Friday, April 25th, 2014

Menlo Park to vote on leaving PCUSA; price tag set at $8.8 million

mppc logoWith a price tag of more than $8.8 million, the congregation of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California will decide on March 2 whether it wants to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to affiliate with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

During a short presentation at Sunday’s (Jan. 26) service, Senior Pastor John Ortberg informed his congregation of “some good news and some daunting news,” concerning their desire to leave the PCUSA. The good news: “We now have a firm date for a congregational vote that will be March 2.” The daunting news, he said, “is the price tag … $8,890,000 – that is considerably steeper than what we expected to have to pay.”

A team from Menlo Park and from the Presbytery of San Francisco had been negotiating together to “determine the amount our dismissal will be,” Ortberg told the congregation, and came to the “price tag” last week.

The session of Menlo Park voted unanimously on June 11, 2013, to recommend that the church seek dismissal from the PCUSA. The vote followed years of questioning, praying, fasting and studying the issue, according to Menlo Park’s “MPPC & denominational affiliation” web site.

“With a spirit of love in Christ for the PCUSA and the Presbytery of San Francisco, MPPC’s leadership is wholeheartedly recommending this course so that we can pursue God’s calling on the church as best we can,” the web site stated.

Ortberg began his presentation to the congregation by saying that “On the denominational front, a lot of you know that our elders have had a strong sense that to achieve the mission that God has given us, we need to seek dismissal from our current denomination and join a new Presbyterian denomination called ECO.”

He used his time Sunday to respond to what he called a “few significant questions.”

 

ECOIsn’t there a cheaper way?

“No, there’s not,” Ortberg said. A negotiated settlement with the presbytery is the only means to seek dismissal from the denomination with the church’s property intact.

Ortberg said that some wondered if the church could get a lower amount if it filed a lawsuit in civil court.

“That would probably be financially unproductive … it would definitely be spiritually unproductive,” he said. “It would be a bad witness in the community to have that kind of litigation in the Church of Jesus.”

“We could say that it’s too high a price and stay in the denomination, but,” Ortberg said that the session feels that the “process itself, what we have gone through this past week, has simply underscored how important it is for us to be able to enter into the freedom of a value-adding affiliation.”

 

Is it worth the price?

On Friday, Jan. 24, “knowing the full dollar amount, our elders and ordained staff voted unanimously to move ahead with a vote and recommend to you — our congregation– that we seek dismissal.”

The reason is important, he said. “All of this is about a much greater vision. This is not about what we are trying to get away from. This is about what God is calling us to.”

Last fall, Ortberg had spoken to the church about wanting to reach the Bay area for Christ. “We want to play our part as God enables us … We believe we’ve got to be in a denominational setting that will help us attract great, young, Christ-following leaders.”

Ortberg said that the church’s negotiating team wanted the church to know that “they are even more convinced at the end of this process than they were at the beginning that we need to seek dismissal.”

 

Will this be easy?

“No,” he said. But, he added that the elders and staff “have been working overtime” since finding out about the price tag. “We are praying and planning how we begin to pay for this.”

The elders and staff believe, said Ortberg, that they will have a plan to share with the congregation at the town hall meetings scheduled for Feb. 9 and 16.

“We are committed to doing this in a way that we do not cut back on ministry, that we do not de-accelerate our mission,” he said.

 

Is God anxious about this?

“No!” said Ortberg. “When in the Bible does God ever give anybody an easy assignment? … I am more convinced than ever that God is at work in this. I am more convicted than ever that God is calling us to this process to be our best selves, to have a vision for the future that is more challenging and brighter than ever before, to not be bitter, to not get gossipy, to not impugn motives, to not be anxious or afraid … to be wide open and loving and arms out embracing and just confident in God.”

 

What does God want me to do?

“Our large request now is every member — everyone who loves our church — is to pray,” said Ortberg. “We’re asking that every single person that’s a member of our church would make this a personal spiritual journey, make this a priority.”

“This church’s best days are in front of it, not behind it,” added Ortberg. “This church’s greatest assignment is in front of it. The spiritual need of the Bay area is greatest in the days before us and if we pray, and if we listen, and if we hold together, and if we surrender, God will lead. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

 

Related articles:

Tell Me This Isn’t About the Money, October 22, 2013

Toddler Property Laws and the PC(USA) Trust Clause, October 23, 2013

Introducing ECO: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, January 19, 2012

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About the author: Paula R. Kincaid

Paula R. Kincaid is the editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. She has been employed by the Presbyterian Lay Committee since March 3, 1998. She lives in Hudson, N.C.

27 comments

  1. Lori says:

    MPPC sits on very valuable land. If the clergy and congregation want to leave their denomination, that’s fine, but they should expect to pay fair value for that property, the buildings and other facilities. Expecting otherwise doesn’t seem very Christian to me.

    • Loren Golden says:

      You mean, pay twice. The congregation has already purchased the property, and I doubt very seriously that either the Presbytery of San Francisco or the Presbyterian Church (USA) contributed so much as one red cent toward the purchase of that property.

    • Ernie Banks says:

      MPPC’s property was appraised at $9.5m. The SF Presbytery’s “gracious dismissal policy” says the price should be 10% of market value, or $950K. That is what they should expect to pay.

      At issue is that an independent foundation (COPF) was established in the 1970s for those that wanted to donate property and not have it subject to the PCUSA trust clause. Over time, the value of that property has grown to exceed the value of the property of MPPC. It is the view of the SF Presbytery that the PCUSA trust clause extends beyond the assets of MPPC to those of COPF and to the private foundations that have donated to COPF in the past.

      MPPC can choose not to sue if it wishes. But I think that the foundation should go to court and show that PCUSA is making a claim on its assets, and ask the court to rule that PCUSA has no claim on the foundation’s assets. Then the foundation should ask the court to have PCUSA pay its legal costs.

      I also think that this deal sets an extraordinarily bad precedent. In spite of what the SF Presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy states, the effective policy is not 10% of church assets; it is whatever the market will bear, and the SF Presbytery should negotiate as hard as they can to get as much as they can.

  2. collin says:

    Speaking only for myself, this process has been a spiritual journey: optimism, dashed hopes, exasperation, and trying to be my best self. It’s been a journey from Romans 12:19 and Psalm 37:8-9 to a point where the words of Jesus, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” actually make sense. And let’s be clear; the PoSF and PCUSA are not torturing or killing us; they are not burning our buildings or bombing our neighborhoods. All they want is money, and my father owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
    May the Lord bless the Presbytery of San Francisco. May he bring revival to our perishing, distracted Bay Area. May he grant repentance to the Presbytery. May he grant us to be free from encumbrance and help us to fulfill his mission in our beloved Bay Area.

  3. Steve says:

    Sadly, if MPPC accepts this….it will be like blood in a sea of Piranhas. This sets a bad precedent for every church that enters the dismissal process after them. I hope they will embrace our connectional nature and reject this ‘settlement’ for what it really is (extortion) and the damage it will do to other churches, of which our church is one

    • Ernie Banks says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. Just because MPPC can pay the bill does not mean it should.

      Moreover, the plan to pay the bill relies on support from the Church of the Pioneers Foundation (COPF). Those that donated to COPF did it expressly based on promises that COPF would not be subject to the PCUSA trust clause – their donation would support the ministry of MPPC, not SF Presbytery. Using COPF funds to pay extortion to the SF Presbytery violates the promises made to the COPF donors.

  4. L.Lee says:

    There is one thing the PCUSA does care about and that is their reputation to love and be righteous. Yet they act just the opposite. This demand could ruin and erode their reputation even further.
    I believe that pressure in the media and among the people to voice a united
    but peaceful objection by letters by as many believers on both sides of the issue might sway the Louiville Leadership. All, on both sides should speak out against this oppression.
    With God all things are possible. God has unlimited resources for the things He wants to do and prayer does open doors to God’s will.
    If God is for Menlo Park leaving the denomination…….nothing will stop this…..who can effectively work against it. Yes…..pray like everything depends on God to work in this His will.

    The looser will be the Presbytery and the denomination who will lose credibility and the Spirits guidance
    If they harden their hearts further by taking such actions.

  5. Keith E Johnston says:

    On the PC(USA) website is recorded the following:”Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.”
    I would suggest that the “whom alone we worship and serve” part is a lie.
    One of the reasons that some of us have such contempt for the PC(USA) denomination is because, as a corporate organization, it operates as a thief and a liar. This denomination tries to keep secret what it actually believes about theology and ethics lest it not be able to fleece the naïve and ignorant. The tactic of the PC(USA) towards those who disagree with their theology and ethics is to hold them hostage by making outlandish financial demands and trying to keep them in the fold by coercion. Since the PC(USA) is old (median age 63 as of 2011), maybe by 2040 the denomination will have largely disappeared..

    • Ernie Banks says:

      I think you are being a bit harsh. We don’t need to call them names like “thief” and “liar”. I think we can say that they are not following their adopted policy. I also think they are taking advantage of the legal environment in California to negotiate hard and extract as much as they can. I think we can expect them to do this over and over and over. Lastly, we can expect them to waste the money.

  6. Jim Caraher says:

    Why would any conscientious Christian want to be part of a denomination that behaves like this?

  7. John says:

    PCUSA through San Francisco Presbytery is broadcasting its priority–GREED. If I believed the presbytery would use this money to advance the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ by planting new churches, caring for the poor, confronting the 10/40 window with the Good News in alignment with the theological convictions clearly stated in the Book of Confessions I could be more sympathetic. These will not be the priorities addressed with the purchase of this Exit Visa. Instead, the now dominant agenda of the PCUSA, contrary to the clear teaching of the Word of God, will be pursued. The funds will be squandered and the Enemy will have another day.

    This is another sad day for PCUSA when GREED trumped GRACIOUS DISMISSAL.

  8. Such a discouraging scenario. I lived in the Bay Area- I sought a Call to serve in Ministry there – worshipped many times at Menlo Park …now am glad I am not a part of such a Presbytery. Prayers abound during this process for all sides….
    Kate

  9. Steve says:

    Tragic. More churches need to take the interim option of stopping all payments to their Presbyteries to show them what “No Money” look like. So this is S.F. Presbytery’s Gracious Dismissal Policy……”REAPING WHERE IT DID NOT SOW!” Sad, sad day for Christ’s Kingdom.

  10. Richard says:

    I have been practicing law almost forty years, and have spent twenty of those years arbitrating and mediating. I know a bluff when I see one, and I can say with all certainty that the Presbytery is bluffing.

    In line with what Jack said, can you imagine the financial impact on the Presbytery if the the Congregation simply got up and left? The Presbytery would never realize $8 million for the church and grounds. No buyer would pay that. The building, itself, would cost that much just to convert to decent office space, assuming California’s stifling regulatory scheme would even permit a conversion.

    The Presbytery is playing a weak hand.

    • Ernie Banks says:

      I wish you were right.

      The land that sits under the church has been appraised at $9.5m. Less a 6% commission, you get to the negotiated figure. Land in Menlo Park is very valuable, and it is possible they may get more upon a sale. It is on the edge of the business district, and would probably be developed into high end condos.

      The gracious dismissal policy calls for the local church to pay 10% of the market value of the property. If they followed that policy, the price tag would be reasonable. The problem is that the SF Presbytery is not following their policy. They are making a claim on the assets of 3rd parties to justify their demand for the full price of the property.

      I just wish that MPPC had exercised their right to exempt their property from the trust clause when PCUSA was formed.

  11. Jack says:

    I could not agree more with Don and the other commentators.

    The tyrants running the presbytery are depending on the “sheep” to cave in and submit to extortion. And why not? They’re caving! You’ve got church elders saying that resistance would be “spritually unproductive.” What???

    I urge the elders to tell the presbytery to take their offer and shove it. The church is not the bricks and mortar. The church is the members! What is needed is a Joshua to lead the church to the promised land, even if the journey takes 40 years! Meet in fields, under tents, in gymnasiums, and in high school auditoriums, if you must, but do not pay these racketeers one cent of tribute!

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing!” — Edmund Burke

  12. John Erthein says:

    This is an astounding amount of money to demand for a congregation to be dismissed, IMO. It is akin to the proverbial “pound of flesh.” Very disappointed in the Presbytery of San Francisco for what looks like extortion. Prayers arise for all concerned.

  13. Dave says:

    8 million is worth stepping out of the line of fire…

  14. Michael Neubert says:

    It is extortion – the desperate angry grasping of a dying denomination – and the best evidence of why no faithful Christian can stay in the PCUSA.

  15. Don says:

    I know I’ve become a broken record, and might be moving beyond that to becoming a bore, on the subject of the trust clause. But I can’t help commenting on this.

    Has there ever been a more consequential, a more destructive, clause in a Presbyterian book of order? The leadership of the PCUSA apparently had the foresight to realize that its social and political agenda might very well eventually drive away large numbers of congregations, so it shrewdly inserted the trust clause. Now many presbyteries, like San Francisco Presbytery in this case, are wielding the clause to powerful effect.

    $8.8 million. That’s about $2,600 per member of Menlo Park. If the 600-member congregation of which I used to be a member were required to pay that much to leave, it would come to $1.6 million – far more money than the congregation has, and in fact equal to the total appraised value of the church’s real estate.

    I can’t help but notice two things about the PCUSA; how much it has become like a political organization, pursuing an agenda virtually identical to that of the Democrat party; and how much it has become like a bank, sometimes “foreclosing” on the property of congregations, and sometimes accepting payment in lieu of foreclosure. What I don’t see is the PCUSA spending a lot of time being like a church.

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