First Presbyterian Church of Mora, located south of Duluth and North of Minneapolis in east-central Minnesota was dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) from the PCUSA by the Presbytery of Northern Waters Feb. 16 but not before paying out $150,000 and meeting other terms established by an Administrative Commission (AC).
FPC-Mora started the process of dismissal when its session sent a letter to the presbytery Oct. 26, 2011.
“The church had recognized it wasn’t a very good fit for the PCUSA for a very long time,” said the Rev. Duane Fowler. “It wasn’t necessarily a new thing for the church to be talking about dismissal.”
A five-person Listening Team met with the FPC session on Jan. 19, 2012. During that meeting, session members indicated the theological and political issues on which they based their dismissal request and outlined a history of disconnection from the PCUSA.
“It came down to the fact that the PCUSA does not hold the authority of Scripture as it should be held,” he said. “This church realized those issues are just symptoms of a deeper problem of not following God and His Word. Those things awakened (congregation members) and told them to move away from the denomination and join a denomination that’s more Biblically faithful.”
The Listening Team recommended that an Administrative Commission work with the session and pastor regarding dismissal, a process that started Feb. 18, 2012, with the formation of the six-person AC.
The Commission sent surveys to the 88-member congregation asking if they agreed with session’s decision and why. Forty-four of those were returned, and the overwhelming majority was in agreement with session.
Furthermore, the AC – in its final report of recommendation for dismissal to the presbytery – noted the uniformity in reasons cited and consistency in language used to describe theological disapproval of the PCUSA.
However, the Administrative Commission presented a take-it-or-leave-it scenario to the congregation as far as terms of dismissal were concerned. Fowler said the terms were outlined, and members of FPC-Mora were told there would be no negotiating.
“If we wanted to leave, we had to meet those terms,” he said. “They were very firm in that.”
In developing the terms, the AC considered unpaid per capita by the church, financial assets (general fund, building fund, memorial fund, certificate of deposits, mission fund, scholarship fund), as well as the insured replacement value of real property.
The determination was that FPC-Mora pay the presbytery $150,000, which included per capita for 2012 and 2013 plus unpaid per capita for previous years; approximately 5 percent of the insured value of the church and manse; approximately 5 percent of cash and investment assets; and professional fees to finalize the dismissal process.
In addition, the name and seal of the PCUSA had to be removed from church signage and publicity as well as all legal and insurance documents. The church clerk also was required to provide the presbytery with all the original church records.
Those terms were presented to the session of FPC-Mora by letter on June 25, 2012. On Nov. 11, 2012, the congregation voted 55-2 to accept the terms to finalize dismissal from the PCUSA.
“For the most part, a lot of people had problems with how the terms were handled,” Fowler said. “We did not find (the process) to be particularly gracious but not offensive either. We asked, ‘Who are we standing for, God or this money? We may not like the terms, but it was just money. Maybe God provided the money that was meant for this purpose.
“After the meeting our congregation was relieved and joyful, even knowing we had to pay this amount.”
The congregation and Fowler were received by the Rivers and Lakes Presbytery of the EPC Jan. 25-26, 2013.
Fowler said the members of FPC-Mora have found a home in the EPC.
“There’s more Biblical faithfulness,” Fowler said of the EPC. “For this particular congregation, this was a much better fit.
“Like a lot of congregations, it wasn’t us departing the PCUSA. It was the PCUSA departing from historical Presbyterianism and Biblical faith. It was just time to leave.”