Grace Presbyterian granted dismissal from New Covenant Presbytery

gracelogonewOne of the larger congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been dismissed from the denomination and will be voting to call a new pastor in less than a week.

New Covenant Presbytery (NCP) voted to release Grace Presbyterian Church of Houston during a meeting Saturday, July 19. The church of more than 2,600 members – the 22nd largest in the PCUSA – will pay $440,000 over five years to the presbytery in exchange for its departure to align with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

The dismissal came seven weeks after more than 89 percent of the Grace congregation voted to leave the PCUSA and just eight days before a vote to call Trey Little as the new pastor.

Grace Executive Director of Ministry Support Hardie Morgan said there were questions raised regarding the dismissal prior to Saturday’s presbytery vote, but he said the process was completed in a smooth manner.

“It was a gracious discussion as it has been before,” Morgan said. “The whole process has been extremely gracious and, hopefully, a good witness for the kingdom.”

Before departure from the presbytery meeting, there was a laying of hands on the contingent representing Grace by New Covenant presbyters and a time of blessing for the church as it begins life in ECO. A day later, presbytery representatives attended services at Grace, and blessings for the future were exchanged for both parties.


grace2Payment to the presbytery

Grace anticipated paying an estimated $203,856 to the presbytery for per capita apportionment over a five-year period.

The final settlement of $440,000 took into account that financial component as well as a voluntary payment to satisfy the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) ruling regarding property issues.

The amount represents slightly more than 10 percent of the church’s unrestricted offerings and contributions of $4,351,893 from June 1, 2013, to May 31, 2014.

Grace made the first of five equal payments at the time of dismissal and will pay $88,000 by July 19 each of the next four years to satisfy its financial obligation to the presbytery.


No anger in leaving

Morgan indicated there was no one particular issue that led to the decision to leave the denomination. He cited issues such as social actions taken by the PCUSA, changes to the Book of Order and the denomination’s position on Israel as just a few talking points that factored into the recommendation to depart.

“I wouldn’t say it was any one issue as much as it was the desire to focus less on the issues of church governance and social actions,” Morgan explained. “It felt like we were having those conversations all the time, and they were a distraction from being the hands and feet of Jesus. We simply felt called to be somewhere else.”

He added that call did not come about as a result of anger or animosity.

“We’re not mad, and we’re not storming out. We just felt led to be a witness elsewhere,” Morgan continued. “We still have a great love for our friends in New Covenant Presbytery, and we think they still have that love and affection for us.”


Pastor Trey Little and his family.

A new pastor, a new denomination

As it makes the transition into a new denomination, Grace also will have new leadership from the pulpit, assuming the July 27 vote to call Little is in the affirmative.

Little will be introduced to the congregation by the church’s Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) as the candidate to assume the role of senior pastor, which has been filled on an interim basis by Sam Knight for about two and a half years.

He previously spent four years in youth ministry at Grace (1996-2000) and was the church’s director of Youth Ministry prior to attending Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In 2003 Little became pastor of Matthews Memorial Presbyterian Church in Albany, Texas, and he has been the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio since 2011.

“I think with the collaboration of a new pastor and a new denomination, our people are looking forward with anticipation,” Morgan said. “Going through discernment (for a denominational home and a pastor) helped us focus on what is important and what we believe. There is a great hope and anticipation for what our future holds. We’ve all come together with a great sense of anticipation.”


Downsized presbytery

Ten congregations have left New Covenant Presbytery for other denominations.

Grace is the fifth church from NCP to be dismissed to join ECO, joining Advent Presbyterian Church in Spring, West Isle Presbyterian Church in Galveston, First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood and Providence Church of Southeast Texas (Nederland) in the newest Presbyterian denomination.

Four other churches have been dismissed by the presbytery, including Memorial Presbyterian Church in San Augustine and First Presbyterian Church of Lake Jackson to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Heritage Presbyterian Church to the Evangelical Covenant Church and First Presbyterian Church in Freeport to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Windwood Presbyterian, which has been engaged in prolonged litigation with the presbytery over church property issues – voted to disaffiliate in May to join ECO.


Related articles

Grace Presbyterian Church votes to leave PCUSA, join ECO

Grace session approves congregational meeting to request dismissal

Congregational vote for dismissal recommended for Houston’s Grace Presbyterian


Comments 41

  • Could someone provide a cliff notes account of how the PCUSA’s contend that they own all church property. Is it something signed off by each church and when was it instituted.

    • When a Presbyterian church is organized, it’s officials subscribe to the denominations BOOK OF ORDER and agree to adhere to it as a condition of affiliation. Buried within the BOO is the phrase that the real estate et al is held in trust for the denomination. That is interpreted that even though the property has been bought and paid for by the congregation, as a condition of affiliation with the denomination, PCUSA, the denomination ultimately controls/owns
      the property, and the congregation is simply using it. The opposing view boils down to the argument that the real estate has been acquired and paid for by the congregation, and is titled in the name of the church – therefor the property should be controlled by the local church. Different states have viewed this matter both ways, depending on the real estate laws of the state.

      • Not quite so simple. The majority of PCUSA churches were organized far before the property trust clause was inserted into the BOO. As such they did not publicly consent to this trust clause. Legally a trust must be openly agreed to by both parties involved. An “implied trust” cannot be enforced, particularly by the party concocting and seeking to benefit from the relationship. That is one reason why “neutral principles” states have declared this clause null and void with regard to determining ownership of congregational properties. At least, such is my understanding to date.

        • That being the case, common sense would indicate that churches organized prior to the insert of the trust clause would be in a much better legal position to retain their property in perpetuity. Unless, of course, such churches had to subsequently agree in writing to adhere to the clause in order to remain in the denomination.

    • The Texas Supreme Court has affirmed the “neutral principles of law” as the way that church property disputes are to be determined in Texas.

      This has greatly weakened the Presbytery’s claim on the property.

  • Scott,

    The PCA has the same government that we do, the only difference is that the churches own their own property, the pastors are held accountable just like ours’, same with the EPC,ECO, no trust clause for any of them.

    Goes back to what about trust clause, it’s back door stealing.

  • This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ – I honestly don’t know. Presumably the ECO has no trust clause, but what are the rules about leaving it if one of the new churches changes their minds and wants out?

    • Each congregation owns its own property, there is no implied trust, nor will there be. While a corporation board of a presbytery has the authority to own land, most presbyteries are run out of existing churches as an additional duty.

      If a congregation wishes to move to another denomination, its up to the presbytery. I expect someone with more ECO experience would have additional details, but considering that ECO does not consider itself the ‘true church’ but one branch of the tree that is the universal church of Christ, I expect that there would not be any issue to someone leaving.

      You may want to do some research of your own:

  • Guest …
    the ‘trust’ clause was added to the UPCUSA’s Book of Order in the 50’s or 60’s, the PCUS added it in the very last Book of Order it created in 1983. Yeah, 50 years is a long time, but before that, there was no implied trust, and if states use neutral principles in property cases, such a trust has no validity.

    So, for churches that were in existence before the trust clause was added, which for churches who ere in the old PCUS is most of them, and in the old UPCUSA a good majority; there is no trust entered on their deeds, nothing will turn up in any title search, and the rules (as you say they are) should not apply. .. and they don’t in Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and a few others.

  • The trust clause isn’t new.

    Gentlemen and gentlewomen, what exactly do you think is the legal tie between the corporate entity known as any given PCUSA church and the corporate entity known as the PCUSA? Is there no accountability to the denomination (and whether they are ‘sinners’ or have “rejected God” isn’t a legal question)? No protection from abusive pastors or sessions provided to the rear ends in the pews? Every church is essentially an independent church, as a majority of the session can unilaterally vote the church out on a whim?

    BTW, anyone know the rules on leaving the ECO?

    • WOW SCOTT,WOW. With all due respect, just stop while you’re ahead.

      • Really, asking what legal ties a church has to a denomination that they can’t unilaterally walk out on is out of bounds, James? Pointing out that denominational accountability can be an asset (hence the ECO, instead of the departing churches remaining independent) . Mentioning that pastors can be abusive and the flock may need to go over the heads of those in charge of the church is off limits?


        • The PCA has the same government that we do, the only difference is that the churches own their own property, the pastors are held accountable just like ours’, same with the EPC,ECO, no trust clause for any of them.

          Goes back to what about trust clause, it’s back door stealing.

    • i’m finding that most of the time locals don’t want to rock the boat, will cover up and/or ignore just about anything in order to maintain the status quo. strange how local churches associated with major denominations often seem to take on a life of their own. a few that i’m familiar with give lip service to headquarters, then sometimes do/teach the opposite of what the denomination says they believe. i still think many of these rogue pastors are doing it with deliberate intent, trying to take down Christ and his Church. it’s getting to the point that there’s no such thing as a safe haven for Christians, anywhere. as far as getting outside attorneys involved, i go back and forth on that issue, sometimes i think it’s a good idea, other times i think not. if you spend enough time dealing with attorneys and law enforcement you’ll eventually figure out they tend to be just as corrupt as some of the rogue Christian churches, i.e. it’s all about the money. there are no easy answers. frankly i think we’re on our own at this point, time to prepare for a wild ride; what we’re seeing is going to get worse, much worse, before it gets any better. trying to keep groups of faithful sheep strung together with string and duct tape is proving to be futile. we’re dealing with powers of evil far beyond our ability to comprehend.

    • The historic connection was the Presbytery, Synod and denomination could exclude a minister or a congregation from belonging, not that they could exclude the same from leaving.

      The understanding is that if you are going to be a part of X this is what you must adhere to. If you don’t adhere to this, then leave X.

      The connection was built on mutual consent and agreement.

  • Re: Windwood Presbyterian and First Presbyterian suits against New Covenant:

    “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” – 1 Cor 6:7

    Now the usual suspects will tell us that “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” only applies to quotes they use against others, but they are spiritually sophisticated and biblicaly educated enough to know that what the verse really means doesn’t apply to them.

    • Scott,

      The trust clause is back door stealing and blackmail, trust’s are set up by the person paying for whatever with their own moneyand they control their money ie the Session, congregation etc, not the spoiled little rich kids, ie the PCUSA who think they are entitled, why do think half the courts in the country don’t rule in favor of the clause.

      • “The PCUSA: It’s All About the Money”

        Don’t fall for Scott’s line. People use that argument to tell conservative/orthodox churches that the revisionists deserve all of the property and assets of congregations that they did not build.

  • It’s hard to believe that First Pres Houston managed to make the mistakes they did in the dismissal process.
    BTW John you are wrong, churches would not pay thru the nose to keep their own buildings for an “back door attachment to Babylon”, I would like to know why you think that. Or is because they are not joining the “right” Presbyterian denomination. We are all ears!

    • How are things in Georgia?

    • I am curious as to what “mistakes” you think first pres made. They definitely underestimated how organized the oppostion group was, and how they would use the heritage of First Pres. in Houston as a way to get older members to vote to stay. The opposition was also helped out by a member who is a writer for the Houston Chronicle who wrote two front page articles within 8 days of the vote which were definitely slanted towards staying in the denomination. Other than that, I think they did everything they were supposed to in the discernment process which was to present the congregation with both sides of the issue and have the congregation vote to determine what they wanted to do. Keep in mind that First Pres. is located in the Museum/University area which is probably a more liberal part of town.

      • I would not call losing by 36 votes overwhelming oppostion. Just a miscalculation and a gamble that did not pay off. I’m staying put in the PCUSA, but the churches that want to leave, let them leave, outside of the per capita and mission commentments, they owe nothing else to the PCUSA. For those of us who stay, God will provide.

      • What Chronicle articles are you referring to?

  • For Grace Presby. Church to leave the PCUSA to the ECO is commendable, however, the ECO, from what I understand is a back door attachment to Babylon(Louisville). I maybe wrong, and stand to be corrected, but, what seems to be a victory, to me, is still attached to the same apostate pcusa.

    • John,

      show me in any of the ECO documents, declarations or actions, what justifies your claim of ‘backdoor attachment’ ??

      That is such an outrageous statement I would have thought it was coming from someone who is a PC(USA) institutionalist.

      • Agreed, R.C. This is no time (not that there ever is) to throw stones at Christians making decisions on which body to align with. Last time I checked, there is only ONE holy catholic, apostolic church. 😉

  • I understand and appreciate your post Don however I submit the following:

    “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

    Jesus – Luke 6:27-31 NIV

    • Yes, if it is YOUR cloak! My personal property is always at God’s disposal for ministry. But a congregation is a gathered body that holds all things in common, per Acts. Giving that money to unbelievers or (worse?) those who deny Scripture from within the fold is a wrongful act. One does not hand an alcoholic a bottle of rum nor should we hand over the assets of the faithful to those who would use it for evil.

  • I don’t think the word “voluntary” is being used correctly in this story. Presbytery would not have allowed Grace to leave without handing over the money.

    This $440,000 would have been far better spent in taking presbytery to court and asserting the congregation’s ownership of the property. That would have benefitted not only Grace, but many other congregations.

    My hope is still in Highland Park holding firm, refusing to settle, and winning its court case in October. Because if every congregation does what Grace has done, paying the exit ransom, then presbyteries in Texas will continue to wield the illegitimate power of the trust clause to control congregations

    • “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” – 1 Cor 6:7

      • Then what do you have to say about the PC(USA) joining in an ‘amicus brief’ with the TEC Rump Diocese of Fort Worth to the Supreme Court trying to avoid any possible ruling about the use of ‘neutral principles’ by the Texas courts.

        If the ‘neutral principles’ rule prevails in Texas, then there is no need for any church to pay its way out in order to keep its property.

        • Yep. It is the PCUSA who brings lawsuits and money power plays into this picture. Shameful!

          • some quick research about this topic revealed that the trust form of property has been the law of the land in PCUSA for a very long time. makes no sense to cry foul in the middle of an agreement, knowing what the rules were from day one.

    • Thanks, Don! Why would/should a Christian church use its tithes and offerings – the Lord’s rightful monies – to turn them over to an apostate church. Receiving money from the world and using it for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ redeems it. Vice versa – taking the Lord’s Money and giving it to those – (the PCUSA) – who deny the person and work of Jesus and destroy the integrity of his church is ‘robbing God’ of what is rightfully his. Cast out the infidels, don’t reward them for their betrayal.

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