Minden Presbyterian Church (MPC), located 30 miles south of Shreveport in northern Louisiana, was released from the PCUSA to align with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) during the Oct. 19, 2013, meeting of Presbytery of the Pines.
The 118-member congregation, founded in 1851, was not required to make payment to the presbytery, though the Minden session elected to continue its current missional giving to the presbytery and pay per-capita dues for 2014 (a one-time gift of approximately $2,500) as a token of good faith.
“There was no real rancor about this, no hard feelings of animosity,” said Phil McLarty, stated supply pastor of MPC since June 2013. “It was just a grueling decision that had to be made at some point. The presbytery did not view the Minden church as rebellious or betraying and tried to be understanding and supportive throughout the process. That sure made things easier.”
“It was a fair process. There were no hard feelings,” he said. “There was cooperation by both sides, and they reached an agreement that was best for both parties. I thought the handling was pretty remarkable. It was exemplary.”
The presbytery did not respond to an email from The Layman about the dismissal.
The process took almost a year to complete after approximately two-thirds of the congregation indicated a desire to leave the PCUSA. McLarty said the prevailing school of thought even with a divided vote was to keep the congregation intact.
“In a word, people wanted to remain loyal to the congregation,” he said. “There were those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to stay loyal to the PCUSA and maintain the status quo. It was not so much a divided congregation as it was a divided vote.”
McLarty explained that many members of the congregation are family or have been long-time friends. Rather than allowing the decision to split them, they chose to move into another denomination and stay true to the local church rather than having division creep into the ranks.
“This congregation is still unified and loyal to each other,” he said. “There is a genuine love and devotion for each other. They are family and long-time friends who live in the same small community and share a common life. They did not want to let this come between them. They are united as a family but just agree to disagree sometimes.”
A report from the Presbytery of the Pines Administrative Commission (AC), formed to work with the church in July 2013, found that to be true. A portion of the report read, “… the Commission decided, based on testimonies we had heard, that an overwhelming majority of the congregation would rather preserve congregational unity than remain in the PCUSA.”
That finding of “no true church within the Presbyterian Church (USA)” factored into the decision that allowed Minden Presbyterian Church to retain its property, and the AC contacted those members not wanting to leave the PCUSA to determine how their needs could be met.
The cordial relationship made the process easier, though its duration seemed to stretch out longer than anticipated.
“It took almost a year, but part of that is being Presbyterian,” McLarty surmised. “Nothing moves fast. We do things decently and in order. But there was great concern taken in making sure the congregation was serious about taking this step.”
McLarty said there was not a particular issue that led to a decision to leave the PCUSA other than a perception of a growing liberal theology within the national denomination.
“The church just seems to be moving away from traditional beliefs and the traditional Presbyterian Reformed faith,” McLarty said, adding that the EPC was selected as the new denominational home because its theology and preferred beliefs fell more closely in line with Minden’s than other denominations considered.
Handling the transition
While he is not making the move to the EPC, McLarty has been given approval by the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry (COM) to labor outside the bounds of the PCUSA as Minden makes its transition to the EPC and begins the search for a new full-time pastor.
“I think that is what God has called me to do, to shepherd this flock until that transition takes place,” he said.
McLarty added that the Minden congregation is looking forward to its new future as it seeks a pastor, sets goals and begins a visioning process for what God intends the church to do. A large part of that is fulfillment of the Great Commission.
“It’s a matter of reaching out. We keep reiterating over and over getting back to the basics of being the church of Jesus Christ, making disciples and proclaiming the Word,” McLarty said. “We’re all in the same family, regardless of denomination, and we need to be respectful of each other and serve the kingdom. It’s much bigger than any congregation or denomination.”