring to an end any hope of
      gifts for New Church Development.”

      It should be noted that in the February 11, 2012, Heartland Presbytery Meeting that the above points were generated during a presbytery debate regarding a motion to cease litigation against Gashland and Colonial, to dismiss Gashland to the EPC, and to invite Colonial “to enter into professional mediation that will ultimately facilitate Colonial’s dismissal into the (EPC)” (despite the fact that both congregations had already disaffiliated from the PCUSA and had affiliated with the EPC). The motion failed by 4-1 margin, and Heartland proceeded with its lawsuits against both congregations, which ultimately resulted in both congregations being recognized by the state of Missouri (and also the state of Kansas in Colonial’s case) as owning their own property free from the PCUSA’s unilaterally-imposed Trust Clause. St. Luke JOY Pastor Mark Hughes “registered his DISSENT from the action of the Presbytery on this motion.”

      As far as a “gracious dismissal” policy, perhaps it would amuse you to learn that in the same Meeting Minutes previously referenced, Heartland Presbytery patted itself on the back, saying, “The General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission has cited the Heartland Presbytery process as a good example of carrying out the directions of the 218th General Assembly on ‘gracious separation.’” This, despite the fact that Heartland Presbytery has no examples of graciously dismissed congregations to which to point, and the fact that Heartland Presbytery’s interaction with congregations seeking dismissal has been anything but gracious.

    • What’s in a name? The Bible contains may named individuals who rose to there given name. Thought, how appropriate: Heartland Executive Presbyter Stated Clerk Sally Henchman. Not wanting to appear juvenile – but wanting to pause for a moment to note how appropriate for such a time as this. And, to pause for just a moment by noting the presbytery name – Heartland. Thank God that the Civil Court can be more civil than the PC(USA)’s judicial ones.
      But, folks, you voted them in. You placed them in positions from which they have demonstrated they are ‘blind guides’ / wolves in sheep’s skin. By their fruits you shall know them. Hear what the Spirit says to the churches – Revelation 2-3.

      • Her name is actually “Hinchman,” not “Henchman.” I know this because she served six months as a Transitional Presbyter for the Florida Presbytery.

  • Best quote by Pastor Hughes: “[The trust clause] is not what binds us together in theological unity. The confessions and Scripture bind us together.”

    Perhaps the confessions and Scripture USED TO bind together the PCUSA, but they no longer do. So the trust clause is now the device used by many presbyteries to quite literally bind — as with chains — congregations to the denomination.

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