Seeking Hope in a new denomination

hopelogoA Minnesota congregation of nearly 1,200 members is paying more than a million dollars and losing one of its campuses but finds hope for the future with the move to a new denomination.

Hope Presbyterian Church, located south of Minneapolis in Richfield (Hennepin County), was permitted to move from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians during a May 13 meeting of the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area (PTCA).

Final closing on the agreement took place June 30.

The church, started in 1954, celebrated its 60th anniversary in March and is the first congregation from the presbytery to be permitted to move. Hope also is just the second congregation in the state of Minnesota to affiliate with ECO, joining Lawrence Presbyterian Church in Campbell.

While the congregation was dismissed to become part of ECO, the PTCA would not transfer the ordination of teaching elders David Lenz (senior pastor), Judie Ritchie and Bruce Hillyer (associate pastors), and K.C. DiNardo (director of Student Ministries), forcing them to renounce jurisdiction to leave the PCUSA.

“We are excited to be joining ECO. We are deeply drawn to the excellent and eloquent statement of essential tenets that we will ‘receive, adopt and be bound by,’” Lenz wrote in an email to The Layman. “We are inspired by the spirit of innovation that permeates ECO.  We look forward to being a denomination whose mission is to help congregations flourish. We anticipate being challenged by ECO to participate in church planting and formation of new worshiping communities. We value ECO’s clear affirmation of women in leadership.”


HopegreetThe settlement

The session asked the presbytery to begin the process leading to dismissal in July 2012, and an Administrative Commission (AC) was formed four months later. In July 2013, the AC recommended the congregation be dismissed, and negotiations for departure terms commenced in September 2013.

According to the terms reached by the two sides, Hope agreed to make a $1.2 million cash payment, plus all expenses incurred by the presbytery during the process (nearly $100,000). The presbytery also will take possession of the congregation’s Oliver Christian Ministry Center (OCMC) that came to the church in 2007 when Hope merged with the Oliver Church.

Preliminary terms were approved by the presbytery in March 2014 and given the final OK during the May 13 meeting following Hope’s congregational vote of 522-17 (96.8 percent) on May 4 in favor of approving the settlement to depart the PCUSA and align with ECO.

Additionally, a vote of 451-31 (93.6 percent) gave approval to transfer the title of the Oliver Center in southern Minneapolis to the PTCA. Hope had invested about $100,000 in the building and has operated a robust, multi-tenant ministry along with a free preschool, free health clinic and after-school center as well as several congregations there for the last seven years.

Lenz indicated that the AC was adamant in negotiations that the Oliver Center be part of the property settlement, perhaps to prevent the church from considering a sale of the building to use proceeds for funding the financial agreement.

“I can assure you it was not (the plan to sell the building despite offers that had been made),” Lenz wrote. “We literally weep over the loss of this building because of the sense of loyalty we feel to the Oliver congregation that came to us seeking merger and because of the excellent ministries that take place here.”

There also is a 10-year reversionary clause that will allow the presbytery to reclaim the property and contents of Hope’s main campus if the congregation ceases to be part of a Reformed denomination.

“We are well aware that this settlement far surpasses most other settlements across the denomination,” Lenz wrote. “We had hoped for a much smaller settlement, and it took time to accept that this was the price we must pay to follow what we believe to be God’s call to ECO. The presbytery understands the trust clause to mean that it owns everything:  our land, our buildings, our Bibles and hymnals, our pencils and pens. Given that, we are glad that we will be able to keep our main campus in Richfield and Camp Ojibway, the camp we own and operate in Eden Valley, Minn., for approximately 10 percent of the appraised value.”

Lenz noted there was consideration given to walking away from the property, but the congregation did not feel called to do so.


HopekidsAt odds with PTCA, PCUSA

Citing a “warmly evangelical” stance, Hope has found itself at odds with the positions of the presbytery and PCUSA through the years and sought a denominational home with a clear and coherent theological center.

“As one of our elders eloquently put it, ‘We are not angry, just weary.’  Much of our time at the session level, over the course of many years, has been given to differentiating ourselves from actions of the PCUSA and the presbytery,” Lenz wrote. “We are ready to move into a new environment where we         can focus on being the best congregation for Jesus Christ that we can be, inviting people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and giving evidence of the kingdom of God in our midst. We say every Sunday, ‘We are centered in Christ, sent in His love.’”

A document on the church web site referenced the PCUSA’s changes to allow gay clergy in 2011 that led to an understanding that Biblical/theological consensus over human sexuality and ordination standards is impossible to achieve, showing the ever-widening theological gap between the congregation and the national denomination.

Furthermore, the Hope congregation sought a denominational home that does not divert its ministry and mission with the distractions of divisive issues, those driven by culture rather than theological truth such as divestment, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Hope also wanted to be part of a denomination that cultivates relationships and trust, one that views the congregation as the primary center of mission, becoming part of a denomination where the risk and reward of investing in property is lodged in the congregation rather than falling victim to the PCUSA’s trust clause.

“We seek to be part of a denomination that can help Hope Church thrive in our commitment to serve a changing world with the timeless message of Jesus Christ,” the document reads. “When a denomination lacks a coherent theological center, mission gets sidelined. When a denomination lacks trust, relationships are difficult. When a denomination has a bureaucratic mindset, innovative ministry is hampered. When a denomination asserts control over a congregation’s property and assets, facility and asset development is compromised. We believe Hope Church would be better served in a different denominational home than the PCUSA.”


HopecampWalking the path of dismissal

Lenz, who has been the pastor at Hope since 2002, spoke of the commitment members of his congregation have had to the presbytery through the years while acknowledging the differences between the two sides.

“We have invested deeply in the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area. Our pastors and elders have been very active as commissioners, moderator of presbytery, chair of the Committee on Ministry, members of Presbytery Council, Committee on Preparation for Ministry, Nominating Committee and Personnel Committee,” he wrote. “We have been fully engaged. We have made friends in the midst of theological disagreement. We see the members of the presbytery as brothers and sisters in the Lord who have a different worldview, different passions, a different way of reading and understanding the Bible.

“The commitment of Hope leaders has been to show honor and respect while being true to our convictions and what we believe to be God’s call to move to ECO.”

He also noted the difficulties associated with the dismissal process, as well as the sadness of departure and blessings extended on the day the church’s exit from the PCUSA was granted.

“The process has been difficult because the presbytery is grieved to release us and because the financial settlement is so substantial,” Lenz wrote. “Through that difficulty, we have moved forward with prayer and a genuine desire for mutual understanding of each other. In the end, we don’t fully understand each other, but we are glad we made the effort.

“Members of the presbytery shed tears as the dismissal process came to its conclusion on May 13.  Words of blessing were exchanged. There were hugs and handshakes and expressions of good will.”


Focusing on the future

With the dismissal process behind them, members of Hope now have the opportunity to more fully focus their attention on their mission while putting forth efforts to raise the finances needed for the settlement with the presbytery.

“We will stay as focused as we can on our mission to be ‘centered in Christ, sent in His love,’” Lenz wrote. “We now give our energy to raising the $1.3 million needed for this settlement. We will borrow this amount and engage in a fundraising campaign. This will be a huge challenge for us, but we are trusting God.

“We look forward to moving into ECO, making new friends and experiencing a new way of being the church.”


Comments 19

  • I am ignorant of the reasoning, but not transferring credentials seems to me to be spiteful and mean-spirited.
    The bottom line is, as usual…does this action glorify God?

  • Congratulations to Hope! The presbytery should be ashamed of the great price it demanded for your freedom to worship God according to His Holy Word – but we know our God is greater and will provide. May you thrive in your new denomination.

  • What bothers me is the vindictiveness of not releasing the ordained ministers from the PC(USA). WHY? Why treat fellow brothers and sisters in Christ like that. Again, it shows the intolerance of the ‘tolerant’, who tolerate everything but being faithful to orthodox beliefs.

  • I was told by a retired PCUSA minister— who happens to be my daughter’s father-in-law— that the reason PCUSA takes the property of the churches who are leaving the PCUSA is to teach the exiting churches to not be materialistic. My jaw dropped. So, PCUSA is teaching the exiting churches to not be materialistic by being materialistic itself? Exactly how does THAT work?

    My husband and I were attending Southport Presbyterian in Indianapolis when it left the PCUSA in 2009. (We have since moved because of my husband’s job situation.) Southport joined the EPC and are quite happy with the new affiliation, but it cost them over $300,000 plus legal expenses for the freedom.

    We have yet to hear a reasonable explanation as to why PCUSA is allowed to seize local churches’ property. They didn’t purchase it. They don’t maintain it. They were given per capital money for membership over the years. The way I see it, the local churches owe PCUSA absolutely nothing. PCUSA is the one who broke off the relationship by their UNGODLY decisions.

    Pray for the PCUSA— but exit now. My husband and I are both elders in the PCUSA, but we can no longer support a denomination with no regard for the authority of Scripture, the lordship of Jesus Christ, the sanctity of life, or the viability of Israel— much less the gravitas of allowing its slaves (congregations) their freedom.

    • the property rights are best left to attorneys. every situation is different.

      i know here where i live a PCUSA church i attended lost so many members over the past 10 years plus they couldn’t maintain their large buildings on so little income. the presbytery had to step in with financial aid, i don’t know the details. eventually another congregation that needed a temporary building to hold services paid enough ‘rent’ to stabilize the situation. while in ‘financial free fall’ there was talk of turning the deed to the RE over to the presbytery. again i don’t know the details, but it would make sense that the presbytery might actually, in a case like this, legally own the property.
      if i found myself in a congregation that definitely legally owned their property, wanted to separate from PCUSA and keep it’s RE my vote would be to wait until the sheriff showed up and legally evicted us. if the PCUSA wants to play hardball with it’s talk of the legality of gay marriage, abortion and so forth, let the chips fall where they may within the legal system they worship above the word of God. stand your ground. there’s no such thing as negotiating with people who are of PCUSA mindset, it’s like dealing with the mob. i was born and raised PCUSA. this is no different from what i’ve witnessed for decades, it’s only getting worse. my experience is they will drain you of every last dime, tell you it’s for your own ‘good’, then mock you while you starve to death. call it what it is, persecution of the faithful. this has nothing to do with the money, or the RE, they only use those as weapons; if those who are trying to control you could hit you, kill you and get away with it they probably would.

    • Deborah, I totally agree.

  • Jim

    “It will be fascinating to look back ten years from now and see what newly rich presbyteries accomplished with the millions they’re extracting from churches leaving the PC(USA).”

    I hope you are right, all I can tell is the presbyters’ are creating endowments to protect thier jobs.

  • The presbyteries are putting high demands on the ministries of the leaving churches.
    They weigh their worth in property which was gotten by preaching truth yet they do not value the truth
    of these churches. If they did value the preaching and teaching of these evangelical churches they would
    be willing to change the message coming out of the GA…..but no……
    They chose to devalue the ministry that God has grown. They see the accumulation of physical wealth but not the Spiritual wealth. When you don’t value what God values, God will let them go to do that ever things they choose and in the end this will be their penality (see Romans 1).

  • This presbytery may win the award for most disgraceful behavior by insisting on taking the Oliver Center (in addition to the 1.3 million). It will be interesting to see if PTCA continues the missional ministries to diverse communities that Hope Church was carrying out with that property. Especially since the PCUSA professes a deep commitment to social justice.

    Kudos to Pastor Lenz and his congregation for taking the high road. It’s wonderful to have them in the ECO!

  • This article is confusing to me. What exactly is the Hope Presbyterian Church allowed to keep after paying more than a million dollars to the PCUSA?

    To the greedy elites in the PCUSA:

    “The greedy man curses & spurns God.”

    “The treacherous are caught by their own greed.”

  • It will be fascinating to look back ten years from now and see what newly rich presbyteries accomplished with the millions they’re extracting from churches leaving the PC(USA). The last 30 years have been a golden era of church planting in the U.S. as a new generation of creative thinkers re-engineered church for the 21st century. They started churches in living rooms with 15 people and no money and today those churches sit on 100-acre campuses with weekly attendance in the thousands. So presbyteries are poised to make an enormous impact for Christ with 30 years of effective models to learn from and millions in new money. It will interesting to look back ten years from now and see if they were up to the task.

  • We all knew that all Hades was going break loose, you can’t vote for some of the stuff that was passed in the GA, and not expect people to bolt, they knew this was coming, and they know that you can’t go out and build some of these churches economicaly, and the presbyteries also know they could’nt sell them all off if they took over the church buildings. In the states where the trust clause is legal, it’s about the only leverage that departing churches have.
    You can bet in Texas, if the court validate the state supreme ruling on neutral principles, you are going see massive departures, right now, many are keeping quiet and their powder dry, in case the presbyteries start their “gracious seperation” malarky.

  • Now doesn’t this just remind you so much of what happens to Christians in some of these Islamic countries under Sharia law? OK, they can convert, choose to die by the sword, or pay a hefty tax for being Christians. Which choice reminds you of the folks above in this brave church?

    Christians kicking other Christians in the wallet – doesn’t make sense. What’s going on?

  • In the states where the trust clause is legal the leaving churches are going to pay for the ones that left without paying in the other states, very vindictive, but this is what is happening now. The PCUSA will get thier pound of flesh one way or the other.

  • The PCUSA has become more of an extortion racket than the Cosa Nostra.

  • My small congregation paid about 20% more per member than HPC to be dismissed by the Presbytery of Utah to the EPC. As we made plans to deal with the terms on member of Session remarked, “Do you know why divorce costs so much? Because it’s worth it!”

    Not incidentally, even though the PoU gave us a 10-year mortgage, we paid it all off in six months.

  • There are three other large churces in the twin cities going through this, God only knows what their exit fee is going to’s all about the money, buying back your own property. Incredible!

    • Yes, and another one that has chosen to simply walk away from its voluntary association with the PC(USA). They’ll take their chances in court if the presbytery chooses to go after them. I can’t blame them and I’m not sure what ground the presbytery could have in a court case when we now clearly redefine the plain meaning of the constitution to suit our own ends.

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