Friday, September 19th, 2014
The Layman Online > Presbyterian News and Analysis > Faith congregation is first to be dismissed from the Presbytery of Tampa Bay

Faith congregation is first to be dismissed from the Presbytery of Tampa Bay

EPC logoMembers of Faith Presbyterian Church find themselves affiliated with a new denomination following the congregation’s dismissal.

The church of more than 700 members in Seminole, Fla., (located in Pinellas County between Clearwater and St. Petersburg) was given its release from the Presbyterian Church (USA) during the May 8 meeting of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay.

Faith, established in 1960, has affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and now is known as Faith Community Church: An EPC Congregation. It is the first church to be dismissed by the Presbytery of Tamp Bay.

“We bathed this with prayer, and it was done with a great appreciation for the ability of all to speak what they felt about the matter,” Faith Pastor David Miller said. “There has been such wonderful unity in our church this entire process.”

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Kahaian, transitional presbyter for Tampa Bay, expressed a desire to see the congregation and presbytery continue being faithful in service to Christ.

“I am saddened by the departure of a congregation from the community of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in this area,” Kahaian wrote in an email to The Layman. “It is my prayer for both the congregation and presbytery that we will continue to worship, obey and follow Jesus Christ. With our mutual love and desire to pursue Jesus Christ, I hope that we will both continue to be faithful to the ministry and mission God places before us.”

 

faithpres2Moving through the process

Miller, who has been at Faith for 22 years after founding pastor Paul Auginbaugh led the congregation for 32 years, indicated that Faith had been involved in the dismissal process for nearly two years before being granted its exit from the PCUSA.

The church entered the discernment process with the presbytery in June 2012, and session voted unanimously (18-0) in August that year to leave the denomination.

Because it was the first church seeking dismissal from the presbytery, which adopted its separation policy in May 2012, some of the procedures were figured out as the sides moved along and worked together.

Kahaian met with the Faith session several times in the early stages of the process regarding its denominational concerns and why the church was seeking dismissal, coming to the conclusion with the presbytery that the congregation no longer was compatible with the PCUSA.

A congregational meeting on Nov. 3, 2013, required half of Faith’s membership be present for a vote on dismissal. Four hundred sixty-five members showed up for the vote, which yielded a 443-10 (12 abstentions) result in favor of leaving the PCUSA to join the EPC.

“That was a big moment for me, to see that kind of commitment,” Miller said. “Our process had slowed down, but people still turned out for the vote and made their positions known.”

 

faith1A monetary consideration

A negotiation team from Faith started working with an Administrative Commission (AC) from the presbytery to hammer out a financial agreement. Three sessions later, terms were reached.

“We truly wanted to honor each other,” Miller said of the work between his church and the presbytery. “We may be moving in different directions, but we’re still standing together in work for the kingdom. I’m grateful the presbytery was willing to listen to our concerns and we were willing to meet their needs.”

Faith agreed to make a payment of $185,000 to retain property, satisfy per capita and mission giving, and pay for a portion of the appraised value of the property.

Miller noted that the AC took the difference between the historical cost of the property and its $3.64 million appraised value, and allowed the church to pay a tithe on the difference.

Session members each gave to help reduce the payment to the presbytery, raising $35,000. Members were given an opportunity to make a one-time gift to help reduce the cost as well, and more than $136,000 was raised by the end of June.

The presbytery voted 132-36 to grant dismissal on May 8, and two days later the congregation was received as a member of the EPC’s Presbytery of Florida. On May 18, by unanimous vote, the congregation agreed to the terms to leave for the EPC. A 30-day period allowing a stay on the dismissal elapsed on June 7, effectively ending Faith’s relationship with the PCUSA.

 

faith2‘Crisis in the Church’

Miller said the theology and practice of the PCUSA were the primary tipping points he outlined in a five-sermon series called “Crisis in the Church.”

“We found that we believed as a congregation was not congruent with the larger church,” he said.

Faith cited three major issues as reasons to seek its exit from the national denomination:

1-The PCUSA no longer functionally affirms the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ as the only savior in the world;

2-The PCUSA no longer functionally treats Scripture as the infallible Word of God; and

3-The PCUSA no longer functionally affirms the Biblical call to holy living.

“We found a clear path that we could follow to leave the denomination that would bless us and would bless the presbytery, and determined it was a path that was worth going down if we just let the Lord lead us,” Miller said, admitting there were a few occasions when he thought the process was about to be derailed. “Each time that happened, God answered in a way that proved we were on the right track.”

 

Entering the EPC

The decision to align with the EPC was reached because of there were not many Florida churches in ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians when Faith entered the dismissal process. It still was a relatively new denomination in its formative stages.

Beyond that, there was a strong liking for the seven essential tenets spelled out by the EPC.

“The life and health of the PCUSA could have been much better had it adopted similar essentials,” Miller said. “These (essentials) bring people together in unity.”

 

Led by the Holy Spirit

Miller pointed out that the process to leave the PCUSA was an amicable one with the presbytery, noting both sides worked together for the best end result.

“We made a commitment early on to give a good witness in our faith in Christ and loving others,” Miller explained. “It’s what Christ called us to do. We felt the AC responded in kind.”

He added that there was a genuine feeling of the Holy Spirit taking control and leading the process as negotiations took place.

“We established a good relationship with the AC right away and that led to a positive outcome,” he said. “We continually sought to mutually bless one another – even in the midst of tense negotiations. You could sense the Lord and the Holy Spirit leading us together, and that never abated, even in moments when we were not close (on negotiations). The Spirit always led us to a common ground.”

 

Following the path

Miller called the final outcome of the dismissal process one of the “high moments of my 22 years here,” referencing the highs and lows associated with the various steps along the way as moments “you never forget.”

He also noted that, “Our experience may not be the path for some evangelicals in the PCUSA. For starters, there are some who serve churches that do not wish to leave the PCUSA for a variety of reasons. Pastors who feel a call to serve such congregations may continue to serve faithfully in their call.”

In the end, it was clear that God was indeed calling Faith Presbyterian Church to pursue gracious dismissal.

“We stepped out into a world of unknowns but knew the Lord was leading us to participate in this,” Miller said. “I’m blessed to be at a church where people loved me, supported me and led me in my moments of fear. We called for prayer many times during this process, and each time the Lord strengthened us to continue through the steps of dismissal. That always served as an encouragement to me and let us know we were following His path for us.”

About the author: Nathan Key

16 comments

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    My Dearest “Guest”:

    Please read book on the ” Reveal” study. That is all.

    • guest says:

      I did read it, back when you first recommended on this website, and got absolutely nothing out of it.
      three masters degrees, if there was anything in it i would have noticed.

      are you the same pastor bob from fort lauderdale calvary church?

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    Could it be most remain in the pews because they love God but think people can get carried away with this whole “Jesus” thing?

    • guest says:

      Pastor Bob,
      could you please expand on that comment, and kindly let us know what Christian flock you’re leading, which denomination, etc. thanks in advance.

    • Jim Caraher says:

      Pastor Bob:

      I wish your comment would get the widest possible circulation in PC(USA) circles because it’s such an insightful description of people still left in the PC(USA) – “people who love God but don’t want to get carried away with this whole ‘Jesus’ thing.”

  3. Jim Caraher says:

    Now that Presbyterians are streaming to the PC(USA) exits, PC(USA) apologists are attributing the exodus to narrow mindedness on homosexuality. However the larger truth is that the denomination has been living on borrowed time for decades as its theology changed as drastically as its views on sex and marriage. Twenty years from now PC(USA) theology will be unrecognizable to its forebears with its gradual embrace of Unitarianism, syncretism and universalism. One of the largest churches in the PC(USA) just completed its search for a new senior pastor. There was no indication in the church’s job description that a candidate should be a Christian or show any aptitude for introducing people to Jesus or even that the job description was the job description of the pastor of a Christian church. It’s a remarkable testament to the grace and forbearance of people in the pews that the membership decline hasn’t been steeper than it actually has been. And it’s a blessing for everyone that the PC(USA) is finally shrinking to its rightful place on the far left wing fringe of Presbyterianism.

  4. Jim Caraher says:

    In response to guest’s speculation on the outcome of church property disputes in court, the cases get decided according to which of two legal principles govern trust law in the state where the property is located. In “hierarchical deference” states, the denomination is usually awarded the property because the courts rule that the PC(USA)’s trust clause prevails. In “neutral principles” states, the courts rely on the same evidence as in any case in which two parties claim ownership of the same property – construction contracts, insurance policies, property deeds, etc. In those states the congregation is usually awarded the property. The 50 states are almost evenly divided on which legal principle governs. These legal realities account for the huge differences in financial demands by presbyteries. In hierarchical deference states, the presbytery has the leverage to extract large payments from the departing congregation hence the $8.89 million the San Francisco presbytery demanded and got from Menlo Park Presbyterian. In neutral principles states, the congregation has the legal leverage so presbyteries let churches go for modest settlements rather than incur legal fees on a case the presbytery is likely to lose.

    Anyone interested in Don’s speculation on the expenses presbyteries are incurring on property issues may be interested in my piece here on the Layman website which appeared about three months ago. I analyzed the property issue in the Episcopalian denomination (ECA) which is losing a large number of churches and which has the same trust clause claiming ownership of all church property just as the PC(USA) does. Unlike presbyteries, Episcopalian dioceses won’t even discuss the property with a departing congregation giving them only two options of surrendering the property voluntarily or going to court even in neutral principles states where the ECA is likely to lose. ECA’s national leader has shamelessly declared that she would rather see the properties of departing churches converted to saloons than used by the people who built and paid for them to worship God. In one case in New York City, ECA sold the building to a Muslim group for a lower price than offered by the congregation. In my Layman piece I showed that strict enforcement of the trust clause has been a financial disaster for the ECA. Careful forensic analysis of ECA’s financial statements for recent years shows that ECA has spent $30 million in legal fees, insurance/utilities/maintenance on empty buildings and subsidizing tiny successor congregations where ECA tries to save face by starting a new congregation in the building. Sorry to prattle on at such length but Layman readers seem quite interested in these issues.

    • guest says:

      interesting, thank you for the information, it’s quite helpful. $30M in legal fees may seem like a lot, by the way, but that sounds low to me, it’s all relative. i worked as a corporate financial analyst most of my career, sad but true many companies consider expenses like this to be simply a cost of doing business. you mentioned you have seen church financials, someone should start releasing financial details of these organizations, including the salaries of denomination big shots responsible for this sort of thing, naming names, writing up profiles including benefits. it’s a shame that virtually none of these folks are being held accountable, always these entities are referred to as nameless faceless ‘Christian denominations’. experience tells me there are probably entire armies of high priced staffers behind these RE shenanigans.

    • Don says:

      Great info, thanks Jim.

    • James H says:

      Thank You Jim.

  5. charles says:

    who says crime doesnt pay?

  6. James H says:

    At least we can all say given the circumstances that Faith was not violated as bad as Hope chruch was in Minneapolis.

  7. James H says:

    Does anyone know what other churches are in the pipeline to leave, nothing on the presbytery website that I could see. Thanks

    • guest says:

      i was trying to research some numbers yesterday, am a statistician by training, fascinated by the trends, couldn’t find any data to analyze.
      they send out surveys to all the PCUSA churches periodically, best guess is we’ll have to wait for another survey. these numbers may not be accurate, however, i’ve been reading here that some of the remaining churches are planning to refuse to give HQ any more information.
      what i’m more interested in seeing, what comes out of the civil legal cases. i have a feeling this is far from over, for all Christian churches, all denominations.

    • Don says:

      It’s in presbyteries’ interests for people not to know how many are leaving, how many want to leave, and how much money the presbyteries are spending in legal expenses to assert ownership of property and/or extract monetary tribute from departing congregations. If that information were more widely available, there might be a mutiny in the pews.

      Presbyteries must also maintain the fiction that they are in complete control. Hence, Grace Presbytery pretends that Highland Park Church is still part of presbytery, though it left for ECO about nine months ago. A state court will most likely remove that pretense in October, if HP doesn’t flinch and pay an exit ransom beforehand.

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